Role of the Presidential Dialogues: Signalling and Agenda Setting?

Last week I posted on the Presidential Dialogue held on January 25th between the President and over 40 NGO leaders — see here and here.  I’ve been thinking a little about the role these dialogues could play, the impact they could have, and the mechanisms through which this might occur.  Two ideas came to mind.  One relating to signalling, and another relating to agenda setting.

Civil society could use the dialogue’s to push the President to signal his position on a certain issue.  This could then provide the political cover for certain institutions to act on the issue.  For example, Danang Widoyoko from ICW stated to Tempo that delays regarding presidential permission were discussed and that the President said that presidential permission “from his side was not necessary, and that it is sufficient to provide notice of the examination of local officials” (see here).  I’ve not seen any quotes of the President himself saying this, but if he did it would send a strong signal to investigators wavering because of delays in receiving presidential permission (Danang claiming he said this is a far less credible signal).  Obviously one needs to use this tool strategically.  If the President is unlikely to respond positively to a certain issue then a non-commital response could be counter-productive.  Of course this is not a magic bullet but it could be useful in some cases and on some issues, particularly for an institution like KPK which is often under fire from various political directions.

Civil society groups could also use the dialogues as an agenda setting mechanism.  There is an enormous amount of corruption reporting on so many different cases and issues that it can be quite overwhelming–KP2KKN seems to post at least 50 articles a day to its media blog.  The Presidential Dialogue could help to bring focus to the anti-corruption debates and help to open new critiques or perspectives.  Of course, this would require the dialogues themselves become more focused and seek a constructive balance between problem-identification and problem-solving.  The various reports I’ve read indicate that a broad range of issues were discussed, as one would expect in the early days.  But arguably moving forward will require a greater degree of focus otherwise the dialogues may find it difficult to maintain their prominence

Comments very welcome.

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