Indonesia and the "Conflictual Consensus"

A Discursive Perspective on Indonesian Democracy

Author: Jonas Bens and Timi Duile

Abstract:

In this essay we propose an alternative approach to assessing the state of democracy in Indonesia. We focus not on institutional indicators (as is usually the case) but on manifestations of political discourses in the public sphere. In applying post-Marxist political theory through the work of Slavoj Žižek and Chantal Mouffe, we offer an analysis that identifies those discursive formations that can reconcile antagonistic democratic discourses and provide the necessary space for "conflictual consensus" to exist in political discussions. Democracy's main defining feature is that it allows conflicting discourses about alternative policies to coexist, yet still manages to coalesce around a minimal consensus on how these discursive conflicts are to be dealt with in a fair way. Applying this approach to democracy analysis to Indonesia, we suggest that the major obstacles to democratic practice do not emerge from institutional problems, but from an overbearing political discourse that imposes broad consensus and harmony on most political issues. Political discourse in Indonesia is generally structured around "Islam" and "the people." These themes provide a basis for a political consensus that conceals economic and social contradictions and reveals considerable depoliticization in Indonesian democratic practice.


Countries: Indonesia

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