Jumat, 21 Maret 2008

Use of violence in democracy

One of the main characteristics that differentiates a democratic system from a non-democratic system is the use of violence in politics. An authoritarian or totalitarian system may allow for the use of violence in solving political problems and achieving political goals, but a democratic system strictly prohibits any use of violence and relies instead on deliberations and discursive competition. In that connection one can have a good criterion to judge whether or not and the extent to which the 1998 political reform in Indonesia has made progress in the process of democratization. It is interesting to see that unlike the 20th century that was characterized by conflicts between states, the 21st century seems to suffer more from conflicts within the states.

With regard to Indonesia the conflicts within state take the form of inter-ethnic and inter-religious groups on the one hand, and conflicts between the locals and the immigrants on the other.

One can also notice a big difference between conflicts before and after 1998's political reform. Before 1998 the main pattern of social conflict was vertical in nature, that is, they occurred between state and society.

After 1998, conflicts have taken the form of convulsions within society among and between various social groups. Social conflicts become the result of horizontal interactions.

The state-society conflicts were usually overcome by means of state repressive violence through military intervention, whereas one can easily escalate conflicts within society into civilian violence. The case of Sampit in Central Kalimantan and the case of the protracted conflict of Ambon were strong evidence for the fierce violence undertaken by society within society.

Looking at those situations a question might arise as whether or not democracy works or does not work ever since the 1998 reformasi, and if it does, to what extent. If democracy is a non-violent method of problem-solving that is carried out through discursive contestation with main and constant reference to the state law, every tendency towards the use of physical violence must originate either in the lack of capacity of sound and persuasive political deliberations or in the ineffectiveness of the existing legal system.

In that connection one has to clearly distinguish the legitimate use of violence from the non-legitimate use of it. Democratic system justifies the state's monopoly of the use of violence. It implies that only the state can exercise violence legitimately while all other social institutions are denied right and permission to make violent actions.

However, the state's use of violence is to be understood as a coercive power that can be exercised to force citizens to obey the law. If the state uses violence for purposes other than the observance of the law, people can raise the question concerning the rationale of the use of state violence and whether that use of violence is legitimate at all.

Needless to say, though state's violence may be effective in pushing for the observance of the law, it can never, however, be effective in forcing political will formation that becomes a constitutive element of democracy.

For the latter purpose one has to rely on public discourse and political deliberations that are to compete for the best political conception or solution.

During the New Order, the Soeharto government forcefully recommended the use of an indigenous way of consensus building known as musyawarah-mufakat. In its traditional form this was a method of achieving a consensus not by means of voting but by means of a family-type talk. One was not supposed to win the consensus through persuasion and discourse contestation but rather by gathering agreement and sympathy from people who felt respected by the contestants.

This indigenous way of building a consensus is losing its legitimacy because in the real political practice it was used as a means to superimpose a prefabricated political decision by means of exerting political hegemony of the power-that-be without sufficient opportunity for the people to make up their own mind.

In the present politics of Indonesia, consensus building is still in imminent danger because of the reliance upon the primordial sentiments during direct election of district heads and mayors at the district level, and the danger of "venal violence" in the form of money politics at the national and provincial level.

The country is obviously running the risk of having a political decision without sufficient will formation, whereby democracy is very likely to suffer from the lack of a real political consensus that is to underpin the workings and the sustainability of peoples' will to defend what they have agreed upon.

by Ignas Kleden
The writer is a sociologist and chairman of the Indonesian Community for Democracy (KID).

Source: http://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2008/03/18/use-violence-democracy.html

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