Political Culture

Political Culture

Because of the general acceptance by the people, Indonesia's New Order government usually gains at least passive approval of its actions and style by what the ruling elite has characterized as the "floating masses." This approval in the early 1990s was based in part on an acknowledgment of the material benefits that flowed from real economic growth. The approval was also partly based on the fact that the government's acts and style fit into shared cultural patterns of values and expectations about leadership. In a country as ethnically diverse as Indonesia--from Melanesian tribe members of Irian Jaya to Jakarta's Chinese Indonesian millionaires--and with its population differentially incorporated into the modern political economy, it was difficult to identify a political culture shared in common by all Indonesians. Nevertheless, there were major cultural forces at work in Indonesia that did affect the political judgments of large groups of Indonesians.

Traditional Political Culture

In the late twentieth century, there were as many traditional political cultures in Indonesia as there were ethnic groups. Nevertheless, the similarity to the Javanese kingship model of Suharto's increasingly paternalistic rule reflects the Javanese cultural underpinnings of the New Order. Although Indonesia was a cultural mosaic, the Javanese, with more than 45 percent of the total population in the 1990s, were by far the largest single ethnic group. Moreover, they filled--to a degree beyond their population ratio--the most important roles in government and ABRI. The officer corps in particular was Javanized, partly as a result of Java's central role in the development of modern Indonesia (Indonesia's five leading institutions of higher education were located on Java, for example), but also because ABRI seemed to regard the great predominance of Javanese in the officer ranks as a matter of policy. The Javanese cultural predispositions influenced, therefore, the way the government appealed to the population and interactions within the New Order elite.

On Java power historically has been deployed through a patrimonial bureaucratic state in which proximity to the ruler was the key to command and rewards. This power can be described in terms of a patron-client relation in which the patron is the bapak (father or elder). The terms of deference and obedience to the ruler are conceived in the Javanese gustikawula (lord-subject) formulation, which describes man's relationship to God as well as the subject's relationship to his ruler. The reciprocal trait for obedience is benevolence. In other words, benefits flow from the center to the obedient. By extension government's developmental activities are a boon to the faithful. Bureaucratically Javanese culture is suffused with an attitude of obedience--respect for seniors, conformity to hierarchical authority, and avoidance of confrontation-- characteristics of the preindependence priyayi class whose roots go back to the traditional Javanese courts.

Javanism also has a mystical, magical dimension in its religiously syncretic belief system, which integrated pre-Indian, Indian, and Islamic beliefs. Its practices include animistic survivals, which invest sacred heirlooms (pusaka) with animating spirits, and rites of passage whose antecedents are pre-Islamic. Javanism also encompasses the introspective ascetic practices of kebatinan (mysticism as related to one's inner self), which seek to connect the microcosms of the self to the macrocosms of the universe. This adaptive belief system defines Suharto's underlying spiritual orientation. Furthermore, the politics of Javanism have been defensive, seeking to preserve its particular heterogenous practices from demands for Islamic orthodoxy. Rather than Islamic political parties, the Javanese have often turned to more secular parties: Sukarno's Indonesian Nationalist Party (PNI), the PKI, and Golkar.

Islamic Political Culture

Of Indonesia's population, 87.1 percent identified themselves as Muslim in 1980. This number was down from 95 percent in 1955. The figures for 1985 and 1990 were not released by the government's Central Bureau of Statistics (BPS), suggesting a further decline that would fuel the fires of Muslim indignation over Christianization and secularization under the New Order. Nevertheless, Indonesia was still the largest Muslim nation in the world in the early 1990s, united with the universal Islamic community (ummah) not only in the profession of faith but also in adherence to Islamic law. The appeal of Islam was not weakened when it was supplanted by modern secular nationalism as the basis for the independent Indonesian state. In fact, given the prominence of Islamic proselytization and reinvigoration, the people's desire to maintain Islamic institutions and moral values arguably was at an all-time high in Indonesia. There was, however, a separation between Islam as a cultural value system and Islam as a political movement.

Islam in Indonesia is not monolithic. The majority of Indonesia's nominal or statistical Muslims, abangan, are, to varying degrees of self-awareness, believers in kebatinan. Orthodox Islam is, in fact, a minority religion, and the term often used to describe the orthodox believer is santri. A rough measurement of the appeal of orthodox Islam is the size of the electorate supporting explicitly Muslim political parties, which in the general elections of 1977 and 1982 approached 30 percent. In a pluralistic setting, such numbers might be expected to represent political strength. This correlation would exist in Indonesia if Indonesian Islam spoke with a single, unified voice. In the early 1990s it did not. The santri consisted of both traditionalists and modernists, traditionalists seeking to defend a conservatively devout way of life, protecting orthodoxy as much as possible from the demands of the modern state, and modernists striving to adapt Indonesian Islam to the requirements of the modern world.

The principal organization reflecting the traditionalist outlook was Nahdatul Ulama (literally, "revival of the religious teachers," but commonly referred to as the Muslim Scholars' League) founded in 1926. Nahdatul Ulama had its roots in the traditional rural Islamic schools (pesantren) of Central and East Java. Claiming more than 30 million members, in 1992 Nahdatul Ulama was the largest Muslim organization in Indonesia. Although its rural teachers and adherents reflected its traditional orientation, it was led into the 1990s by Abdurrahman Wahid, grandson of Nahdatul Ulama's founder, a "democrat" with a non-exclusive vision of Islam and the state. Modernist, or reformist, Islam in Indonesia was best exemplified by the Muhammadiyah (followers of Muhammad), founded in 1912 when the spirit of the Muslim reform movement begun in Egypt in the early 1900s reached Southeast Asia. In addition to modernizing Islam, the reformists sought to purify (critics argue Arabize) Indonesian Islam.

Both santri streams found formal political expression in the postindependence multiparty system. The Consultative Council of Indonesian Muslims (Masyumi) was the main political vehicle for the modernists. However, its activities were inhibited by the PRRI-Permesta regional rebellions between 1957 and 1962 and the party was banned in 1959. Nahdatul Ulama competed in the politics of the 1950s, and seeking to capitalize on Masyumi's banning, collaborated with Sukarno in the hope of winning patronage and followers. Nahdatul Ulama also hoped to stop the seemingly inexorable advance of the secular left under the leadership of the PKI. Although organized Islamic political parties in the New Order were prohibited from advancing an explicitly Islamic message, traditional systems of communication within the community of believers, including instruction in Islamic schools and mosque sermons, passed judgments on politics and politicians.

Modern Political Culture

The major components of Indonesia's modern political culture were derived from two central goals of the New Order government: stability and development. If authority in the Suharto era was based on ABRI's coercive support, the government's legitimacy rested on its success in achieving sociopolitical stability and economic development. Indonesian political culture in the early 1990s primarily reflected nontraditional, nonethnic, and secular values. Urban centered, truly national in its scope, and more materialistically focused, Indonesia's politics in the 1990s were influenced by both domestic and international developments.

Like Islam, Indonesia's modern political culture was not monolithic. In the early 1990s, there was a variety of subcultures: bureaucratic, military, intellectual, commercial, literary, and artistic, each with its own criteria for judging politics, but all directed to the successful operation of the modern political system. Perhaps the two most important modern subcultures were the military and the intellectuals. It was the military subculture that set the tone for the first two decades of the Suharto government, both in terms of its ethos and in the direct participation of military officers at all levels of government and administration. Although increasingly professional in a technical sense, ABRI never lost its conception of itself as the embodiment of the national spirit, standing above the social, ethnic, and religious divisions of the country as a unifying institution. Even though factions existed within ABRI, it exemplified dwifungsi, the special link between soldier and state. ABRI was not above politics, but it was not part of the open political competition. The concerns of academics, writers, and other intellectuals in the early 1990s were different and they were more likely to be influenced by Western political values. It was from these circles that the pressure for democratization came. Their outlet was not political parties but cause-oriented nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), workshops, seminars, rallies, and, occasionally, demonstrations. The government undertook a major effort to subsume all of Indonesia's political cultures, with their different and often incompatible criteria for legitimacy, into a national political culture, an Indonesian culture based on the values set forth in the Pancasila.

Political Parties
The Multiparty System

United Development Party (PPP)
Indonesian Democratic Party (PDI)
Political Dynamics

Nongovernment Organizations (NGOs)


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