Wednesday, January 05, 2011

The cost of the democracy industry

Geradi Yudhistira | Opinion | The Jakarta Post | 1 January 2011

After more than 10 years of reform, many people, inside and outside the country, have praised the practice of democracy in Indonesia. Additionally, we have succeeded in proving to the world that Islam and democracy can coexist without conflict.

Democracy in Indonesia, however, is run by industrial principles, wherein the number of votes received in an election is an indicator of success. Therefore, the costs are very high for promotions and victories.

Important democratic principles such as authorization, accountability, transparency, responsibility and solidarity have been left behind. For politicians, the most pressing concern in a democracy is how the people will vote — and which leader’s vision for the future they will “buy.”

I call this approach “industrial democracy”. Industrial democracies operate in terms more familiar to economics, such as producers, consumers, distributors, markets and vision. The people are the consumers, while the politicians and candidates are producers, marketing their products (visions) and personalities. The climax happens when candidates market their visions and personalities to the community for votes.

Consequently, various political marketing services have emerged.

These companies evolved from the simple institution of public opinion surveys, growing into more the complex roles of consultants working to grab votes and win elections. The immense resources at play have invited political experts and practitioners to jump headfirst into this new business.

There are many effects of this industrialization of democracy, carrying implications both in practical terms and academic terms.

First, at the practical level of democracy, democratic capital in this industrial model is most likely to come from the upper class, which would minimize the lower-middle-class peoples’ access to candidates, and surely hamper their democratic representation.

The dominant players in government will only be meeting with business people, the military, people in the inner circle and celebrities. Intellectuals will have a hard time entering the democratic arena if they lack capital.

Resource owners and capitalists will fund the entire democratic process, including consulting fees, familiarization, campaigns, market research, image-building and even lobbying. Economists say the investors are seeking maximum profits, or at least an even break on the money. The implication of this is that once in office, they will use their power to regain the invested resources. In other words it facilitates corruption.

Second, the emergence of industrial democracy will put the development of political science on hold. Political survey institutions have many political scientists on staff. As more political scientists consequently enter the more lucrative political consultancy business, the dynamics in Indonesian political science will be compromised as well.

The scientists will lack time to adequately research political science development. They will instead focus on quantitative measurements of public opinion research as related to elections. Scientific, academic debates will cease to be academic at all. Indonesian political scientists will become merely customers and merchants of western theories rather than working to create new ones.

Worse, if we just let it be business as usual, the development of political science will devolve into publishing only the research findings which benefit politicians and capitalists who profit from the system, rather than providing society with a real political education.

In general, research priorities of a country are directly in line with the vision of the government. For example, military technology advance rapidly in the US because the research and development of military technology is encouraged by the government, seeking to maintain its status as a world superpower.

In Indonesia, the rise of various kinds of political-marketing consultants shows that the Indonesian government has no vision but setting its sight on winning the next election.

The writer is a member of the Indonesian Political Economy Association and a researcher for the Alliance for Prosperous Villages.
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