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Civil servants in politics: To be or not to be free, that is the question

EBRI - March 21, 1997

After more than 50 years of independence, Indonesian politicians and government officials are debating whether civil servants should be given the freedom to vote for any of the political parties or to vote for the ruling group only.

While a survey has recommended to give political freedom to the Indonesian civil servants, senior government officials claim that they have to vote for the ruling Golkar.

In a government-commissioned survey made public recently, the Indonesian Council of Sciences (LIPI) found out that the loyalty of the countrys six million civil servants to a single political grouping had encouraged them to abuse their power for the benefit of the party concerned. Conducted in the cities of Surabaya, Manado, Jayapura and Banda Aceh, the survey revealed that the affiliation of civil servants to ruling Golkar has resulted in poor public services being provided to the people, widespread corruption, manipulation and primordial attitudes in bureaucracy as well as discriminative treatment of the minority parties the United Development Party (PPP) and the Indonesian Democratic Party (PDI).

Only if civil servants have the freedom to choose a political organization can the notoriously discriminative treatment of PPP and PDI members be stopped, the reports of the survey said.

Civil servants, grouped in the Corps of Indonesian Civil Servants (Korpri), and their spouses and children, are unabashedly obliged to vote for Golkar, even though no law requires them to be affiliated to any specific party.

The 1985 law on political organizations allows civil servants to join any political party. But the guarantee does not apply in practice because such moves by civil servants would be prevented by their superiors. According to the survey, the government has instilled in civil servants the perception that they should vote for Golkar in every election if they want development programs to continue.

Explicitly or implicitly, the other political parties are portrayed as evil spirits in the political and development processes, the survey said in its reports.

It also disclosed that Korpri members including teachers and headmasters have been given the additional burden to help Golkar win the election in their respective neighborhoods and persuade students to apply for Golkar membership.


Korpri has been widely believed to be a dominating factor in the affairs of general elections. It has been Golkars backbone in mobilizing the masses, down to the village level. Golkar cadres who hold strategic posts of being regents, district chiefs, village heads, and teachers have been productive in mobilizing the mass to vote for Golkar.

Even in the five general elections which have been held during the New Order administration, Korpri has always been blamed for various unfair practices, including engineering the counting of ballots. Although the allegations have never been brought to court, PPP and PDI have always written a long list of violations attributed to Korpri. Korpri was established by a presidential decree on November 29, 1971.

It was a political decision in a bid to reorder the then compartmentalized civil servants according to their respective political and ideological aspirations. The compartmentalization was actually the result of Old Order policies which gave the political parties the opportunity to penetrate the civil servants. Apparently the New Order government was determined to stem this kind of compartmentalization. So, by Presidential Decree No. 28/1981, the government integrated the civil servants into Korpri, which is based on the state philosophy Pancasila and the 1945 Constitution.

With this integration, Korpri bore two consequences, which later developed into a concept of monoloyalty.

The first of the consequences was the purge against all elements and influences which contradicted Pancasila, the 1945 Constitution, and the general policies of the New Order administration.

Secondly, the civil servants affairs have been strictly controlled in order to prevent the possibility of deviation from the scheme of integration. This has often been paraded as a concept of monoloyalty.

The argument

At the beginning, monoloyalty was understood as the height of the integration target, namely being loyal to Pancasila, the 1945 Constitution, and the ideals of the New Order government.

Lately, however, the concept of monoloyalty has been translated into the mobilization of the civil servants for the support of Golkar.

In a sense, it is the argumentation between these two points of view about monoloyalty that is the focus of the current debate regarding the role of civil servants in politics. Yogie S.M., the Minister of Home Affairs concurrently chairman of the General Elections Institute (LPU), contended that Korpri members did not have any other choice but to vote for Golkar.

Legally, Korpri members are free to vote for any of the three political organizations. However, they are also bound to the statutes of Korpri and the results of its congress which say that members must channel their political aspirations through Golkar, Yogie said.

Korpri chairman Soeryatna Soebrata contended that government workers should remain loyal to a single majority party because any transfer of their loyalty would hinder their services to the state.


The current administration is one of Golkar. Therefore, Korpri members will automatically support and be loyal to the Golkar-dominated government, said Soebrata, who is also secretary general of the Ministry of Internal Affairs.

Soebrata denied that the policy castrated the civil servants political rights because it is one of the consequences of being a government employee.

Soebrata said the civil servants loyalty to Golkar should prevail so long as Golkar continues to hold power.

But, if Golkar loses their power, then civil servants should shift their loyalty to the new power which takes over the government, he said. On the other side of the hedge, Pudjo Sueharso, MS, a post graduate student in the Surabaya-based Airlangga University in East Java suggested a review about the concept of monoloyalty. According to Suharso, the concept of monoloyalty must be reverted back to its original non-political essence according to Law No. 8/1974 concerning Civil Servants. The law stipulates that civil servants are servants to the people and should always be loyal to Pancasila, the 1945 Constitution, the State, and the Government in exercising their governmental and development tasks.

So, they must not become servants to a certain group. Besides, if we truly believe that Golkar is not the only party which is loyal to the ideals of the New Order, Pancasila, and the 1945 Constitution, the freedom of civil servants to join any of the parties will not cause disintegration among the civil servants, Suharso said.


The matter of civil servants neutrality in politics has apparently been a preoccupation among political thinkers and politicians.

Early in 1995, or a clear two years before the 1997 general election, PPP chairman Ismail Hasan Metareum demanded that Korpri be made independent of all political parties and maintain a neutral stance.

Since civil servants are paid by the state, they must remain neutral. They are not here to serve a certain political group, Metareum said then, without explicitly pointing a finger at Golkar.

Denny J.A., a Master of Public Policy from the University of Pittsburgh, in September 1995 endorsed calls for maintaining civil servants independence.

In a writing appearing in the Jakarta-based daily Media Indonesia, Denny said that politicians come and go but bureaucratic officials remain in government.

So, Denny pointed out, civil servants should only be subservient to the state, not to a political party.

If a leader wants to identify the civil servants corps with his party, he is guilty of identifying his party with the state, Denny said in his writing.

According to Denny, the principles of democracy mandate that civil servants be neutral in party politics as a partisan civil servants corps will harm the principles of competition and fairness in a general election.

Moreover, a partisan stance will make the government bureaucracy unprepared for a change in government leadership to another party which is possible in a democratic system, he said.

In a bid to promote civil servants neutrality, earlier this year former minister of internal affairs Rudini suggested the allotment of parliamentary seats to civil servants in return for the exemption of their voting rights.

It was no surprise that this suggestion promptly endorsed support from the PPP party.

I agree with the suggestion because it may put a stop to Korpri being an accomplice to Golkar, said Ms. Aisyah Aminy, a PPP legislator. But Golkar rejected the suggestion.

As mentioned somewhere above, it has been mainly due to the work of Korpri members that has succeeded in enhancing its victory in every general election, overcoming the minority parties by a big margin. Golkars percentage of the votes did suffer a small decrease from 62.80% in 1971 to 62.11% in 1977. But in the following two general elections, the figure went up to 64.34% in 1982 and 73.11% in 1987. After a drop to 68.10% in 1992, Golkar has projected a target of 70.03% in 1997.

So, the risk is too great for Golkar to give a nod to the suggestion of exempting Korpri members from voting. The stake is not only the 15 seats (computed from 6 million Korpri members divided by 400,000 votes per seat), but also and most importantly the strategic significance of the civil servants corps. (EBRI/ss)