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‘President Idol’ and our compromise on leaders

Publication Date : 01-06-2014


Ahead of the July presidential election, many are excited, nervous, bored — or crossing their fingers. Rather than getting stressed out, it is better to enjoy the jokes making the rounds via cell phones.

One of the latest is the “Song List” of presidential and vice presidential aspirants. The uninitiated can simply check YouTube for renditions of the songs, while locals will instantly recognize the songs and their corresponding moods for the English and local pop and dangdut oldies.

The song list of “President Idol”, as the joke mentions, features our outgoing musical President and current and former aspirants:

*Prabowo Subianto: “It’s now or never…”, as the dishonorably discharged Army’s Special Forces (Kopassus) chief looks hell-bent on winning well before his mid-60s;

*Hatta Rajasa: “Hidupku terkekang...” (My life is in shackles...); not sure why this suggests that the former coordinating economic minister, chairman of the National

Mandate Party (PAN) and vice presidential candidate for Prabowo, had no choice;

*Joko “Jokowi” Widodo: “I believe I can fly ...”, fit for the former skinny underdog when he was vying for the Jakarta governorship, and belatedly announced as presidential candidate by his party;

*Jusuf Kalla: “Di sini senang, di sana senang...” (I’m happy here, I’m happy there...), as the former Golkar Party chief gleefully pairs with Jokowi while other confused Golkar leaders support Prabowo;

*Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono: “Kemesraan ini... janganlah cepat berlalu…” (Don’t let our moment of tenderness go by quickly), as the President steps down in a few months;

*Aburizal Bakrie: “Sunyi sepi sendiri…” (All alone and lonely...), as the Golkar chairman was scurrying here and there to be courted and ended up with Prabowo, although perhaps not getting much in return;

*Wiranto: “Aku masih seperti yg dulu…” (I’m still the one I used to be...) — the former military commander is surprised Hanura Party by hopping to Jokowi’s ship;

*Rhoma Irama: “Cukup sekali... aku merasa…” (Once was enough...), as the king of dangdut was disillusioned by broken promises of being made the presidential candidate of the Islamic-based National Awakening Party (PKB), which jumped on Jokowi’s wagon;

 *Suryadharma Ali: “Jangan ditanya kemana aku pergi...” (Don’t ask where I’m going ...) — the disgraced religious affairs minister, a staunch supporter of Prabowo and chairman of United Development Party (PPP), resigned after being declared a suspect in a 1-trillion-rupiah (US$86 million) graft case.

Such ingenious jokes are really handy amid nagging questions. For instance, how did you get stuck with these candidates? How come we only got these two pairs?

Foreigners try to phrase these questions very nicely, but we get the message — that the end result of only two pairs of candidates are below expectations of what looks like a thriving democracy of 250 million people.

Recent history shows how we got stuck with Prabowo-Hatta and Jokowi-JK; we got the leaders we deserve, as the saying goes. Given an estimate of 40 percent undecided voters, the July 9 outcome is still unpredictable. But the pairings are indications of the leaders we deserve.

So why don’t we have more choices? The blame usually goes to the New Order and former president Soeharto, and before him, Sukarno, who, like other brash, handsome, charismatic “revolutionary” leaders, became authoritarian, pesky old men (but Sukarno showed much more appreciation for God’s beautiful creatures). Under these

leaders, one risked prison time, and a lot more, for expressing dissent, so under the stunted growth of leaders we got figures who cleverly parroted their bosses’ will to the masses.

But let’s be grateful — 16 years after reformasi we aren’t whining again that we have only the same old faces to choose from. Now there’s Jokowi, who is from neither dynasties nor one of the ruling elite or ruling institutions. He was among quite a few local figures, largely of local higher education, who became elected mayors,

regents and lawmakers who actually did some good, turning heads among the bulk of rising leaders who gained popularity, then notoriety, when they caught the attention of the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK).

Even those linked to the establishment must sound reformist too, though partners-in-arms like the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) in Prabowo’s coalition look conservative.

Prabowo is Soeharto’s former son-in-law, but is remembered for his youthful days; even without a clear record in civilian leadership except for his chairmanship of the national farmers’ association, the main characteristic he is associated with, “firmness”, comes from his illustrious military career and reflects yearnings for such a leader.

Golkar has officially teamed up with him, and they had better not repeat Golkar’s campaigning strategy ahead of the legislative election when it used images of Soeharto; for Prabowo’s Gerindra is aware that not all may dream of the good old days when gasoline was a few US cents per liter.

Further, as we sought an end to corruption, collusion and nepotism (KKN), are we sure that all the candidates are squeaky clean? And given demands to end human rights abuses, many ask how we got Prabowo as a candidate as various allegations against him remain unresolved.

The answer to the first is no, we’re not that sure. And the answer to both is that we settled for a compromise, partly given the dearth of potential leaders.

 Despite demands to end KKN, they weren’t enough to result in policies that cut off state officials and their families to state funds and projects, for example.

Today’s lawmakers and officials have profited heavily from Soeharto’s resistance to close his children’s access to various economic privileges.

And despite demands to end impunity, there has clearly been inadequate demands for accountability. Today’s pairings reflect our progress, and our insistence on doing business as usual. Not a very merry tune.


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