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Understanding Middleman in Indonesian Politics

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by: Dominggus Elcid Li*


Ahmad Fathanah is full with controversy. For some weeks he is under the spotlight of media in relation the mega scandal on manipulating cows’ import quota which is linked to Justice and Welfare Party or known as PKS (Partai Keadilan Sejahtera). Unfortunately, Indonesian popular media focus too much on Fathanah’s women. For instance, who have been slept with him and how much it cost. While the main narrative and visual given by journalists misleads the public to sexual fantasy, the true reality is forgotten. The media and intellectuals failed to investigate the destructive effect caused by ‘the middlemen role’ in case of corruption which links the public institute, political party, and market.


The importance of middleman in politics is almost unknown and it has been neglected in Indonesian social and political science research. The case of Fathanah suggests that a middleman is needed as one functions as the link to different network. Middlemen are in charge to secure transactions of any kind that is beneficial to a party.


The new elites and the top leaders of the political parties today are circled by ‘middlemen’. Those who lead the political parties today were also middlemen. They used to be middlemen in Soeharto period. Therefore, we should not be surprised that after a decade those who used to be Soeharto’s aides return and dominate Indonesia politics.


The middlemen in Indonesian politics today could be expert staff (staf ahli), aide, and also the treasurer of the party. Officially, expert staff are lower paid but they are attracted to the job as it gives them access to harvest political capital that facilitates financial benefits. Fathanah have proved that an expert staff whose monthly salary is only Rp. 3-5 millions can recorded a total financial transaction of Rp. 1.2 trillions. Many 1998’s activists have been part of middlemen business in local and national political arenas. Having access to good network is the main character of middlemen. They have no specific job description, but they are expected to be able secure transactions to various networks to please the bosses (party leaders, ministries, DPR members).


Alternative approaches in social study could be used to explain the role of middleman in corruption. One of the approaches is the social network analysis (SNA) and/or network theory which may address the research gap. Conventional approaches can hardly explain complex network of political transaction. In addition, understanding complex relations of politicians and their middlemen and the private firms is very important in corruption advocacy.


Using SNA to unpack the network of middlemen in political parties and also other public institutions has to be the top priority in countering corruption. Today, the criminal network in Indonesia is still free to operate since they are still terra incognita for us. This is a paradox. In the lights of the network theory, the role of middleman as hub can be measured and visualised. It may reveal the fact that the true powerful actors in Indonesia may not the top party leaders, ministries and politicians but their middleman. Some middlemen that transform themselves into leaders such as Nazarudin have proved themselves as powerful agents (or vital hubs) as they play multi levels corruption games. Nazarudin and Fathanah may have proved that middlemen are the powerful tools in parties fundraising but at the same time they can put the parties in jeopardy once their action revealed to the public.


According to Barabasi (2003) who studies about complex network system, those who work as hub dominate all structure and also network. Thus, it is not surprise that the impact of the scandal of Fathanah as the middleman and Luthfi Hasan Izaq have shocked the party. The paradox is, while the party’s elites deny the Fathanah’s true roles, it is contradicted with the impact to the party which shows by public outcry on social media.


Political Party, Market and Criminal Network


In the theory of complex network, the chaotic situation is not an everlasting phenomenon. This idea could be employed to deny the claim that ‘reformation period’ is a never ended transitional period since complexity theory could show that in the crucial time of a transitional period, the anarchy shows its pattern. According to Barabasi (2003) in the crucial point of transition period the power law is applied (or the law of 80/20), which is originated from Parreto, shows that the minority are the dominant elites and the 80% are silent majority.


In Indonesian politics elites today have been dominated by the former middlemen in New Order period. They have gripped the political systems with their complex corruption networks. They have also recruited capable middlemen that may have succeeded ‘internal test’ of loyalty. Usually, those who work as middlemen are not new persons or from out circle. Mostly they are from very inner circle. The problem is, it is one should clearly define and identify who are the middlemen first.


Internally, the political parties should control the existence of middlemen if they intend to eliminate corruption. They need to map the minority powerful elites including their middlemen. Internal control is significant to reduce the infiltration of mafia network into the party or other public institutions.


We suggest that political parties should support and agree to achieve transparent and accountable parties. All political parties should agree that they need cash to win election. Therefore, the existence of middlemen would never be acknowledged by the lay public. Furthermore, the elites have prepared the worst scenario to mimicry when corruption is detected.


Here is also the paradox of middleman who is said to be very powerful during the transaction, but he is not the ‘ace card’ which control the final call. In reverse, the middlemen are risk takers. The good news is while they are very powerful; the middlemen are also nodes that are designed to be cut off from the parties’ links once their corruption plot is detected.


The condition of ‘cash democracy’ continues to exist since 1998. This puts all political party in the same corruption culture. Today, all of the state institutions in Indonesia have their own middlemen who are linked to privatise the public role as part of anarchic market.


If the popular logic of Indonesian media switches the focus from the Fathanah’s women and start to shed some lights on the role of middleman, Indonesian women would not suffer and repeatedly sacrificed. Exploitation on women on media as sexual object should be stopped, and since the media are responsible in co modifying women’s body as part of mimicry to clear traces of the middlemen. The corruption therefore remains.


*Researcher in IRGSC, Kupang, NTT.


Author: Elcid

He is a social researcher from Timor.

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