Saturday, May 19, 2007

Pro-democracy activists playing the political game: Study

Friday, April 13, 2007
The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Many pro-democracy activists are beginning to play active roles in politics in an attempt to improve political representation in the country, research conducted by the Center for Democracy and Human Rights Studies (Demos) revealed Thursday.

"The problem of representation is a serious problem in the democratic process. The failure to improve political representation has created wider disappointment over the ongoing process of democracy and in turn will invite the return of an authoritarian regime or a religious-based regime," Demos director Asmara Nababan said during a public discussion on the findings of the research.

The study found that many pro-democracy proponents, including NGOs, students and members of labor and lower-class movements, are now trying to broaden their agenda by working within the political system.

"They are now not only trying to gain mandates through discourse and seminars as they used to do two or three years ago, but are also trying to achieve this through elections and political parties," said Demos spokesman Antonio Prajasto.

The research -- conducted from early 2006 in Medan in North Sumatra, Pekalongan in Central Java, Banjarmasin in South Kalimantan, Palu in Central Sulawesi and Manggarai in East Nusa Tenggara -- also signaled that many pro-democracy advocates were trying to reconnect the social movement with the political movement.

Advocates are also strengthening their political capacities through alternative methods of representation such as upholding the ideas, views or interests of a specific group or a whole community and its cultural aspirations.

However, elitism, money politics and differing priorities among groups that are resisting subordination, trying to revitalize old customs or reform democratic institutions, have hampered the attempts of pro-democracy advocates to change the nature of political representation.

"We know that the pro-democratic actors are good at creating platforms, but their ideas are usually hijacked by rooted politicians, who then use them for their own political agenda," said Antonio.

Taufik Abda, a former member of the Aceh Referendum Information Center who attend the discussion, said he ran for vice mayor in Banda Aceh last November to test the consolidation of the pro-democracy movement there.

Taufik paired with Akhiruddin Mahjuddin for the election, though they did not make it into office.

Taufik said the two major challenges for the pro-democracy movement were to finance political activities and to select candidates.

Demos's findings point to the requisite creation of a pro-democracy, non-party-affiliated political group, based on participatory political mapping, if both local and federated mini-platforms for campaigning are to be developed.

This group could be formed at an intermediary level where civil organizations can cooperate in developing political education to eventually create a mini-platform, as well as to keep politicians and parties accountable. Parties and politicians seen as supporting the mini-platforms would then in turn gain broader backing.

"This (group) is merely a consolidation against recent attempts to close the political system, and is aimed at promoting popular representation instead of elitist representation," Antonio said. (02)

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