An Indonesia that thinks, that’s all we need

Updated: Dec 17, 2018

by Pranoto Iskandar, Founding Director of the Institute for Migrant Rights

The idea of reviving Pancasila from its deathbed by initiating another vague project that will involve the Agency to Reinvigorate Pancasila Ideology (Badan Pembinaan Ideology Pancasila or BPIP) and the Ministry of Communication signified another climax of our post-authoritarian political life. Admittedly, while it is not clear what sort of project the government has in mind in its effort to “make Pancasila great again”, it is unnerving enough that the BPIP, as the transmutation of Unit Kerja Presiden Pendampingan Ideologi Pancasila (UKP-PIP), sends the signal that it will permanently remain. One can easily speculate, however, based on a wide array of insights that have been circulated in the media. Hence, it is fair to make a well-grounded critical assessment that can modestly contribute to the debate on our political reform’s trajectory.   

Undoubtedly, this is a desperate measure that comes from those who have become frustrated by democratic necessities. The increasing need for order has been inhibited by the constraints of the rule of law. In this reformasi order, to define what is just or fair the presence of substantive and procedural aspects is not only interlocking and complementary, but, more importantly, non-negotiable. Clearly, this is a tall order for a transition democracy which lacks a well-functioning legal system, such as Indonesia. In fact, Indonesia’s Civil and Criminal Codes, two of the most important Codes that serve as the backbone of the nation’s mundane affairs, are a relic of a bygone colonial era. As of now, the Codes are still enforced according to their original text, which implies that we are all regulated by law that none of us understand.  

To be considered a genuine democracy, prepared or not, Indonesia must provide an unqualified guarantee of civil and political freedom for anyone within its jurisdiction. As one can easily expect given our ill-prepared legal infrastructure, it is unsurprising that the flood of freedom has opened the gate to all kinds of political maneuverings that creatively exploit this new openness. Frustrating as it may seem, reformasi not only promises us the better half of democracy, such as transparency, rationalism, and equality; but also exposes us to some unreasoned demagogues who cunningly exploit the inherent flaws of democracy. The truth of the matter is that transitioning to democracy has not only opened a great space for the civil society, but for the uncivilized as well. Understandably, it evokes pleasant memories of the New Order’s good old days of the despotic order.

Returning to the BPIP’s plan, it is very likely that the solution is to make the ideology of Pancasila great again. Whatever approach that BPIP may adopt to achieve these ends, it will become an inevitable reinvention of the New Order’s notorious wheel of indoctrination. Truth be told, it is the most logical consequence for those who face the task of conveying a set of abstract notions such as Pancasila to the less informed. Concretely speaking, it is perfectly logical for BPIP to produce another definitive version of a “technical-detail oriented” guidebook for the “correct” civic way of life, rivaling the now supposedly defunct Penataran P4 (Mentoring P4). After all, the chairman of BPIP himself, Mr. Yudi Latief, has written his own hefty tome that self-proclaimed as “a complete reference for rejuvenation and restoration of Pancasila, before the future generation forgets the philosophy founded by our forefathers”. 

Indonesian post stamp

Another related and unnecessary controversy is the respective salaries of Ms. Megawati and other members of BPIP. Like it or not, it is legitimate for the public to pose questions concerning their rate of pay, as it clearly relates to public matters. The more important question, however, is related to the intangible nature of the project itself. Such initiatives are highly elusive and thus difficult, if not impossible, to measure. This immeasurability of the project is a transgression of a democratic governance. By being immeasurable, it has evaded the very heart of transparency and accountability requirement. So, the question is how to ensure that our current, chaotically ordered political climate might recognize the necessity of the democratic principles.

As identified above, the main issue that propels us is the concern of a “democratic dilemma", in which the anti-democracy groups, such as a religious group of thugs, have brought the law enforcement to its knees. If one looks hard enough, democracy has provided its own answer to deal with such challenges. Specifically, being democratic is by no means interpreted as a legitimation for an "anything goes" approach to politics. Meaning, it is within the boundaries of the rule of law for all forms of legal enforcement to curb any politically motivated acts that may cause “harm”. The act of interpreting “harm”, however, must be carefully exercised and should be subject to a stringent review in an impartial and fair manner. Doing so means that we need to navigate carefully to maintain the delicate balance between our need for order and the preservation of civil and political rights of every individual. Suffice it to say, there is no such thing as “constitutional exemption” for demagogueries of all stripes, including those who invoke God.          

As for the long-term objective, the most reasonable approach from a democratic standpoint is to devise a clear and well-thought out plan that aims to introduce the notion of a well-rounded citizen with strong ethical sensibility. Ambitious though it may be, this should be a realistically achievable goal. Starting with an acknowledgment of the democratic way of life that we are currently fostering, the national education system should be reoriented to place a premium on inculcating the tradition of critical thinking in classrooms, and, if possible, beyond. An early introduction to a healthy democratic life will not only produce a payoff in terms of socio-political achievement within the limitation of the nation-state, but, it will unleash our mind’s capacity in finding alternatives to humanity’s problems. As a proud democratic nation, we should accept the fact that critical thinking is the panacea for all of our ills, and by so doing we open a new chapter with a fresh approach.



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Managing Editor

Leigha is an international human rights attorney. She received both her J.D. and an LL.M. in Civil & International Human Rights Law from the University of Notre Dame Law School, and a Masters of Professional Studies in international development from Cornell University. Her articles and writings on the implementation of international and regional human rights law and have been featured in the Notre Dame Journal of International and Comparative Law, the Cornell Center on the Death Penalty Worldwide, and the forthcoming book (Non)Sovereign Bodies: Law, Land, and Gender Justice.


Contributing Regional Editor (East Asia)

Zhe Huang is an immigration lawyer in New York and a researcher of immigration law and Chinese property law. She received her SJD degree from University of Wisconsin Law School. Her research at Wisconsin focused on the social responsibilities of property rights on state-owned and collective-owned land in China. Her work has appeared in several U.S. and foreign journals. She received her LLM from Shanghai Jiao Tong University Law School. She is a visiting scholar at the U.S.-Asia Law Institute at NYU School of Law and her current research interests are comparative analyses between U.S. and China about the status of foreign workers and their rights to live and work under the immigration policies.


Contributing Regional Editor (Middle East and Africa)

Shams is a judge at North Cairo Primary Court, Egypt. Mr. Al Hajjaji started his career as a lawyer. Then, he joined the public prosecution bureau at the Egyptian Ministry of Justice. He holds a Doctorate degree (JSD) from University of California, Berkeley Law School (UC-Berkeley). In addition, he also holds three masters degree (LLM) from UC-Berkeley, American University in Cairo, and Cairo University (where he also earned his LLB).


Contributing Regional Editor (Americas)

Sebastián Boada Morales holds law degree from Universidad de Los Andes (Colombia) and an LL.M. (merit) in Banking Law and Financial Regulation from the London School of Economics and Political Science. He received scholarships from Colfuturo and the LSE for his masters degree, and he was awarded the academic excellence scholarship by Universidad de Los Andes during his undergraduate studies. He has been lecturer at Universidad de Los Andes. He was an elected member of the Board of Governors of Universidad de Los Andes, and he has been awarded the José Ignacio de Marquez prize for best scholarly article in Economic Law in Colombia. He was a runner up in the Latin American Banking Federation contest of specialized banking and finance articles. He wrote a book on financial derivatives in Colombia, and he has written book chapters and articles on Corporate Law and financial regulation. He is a senior associate in the Banking and Finance team at Baker McKenzie in Bogotá.