Monday, 13 July 2009

Bless Our Election

The country’s presidential election is just days away and I’m finding myself less than enthusiastic about the whole thing. Which is not good seeing that this is only the second time Indonesia has conducted a direct election and a healthy voter turnout is necessary to ensure we choose the right person for the job.

However, the surfeit of political campaigns, the overdose of promises, the endless expounding of vision and mission, and the plethora of debates, analyses and smear campaigns, rather than facilitating my choice or helping me make an informed judgment, only succeed in putting me off practically all of the candidates. Yes, if I have to be honest, the more those presidential hopefuls open their mouths, the less inspired I become and the less I am enamored of them.

Granted most of the campaign stuff being offered is mere jargon with very little substance, rhetoric of substandard quality and exhortations with hardly any conviction, the least these presidential hopefuls should provide is some attempt to inspire and uplift the voters and not put us off with tedious political jousts.

Instead, the more media coverage is given to them, the less convinced I am that we are fielding the best sons and daughter to compete to take the helm of the world’s third largest democracy and a developing country with growing clout and influence in the global arena.

I suppose being in the media myself I should be the last to complain. After all, the campaign period is a boon for the television industry and provides a fat source of much needed revenue in this time of economic crisis.

So, enough of this cynicism and let’s count the blessings that a healthy democracy and the freedom of expression have given us. If nothing else, be thankful at least for the entertainment value this campaign season has brought to our screens.

Hats off to vice presidential candidate Prabowo for trying to spice things up by channelling the republic’s first president, Sukarno. Though his speeches on throwing off the yoke of miserable oppression and defeating the shadow of neo-liberalism and foreign domination, and his promises to lift the country from the rubble of poverty and indignity do sound oddly anachronistic in this age of compulsive consumerism and Facebook accounts. Nevertheless, he should be lauded for his efforts and for spending a huge amount of (foreign-earned?) money on campaign advertising — helping to somewhat grease the wheels of the country’s economy.

Some points should also be given to the singing general, vice presidential candidate and Frank Sinatra wannabe Wiranto, who has the audacity to hope that a suave demeanor and the ability to croon into the microphone at regular intervals can gloss over some very serious human rights allegations that are yet to be accounted for. I’m sure if he were elected he would similarly delight the international fora with his singing voice. That is, if he doesn’t get arrested for his alleged past crimes.

Brownie points should also go to Megawati Sukarnoputri for reminding us again about her past performance as president, for being the only female candidate and for staying true to her charmless character. For whatever its worth, it is quite refreshing to see her take the air out of the other presidential hopefuls by constantly reminding them that they were all once her minions and thus beneath her in every way. We can only wish her well in her journey into the annals of history as she enters the twilight of her career.

We should also appreciate Jusuf Kalla for his sense of humor, including making a joke out of his present position as vice president.

It’s not often we get to see the incumbent president and vice president at the opposite sides of the ring slinging mud at each other while running the country at the same time.

Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono should also be applauded for trying to achieve in five years what former president Suharto did in three decades in terms of channeling the former strongman’s “aura” of invincibility, aloofness and apparent appetite for forming dynastic successors. We should thank him for giving the pollsters a run for their money with their yo-yo surveys that provide the media with fodder for endless speculation, and for possibly botching his own chances of winning the election in one round.

As a matter of fact, most of us in the media are keeping our fingers crossed for a two-round election so we can continue to capitalize on the democratic process for at least another couple of months.

(Desi Anwar: First published in The Jakarta Globe)

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