Phenomenon ‘Pork Barrel’ Politics in Indonesia

Recently, Indonesian people have been shocked by the film Dirty Vote, a masterpiece that provides the public with an understanding of the fraud that occurred in the 2024 Indonesian Election. One of the things discussed in the film is ‘pork barrel’ politics carried out by the government regarding the distribution of social assistance.

The term “pork barrel politics” first appeared in the context of Bill Bonus. In 1817, United States Vice President John C. Calhoun proposed a bill that suggested using funds from the Second Bank of the United States bonus profits to finance the construction of a highway connecting the East and South to the American West.

‘Pork barrel’ politics is the practice of using public funds to benefit specific voters for partisan purposes, such as allocating public budgets in specific electoral districts to increase political support, rather than allocating those funds to areas most in need. The practice of pork barrel politics does not only occur in Indonesia but also countries around the world, one of which is the United States.

Pork Drumstick Political Practices in Indonesia

The practice of pork barrel politics is nothing new in Indonesian political history. Since the New Order era, this practice has become widespread to gain a grip on power. At that time, social assistance was often used as a tool to co-opt the people for the political interests of those in power. In fact, in the New Order era, the political format was pork barrel-coordinated. In the reform era, it is hoped that these dirty political practices can be eroded. However, in reality, pork barrel politics persists, even with various modes.

The practice of pork barrel politics in Indonesia often implements populist policies aimed at image without looking at the benefits, so it is ineffective and a waste of budget. In reality, populist policies are very popular with the Indonesian people. The political elite is also very fond of things like the people.

Most recently, the budget was disbursed for the distribution of social assistance during the pandemic Covid-19 lost yesterday with the budget amount approaching the 2024 elections. It is sad that the government’s practices are reckless and prioritizes political interests over the interests of the people.

The bags used to package social assistance – the funds for which come from the people – say “President’s Assistance”. This shows that social assistance comes from the president’s money. Of course, many parties accuse the government of politicization of social assistance and direct cash assistance (BLT).

Not only the president, but several ministers also seem to be “selling” social assistance and direct cash assistance (BLT) as political campaign content. While campaigning, one of the ministers openly stated that social assistance—which comes from people’s money—came from the president (personally).

The depravity of the government’s policy in distributing direct cash assistance and social assistance to the community is also often criticized because it is not on target. Of course, this is vulnerable because it can only be used as a “tool” for electoral political interests – not for solving problems.

The practice of pork barrel politics in Indonesia, as previously described, displays a tendency to utilize public resources, such as social assistance programs, for certain political interests. This is often related to pork barrel politics.

By looking at cases where social assistance funds are used as a tool for political branding, especially in the context of election campaigns, this practice can be compared to pork barrel politics. For example, when social assistance is presented as “Presidential Assistance” or used as a tool to strengthen the political image of a particular president or minister, it reflects the use of public funds for political interests for himself or his group only.

This does not only happen to the executive, the legislative body also often applies pork barrel politics to secure its electoral political interests. Legislative members in Indonesia also love to share social assistance—especially ahead of the election.

The Indonesian government’s lack of political ethics is the root of the widespread practice of pork barrel politics. The corrupt and power-hungry mentality of leaders undermines their sense of responsibility to the people.

Lack of Political Ethics of the Indonesian Government

Too often, government policies and actions are driven by personal or group political interests, rather than the broader interests of society. It’s sad to see public officials who should prioritize ethics in their politics, but they often ignore this.

Of course, pork barrel politics is very damaging to ethics and morals in government. This practice can lead to abuse of power and the use of public funds for personal or certain group interests. Pork barrel politics is also often manipulated by political elites to portray themselves as fair leaders for their political gain.

This contradicts the ethical principles of government which prioritize integrity, transparency, and service to the community. Pork barrel politics is often colored by the use of state money for personal or group political interests, not for the interests of the people. Ethics and morals should be the basis for leaders and public officials in carrying out their duties.

They must be sincere, not pretend, not arrogant, and far from being hypocritical. Public lies, manipulation, and other disgraceful actions must be avoided. By upholding ethical and moral values, leaders and public officials can distance themselves from the practice of pork barrel politics and strengthen government ethics and morals.

Additionally, the absence of strict and effective punishments for violations of political ethics also signals that pork barrel political practices can be carried out without serious consequences. Therefore, unscrupulous politicians tend to feel free to continue practices that are detrimental to society.

A lack of commitment to improving the political system and eradicating corruption also worsens the situation. Without serious efforts to strengthen anti-corruption institutions and increase transparency in government, the practice of pork barrel politics is likely to continue to exist and harm society at large.

Efforts to Overcome Pork Barrel Politics in Indonesia

Efforts to combat the practice of pork barrel politics in Indonesia require comprehensive and integrated cross-sector cooperation. Concrete steps that can be taken include strengthening the monitoring system of institutions, such as the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) to monitor the use of public budgets and conducting investigations into alleged pork barrel political practices. In addition, it is necessary to increase transparency in the management of public budgets and the distribution of social assistance so that the public can better monitor its use.

Inclusive and comprehensive political education is also needed to increase public awareness of healthy and ethical politics, as well as the importance of choosing leaders with integrity. In addition, strengthening government ethics through establishing a clear code of ethics and enforcing penalties for violations is an important step in ensuring that leaders and public officials carry out their duties with high integrity and morality.

Active community participation in monitoring government policies is also very important. Through this active participation, the community can become an effective agent of change in eradicating the practice of pork barrel politics. Political system reforms that support greater accountability, transparency, and public participation are also needed, including in the general election system and campaign financing.

Providing firm and effective sanctions for political actors involved in pork barrel political practices is also very important. Severe penalties can also be applied to political actors who intend to carry out practices that are detrimental to society. With comprehensive and sustainable cooperation between the government, supervisory institutions, civil society, and all other stakeholders, the practice of pork barrel politics can be suppressed, and society can achieve a cleaner and more responsible government.

So, to overcome this problem, comprehensive and sustainable political reform is needed. There also needs to be awareness in society to create a clean and healthy political climate, so that it produces things that are of real benefit to society.

[Andylala Waluyo (VOA), via Wikimedia Commons]

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.

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