Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Homegrown Thoughts on Indonesian Politics

There are certain things in the aspirations and local wisdom of the Indonesian people that are sometimes difficult to digest.

On Friday, Golkar Party chairman Aburizal Bakrie confirmed his bid for the presidency while his political stalwarts were pondering whether Yogyakarta’s Sri Sultan Hamengkubuwono X or President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s son Edhie Baskoro could be his running mate.

As usual, the sultan won’t comment on anything that may contradict local wisdom. First, he is not interested and second, his supporters in Yogyakarta would never allow their sultan to run in the 2014 elections.

The latest survey conducted by Soegeng Sarjadi Syndicate indicates that the sultan might be a popular choice for presidential candidate, along with other well-liked personalities such as Prabowo Subianto, Megawati Sukarnoputri, Jusuf Kalla and Aburizal Bakrie.

But to the elitists, the sultan is regarded as feudal, absurdly outdated and old-fashioned, although the majority still believe he is a born leader, a king who will serve his people. On paper, Yudhoyono and Megawati are far above him in popularity, although the two have not shown themselves to be the good leaders people expected. The sultan, who is known to put morals and ethics first, believes that with the right cultural strategy, not just by using imported or foreign models, the nation could rise from poverty, economic backwardness and separatism. But that too has to be tested. Perhaps he should give it a try by mediating a dialogue with the Papuans.

Edhie Baskoro is a rising political star who is the secretary general of his father’s ruling Democratic Party. But the time is not ripe for him to run. He still needs to prove himself in public office. Local wisdom says he won’t get the votes. Prabowo, whose popularity ratings surpass those of Megawati and Aburizal, could be the next president if he is able to soften some of his harder stances and keep control of his emotions.

Dig deep into the attitude, character, ethics and morality of Indonesian politics and you will see they face a dead end when it comes to challenging voters’ attitudes. People are now realizing their potential to create a “culture of competition.” They are fed up with the same old people running for office and the same old parties that have failed to improve the welfare of the people.

Indonesia is blessed with a powerful economic machine and a population of more than 230 million. It is now the third-largest democracy in the world and its economy is booming. But the problem is the government is sleeping. Very little progress in things such as infrastructure development has been made. Elections are often dominated by people who have been in politics since the New Order. Regional elections, which are dominated by incumbents, are slowing the real democratic process. If people do become leaders, they often end up disappointing because popularity doesn’t always equal good leadership.

People believe in the local wisdom “Gusti ora sare” (“God never sleeps”). During former President Suharto’s rule, Indonesia was fertile ground for violations of human rights, huge foreign debt, corruption, collusion and nepotism. Although macroeconomics, inflation, currency stability and share prices have fared well under the current administration, corruption is rampant and there are questions about the sincerity of efforts to solve the big cases.

The past couple of weeks have seen donations collected for the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) to build a new headquarters, which allegedly corrupt lawmakers have refused to approve a budge for despite the Finance Ministry signing off on the project. Then came the government’s decision to loan money to the International Monetary Fund. Poor people shouldn’t have to donate money to the KPK and indebted countries shouldn’t have to loan money to the IMF. It all contradicts the local wisdom people believe in.

Yanto Soegiarto is the managing editor of Globe Asia, a sister publication of the Jakarta Globe.

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