Indonesia should realize that the idea of limited government has existed since the republic’s early days, but unfortunately, it is unforgotten. #kbanews
As said in the constitution, Indonesia is a big government country since the government is viewed as representing the public interest. Through its regulation, the government is supposed to prevent people’s interests from falling into certain people and establish equity. I believe now one against the purpose of big government to develop equity. Equity is something that Indonesian people have never had for centuries. Indonesia has endured the harshness of capitalism for centuries. The Dutch colonizer, through cultuurstelsel, brought Indonesian people into misery. Cultuurstelsel was a colonial policy to force Indonesian people to plant high-commodity plants and spices such as peppers and coffee and sell them to the colonizer. The goal of cultuurstelsel was to push the Dutch colonial mercantilism dream. Many Indonesian people suffered from unfair bargaining between the people and the colonizer. They must work in a factory involuntarily if they cannot fulfill the target. Indonesian people starved and exhausted to indulge the colonizer’s capitalist greed. To prevent that, based on Indonesian culture and philosophy, our founding fathers agreed to establish a unitarian state with a big government to take care of vast sectors on behalf of the public interest.
One figure proposed the idea of a federalist state, and his name was Mohammad Hatta. Hatta was among the Proclamation of Indonesian Independence signatories and the first vice president of the Republic of Indonesia. Hatta’s name, alongside Soekarno, becomes the name of the busiest airport in Asia, Soekarno-Hatta International Airport. Hatta and Soekarno were known as the signatories of the Proclamation, but they had different views on the state. According to Soekarno’s interview, Hatta was a federalist and he was a unitarist. Soekarno and figures such as Soepomo supported the idea of a strong centralized government because it was viewed as the best model to prevent separation and combat imperialist efforts to tear down Indonesia.
Moreover, Soepomo proposed Indonesia become a centralized state because fascist states’ power inspired him during that time, Japan and Nazi Germany. As an honorable man, Hatta followed the result of the consensus to establish a unitarian state. But that wasn’t stopping Hatta and Soekarno’s dissenting opinion. Despite their differences, Soekarno and Hatta were part of the duumvirates of the central government.
After several years Indonesia gained its independence, Hatta and Soekarno’s relationship became worse. It reached its culminating point on December 1st, 1956 when Hatta announced his retirement from vice presidency. Hatta stepped down because he could not stand increasing Soekarno authoritarianism. Non-Javanese people viewed Hatta’s presence as their representative in the central government. In the following two years after his retirement, Pemerintahan Revolusioner Republik Indonesia (Revolutionary Government of Republic Indonesia), or PRRI, rebelled against the central government. One of PRRI’s motives was the dissatisfaction of the central government, and they demanded decentralization.
I will use the term daerah for less-developed suburbs like villages, remote and traditional regions because I couldn’t find the better English word for daerah. Indonesian people also usually use the term daerah for areas outside the cities. Indonesian people categorized regions into two, cities and daerah. Cities are for developed cities with modern infrastructures such as shopping malls, cars, and tall buildings, and daerah is for the opposite. Since I grew up in Jakarta, Jakartan is called a region outside Jakarta Daerah. Using the daerah term for regions outside Jakarta shows Jakarta’s exclusivism as the central government’s capital.
Hatta wrote a book titled “Demokrasi Kita” (Our Democracy) in 1960. In this book, Hatta criticized Indonesian democracy under Soekarno. Hatta criticized his previous position as part of the duumvirate as he viewed its hegemony as too powerful and closed doors for new politicians. Hatta argued that Indonesia needs more opportunities for new politicians to learn democracy. Indonesian people lack political and governmental experience, as shown in 1950 when Indonesia finally had its parliament. In 1950, most parliament members were bureaucrats from the colonial era appointed by their home states (Indonesia was a federal country until 1949). Thus, the Indonesian parliament consisted of plenty of political parties, which caused difficulties in creating a government plan and assembling a ministry cabinet — internal conflicts impeached the prime ministers. The new cabinet brought new projects but didn’t last long because the internal conflicts impeached the new cabinet. It leads to nowhere.
Hatta criticized Indonesia’s democracy as prone to abuse because, for some politicians, leading the government means sharing profit among the coalition. When one coalition ruled the cabinet, they tended to appoint ministers based on political interests instead of merits. Nepotism is a common problem for the Indonesian centralized government. Hatta explained that cases such as business licensing were prone to nepotism. Ministers gave licenses only to their group and took some cash for their political funding for the following election. Politic become business lubricants. Hatta explained that politics and money are politicians’ interests, and the state is their tool. People joined politics not because they had ideas and convictions to build the state but their financial security. The centralized government gives space for pragmatic, greedy people. They use national mottos and slogans to earn sympathy and utilize political parties for personal interest. These cause corruption and demoralization.
Hatta advocates decentralization in this book. Hatta argued that the lack of monetary independence for daerah caused a vast rebellion. Daerah contributed to the central government’s economy but didn’t get anything in return.
Hatta argued that the Indonesian people’s sovereignty must follow the collectivist principle, despite Hatta’s strong critics of the big central government. He said the Indonesian independence spirit rose from Western imperialism and capitalism. Hatta criticized the French Revolution in 1789. As the role model of Western democracy, the three principles of the revolution (liberty, equality, fraternity) contradicted the practice. It wasn’t surprising for him because individual liberty was the paramount motivation to release them from the chain of feudalism. Individual liberty caused people to forget the other principles, equality, and fraternity. French people are only equal in political rights but exclude economic rights. After the French Revolution, capitalism grew, and class struggle got worse. Fraternity becomes difficult because one group oppresses another group. Hatta argued that this kind of democracy contradicted Indonesian purposes of the independence struggle: humanity and social justice. Hatta concluded that government must recognize economic democracy besides politics. Without political and economic democracy, people aren’t independent. Equality and fraternity could exist. Therefore, Indonesian democracy must include all aspects that determine people’s fate. Hatta called it “social democracy.”
Hatta explained three sources of social democracy embraced by the Indonesian founding fathers. First, western socialism caught their attention because of its emphasis on humanity. Second, Islam teaches fraternity among God’s creation. Thirdly, Indonesian people have a collectivist solid root. But Hatta argued that those three sources merely only strengthen conviction. The democratic practice that developed in the villages is the most important. Indonesian people had already set democracy in villages long before the independence. Hatta called this democracy Indonesia’s original democracy.
Indonesian democracy survived feudalism because land, as a production factor, was owned by the people, not the government. During feudalism, sovereignty, and independence were shown by land ownership in the Western world. People who lost their land also lost their freedom and were forced to live under landlords. They become enslaved. According to collective land ownership, every individual must earn people’s approval for land cultivation. More complicated errands, such as mining, will be done collectively by the people in that society. Hatta emphasized that collective works are also familiar in the West, even for private matters such as building houses and undertaking deceased persons. Communal life brings people together to solve problems democratically and publicly and become a habit. Indonesian people are accustomed to collective energy driven by the consensus of individuals, not the government.
Hatta also adds another two characteristics of Indonesian original democracy. Those are rights to protest and secession. People can withdraw from the king’s rule if they are disappointed. Indonesian authentic democracy recognizes the right of individuals to determine their fate.
Indonesia should learn more about Hatta’s ideas. Schools rarely include his works in the school curriculum. Indonesian government excluded them from the school curriculum. The government makes Indonesian school curriculums through the Department of Education. The government monopolizing school curricula is also another problem of big government. For more than 50 years after Hatta wrote “Our Democracy,” Indonesia still faced the same, the even worse, problem that came from the exact cause. Big government leads to corruption.
Like the current situation, Indonesia has many corruption cases instead of wealth. Most of the corruption cases involved the government. Hatta’s explanation about licensing and export nepotism is accurate 100%. Indonesian people are familiar with bribery between the government and business people for government projects because we can see more than five similar cases in one day in the newspaper. During Hatta’s time, the prime minister was the head of the government, and the president was the head of state. Still, now all privileges are owned by the president. After the president gets elected, it is common for the coalition to share minister, state enterprise company, and other strategic position seats. Strategic positions responsible for people’s prosperity are filled based on interest instead of merit. Government enterprises used it as a tool to satisfy the group interest. Recently, the newly appointed Minister of Communication and Informatics made a Freudian slip by saying if the coalition loses the upcoming election, the coalition would be thrown into jail. It shows that big, centralized government is the problem. Indonesian people didn’t realize that they just created another colonizer. This brand-new species of colonizer is their people.
We should rethink Hatta’s idea of federalism and allow spontaneous order in Daerah because the centralized, top-down government caused inequality between cities and Daerah. Many regions are still underdeveloped today. The current government tried to solve the problem by building infrastructure, but I don’t think it’s sustainable. More importantly, human empowerment through education and opportunity for entrepreneurs to utilize the infrastructure. Open economic opportunities allow wealth, and people can build infrastructure without government involvement. Government involvement in building infrastructures in Daerah is also prone to corruption. Building infrastructure is better politically because people can take photos and post them on social media. Social media engagement has been the best way to win the election in Indonesia since 2012. More meaningful achievements, such as education, are less pleasing than viral photos of brand-new highways and monumental buildings on the internet. Most Indonesian found stats, pie charts, and graphics boring.
Although Hatta strongly advocated socialism as one of the sources of Indonesian original democracy, Hatta has different views on socialism than other socialist thinkers. Hatta emphasized democracy is not limited only to politics but also to the economy. Hatta didn’t advocate central economy planning by the central government but instead relied on spontaneous order by the people. Economic factors such as land owned by the people collectively require approval for cultivation. Hatta’s view differed from Locke’s, where people deserve fruits of their labor for unowned property. Although Hatta advocates people’s support, it doesn’t mean the government. What Hatta means by people are the individuals who live in that village. Seeking people’s approval means respecting others’ rights because they own economic factors.
Indonesia should realize that the idea of limited government has existed since the republic’s early days, but unfortunately, it is unforgotten. Hatta’s beliefs and the current situation clearly explained that a big, centralized government only caused abundant corruption and atrocities. We need to limit the government to allow spontaneous order by the people rather than relying on the government. Spontaneous order allows progress and freedom for people to live according to their customs. That is the ideal model for Indonesia, and it’s also the goal of our founding fathers. (kba)