By Benny Susetyo
March 22, 2013
The Draft Law on Mass Organizations continues to raise controversy. And rightly so, because if the draft law currently is being debated by the government and the House of Representatives is passed, it would curb the freedom to associate and organize. Talks on this draft law should be halted immediately to preserve the spirit of democracy.
Last month, 96 organizations made a similar request, read out at the Muhammadiyah headquarters in Central Jakarta.
“The draft law on mass organization is deemed dangerous because it ... could lead to the suspension or disbanding of mass organizations,” Muhammadiyah chairman Din Syamsuddin said. According to Din, many people were misled into thinking that the draft law presented a solution to the mounting violence committed by some mass organizations. But this law would not end the violence.
“Just and professional law enforcement is what should be prioritised. A wrong paradigm is used to prepare this draft law and will have fatal consequences ... The way the state views mass organizations has not changed and remains just as it was under the New Order. It wants to control ... society,” Din said.
The main problem people have with this draft law is that it is very vague. Also, it is tendentious and, like Din said, it is clearly aimed at controlling civil society. If the state wishes to control all actions and movements of Indonesian civil society, then it would not be misplaced to say that those in power have a questionable agenda.
The Draft Law on Mass Organizations reflects the state’s distrust of a free civil society. If passed, then this country will lose the soul of its democracy.
Everything will be subject to the bureaucracy and the control of the government. Indonesian democracy, which has bloomed since Reformasi, will once again face threats from the excessive desires of those in power.
The draft law will threaten the very existence of socio religious organizations as the state will fully control their financial resources and demand accountability.
Our state clearly has a desire to control all aspects of social life. The urgency behind this draft law has therefore come under intense scrutiny. Indonesia’s experiences with regulations on mass organizations show that they are mainly used to legitimize the repressive intentions of the rulers. Laws on mass organizations have always been a tool of control and repression.
For example, the 1985 Law on Mass Organizations was used by the New Order regime to force all kinds of organizations, with their various interests, into one form, so that they could be controlled more easily. And indeed there were victims of this policy. The government could easily halt the activities of people using this regulation. And the mindset of the rulers was in essence to always weaken the role of civil society and its participation in the development of the nation so that it would not attain any real power. Social institutions gradually lost all of their independence.
The freedom to form unions and to gather is important for the spirit of democracy. A strong civil society will provide a counterbalance to the state, so that the state does not turn into a monster. Through their various activities, members of the society can contribute to the development of the nation. The very existence of democracy will come under threat if the freedom to do so is restricted. When the bureaucracy, as a tool of those in power, becomes a new tyranny that muffles the people’s creativity, democracy would become an empty slogan.
The state would gain the authority to sanction and suspend an organization merely based on its own interpretation of the law. The state could develop a new form of tyranny that restricts the freedom that Indonesians have so long been fighting for.
If it deems it unsuitable, the state could simply kill creativity in society.
There are some who argue that this draft law is being made to protect the state against violence by certain mass organizations. But the argument that we need to bring order to our mass organizations is weak.
There is no need for a new law to deal with this. The problem is that the security forces are not willing to enforce the laws that already exist. The penal code addresses cases of violence and our laws are more than enough to deal with violators, their accomplices, their masterminds or those who openly spread enmity and hate against a particular group of people.
Governing mass organizations through a law would only further exacerbate the bureaucratic process. It would also open the door widely for the state to control all democratic development potential in this country.
In all the various inappropriate arguments put forward, we only find the threat of an elite that wants to pressure civilian groups just as it did under the New Order regime.
Such a repressive mindset runs against the spirit of democracy. The government needs to review, especially for the long term, the effects such muzzling of creativity could have.
The House should reformulate the Draft Law on Mass Organizations, which was flawed from the start. Trying to force the passage of this draft law will only make it ineffective later. What is needed now is not a Law on Mass Organizations, but firmness on the part of the government in overcoming violence using the legal tools it presently has at its disposal. As long as the government does not seriously enforce the law, whatever it does would only be temporal in nature.
The question is why the House is so adamant in pushing for the passage of this draft law? Maybe our lawmakers want to kill the soul of democracy that is currently taking root in society?
The soul of democracy breathes life into mass organizations and in turn these organizations will provide a counterbalance to the government and political parties. Hidden motives will weaken the spirit of democracy and consequently damage the pillars of nation and state. A joint awareness is needed so that lawmakers will make the right decision. A rushed decision, given in by political interests, will only hurt the democracy we have all been striving for.
Benny Susetyo is a founder of the Setara Institute for Democracy and Peace .