Selasa, 08 April 2008

The organization of political parties at the grassroots

By Ulla Fionna

During Soeharto's 32-year-long New Order, Indonesian political parties were the most obvious example of manipulation of political participation. Not only were they under strict government control, they were also denied contact with grassroots society. Consequently, grassroots support was cut off from politics and the parties. Now that the reform era is a decade old, the parties have had time to manage their role and function as a political channel at the community level. A closer examination of how four major parties -- the Golkar Party, the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), the National Mandate Party (PAN) and the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) -- operate at the local level in Malang municipality and regency revealed that management heavily depended on personnel and resources -- and that incumbent parties are not always more advanced than younger ones.

The situation in Malang, East Java, is likely not very different from the situation in other regions even at national level.

* Golkar Party (Soeharto established this party in the 1960s). In its local operation in Malang, it has superior resources among the four parties as the only one that can afford to own its offices and hire professional staff to handle daily administration.

At the municipality (kodya) level, its office has even been keeping a very tidy quarterly report, which details every activity held within the period, including photograph documentation and expenses all manually pasted and hand-typed into a large file.

Its office in the regency (kabupaten) also showed focus on recordkeeping by its well-kept election results since the 1970s, a remarkable achievement given the fact the office experienced a fire at one stage. The party's offices were always active during office hours, and its personnel was skilled to handle enquiries.

The chairmen of the party in the two regions, although having a primary job outside party leadership, attended their offices regularly. Activities were also held regularly, ranging from cadre meetings to dialogues with representatives from the local assembly.

Because of the frequent activities, members could interact with the party on a regular basis.

* PDI-P. Despite having strong grassroots sympathy for former president Megawati Soekarnoputri and her father, first president Sukarno, the PDI-P's local branch management was seriously lacking. Although its branch at the kabupaten level is always open during office hours, its city counterpart was padlocked most of the time.Its kabupaten administrators were salaried, but they were not office professionals as Golkar's; rather, they were cadres with just sufficient administrative skills to handle daily operations.

The kabupaten branch held more activities such as blood donation drives and free house renovation for members, and the cadres hang around in the office most days.

In contrast, the kodya staff were seriously behind in maintaining an electronic membership database, and were clueless about party activities and personnel.

* PAN. Its offices seriously suffered from bad management. Its kodya branch did not even have an office for a few months while searching for a new place to rent, and the cadres were occupying a small room at the local assembly's office. The constant removals have caused the branch to lose files and archives. The kabupaten office was housed at the residence of its secretary, who later was elected as the chairman.

The chairman ran the office as a one-man show, taking care of everything. These chaotic arrangements meant that regular activities were hard to organize.

For the kodya office, the few cadres who frequented the local assembly office were the ones who kept the party alive. They maintained the branch by holding leader election at one of their residences.

The erratic local management of the PAN has contributed to and perhaps worsened the problems of retaining members in the party. As the kabupaten chairman himself noted, members have been swayed by other parties such as the PKS.

*PKS. The PKS serves as evidence that a young party can demonstrate an advanced branch management. Its Malang branches were active and efficient, and its kabupaten office was the only branch that had an email address. Administered by its own cadres, the party benefited from a technology-savvy and committed young cadres who handled daily operations.

Although also having to constantly move like the PAN's branches, the branches were more efficient in looking for a new office in advance and thus the office activities were not interrupted.

Using Islam as the basis for its activities, the party held a wide variety of events ranging from long-marches, caricature demonstrations, an Islamic premarital advice session for young couples and an open house to attract new recruits for the party. Internally, the party also held frequent meetings and discussions. Promotion of the party was also held by flyer distribution in public places such as bus terminals.

Among the four parties, Golkar and the PKS were the most organized branches in Malang. The two parties were superior in branch management and consequently were more capable in holding frequent and a wider range of activities, as well. Contributing to the success of these parties were the factors of better resources for Golkar and more committed and skilled personnel for the PKS.

The other two parties, the PDI-P and the PAN, are at the other end of spectrum, with the former having an inactive branch and the latter's kodya office chaotic in its daily operations. However, the case of the PAN also strengthens the notion that personal commitment matters -- in this case the kabupaten leader's and the kodya cadres'.

Disparities in local party organization are evidence of the challenges that individual parties face in their local operation. They may differ in age and experience, but what matters is how they utilize their capacity. Lack of experience can be compensated by greater commitment in organizational capacity, as demonstrated by the PKS.

On the other hand, popularity and electoral success could contribute to a self-content attitude, such as shown by the PDI-P. Since grassroots politics are gaining more importance in Indonesia, local party organization will also play a more influential part in determining party influence in the local community. Thus, better organization could be the key to winning local support to boost electoral support in the coming elections.

The writer is completing her PhD in political science at the University of Sydney, and currently teaches at the University of Sydney and Macquarie University. She can be reached at


Tidak ada komentar: