Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Mucking in Politics

I know that preoccupations with politics and constant bickering amongst our politicians are a necessary part of democracy. Goodness knows we have no desire to go back to the days of an authoritarian president with a rubber stamp parliament, but this excessive posturing by the government, both the ponderous executive and the rapacious legislators in the past few months, have so far produced nothing productive other than an endless media display of shabby behaviour that leaves not one child in this country in no doubt as to the quality of our political leaders.

Watching their televised antics it is obvious that many of our representatives are of dodgy quality and completely devoid of sophistication, with the majority of them not groomed to be members of the ruling class, let alone trained in the arts of legislation, debating a bill or drafting a law, as are their tasks. As to even attempting to make them comprehend what the country needs in order to make her prosperous and competitive and the people educated and productive, probably seems too much of a tall order.

Former president, the late Gus Dur referred to these parliamentary members as kindergarteners, which earned him an impeachment, and which I personally think was unfair comparison as there is nothing inoffensive in our legislators’ behaviour nor in the way they relentlessly pursue their objective which is unlike the way hunting dogs hound their quarry.

Most of our legislators and public officials are probably still not used to the taste of power or the responsibility that goes with and most likely use every opportunity to wield it if only to make them feel that they have to do something with it while they have it. Unfortunately power without substance is no difference than high school student brawls or street gang fights. And it doesn’t help that we in the media are also developing an unhealthy obsession with this real life ‘sinetron’ which, while good for the rating, does nothing to boost our confidence in this country’s leaders.

It must be said that parliaments in healthy democracies are not paragons of virtuous behaviour, with hecklings and fisticuffs more or less being the order of the day; the House after all, is a place for the people’s representatives to push and if necessary, force their agenda as these representatives have to answer to their constituents, whether to fight for lower taxes or more national health care, tighter gun control, minority rights and other substantial issues of interest to the general public. Just look at how difficult it is for US President Obama to push his policies through especially when his opponents are making it a mission to ensure his failure, bring down his popularity and take away his chances for a second term.

The point however, is not in the painful display of ill feelings or cynicism on the part of the politicians that is a source of consternation for the general public. If for example, our honourable members spend as much energy, passion and interest on issues that actually concern the welfare of the people and demand extensive public debate, then perhaps the people don’t feel that our tax money has been wasted for the past few months.

Instead, the protracted preoccupation with Bank Century, which in the context of national importance, is actually a lot less than fixing our long overdue policies on health, education and how to stimulate the economy and improve our deteriorating environment, only shows an increasing widening in the gap between our representatives and the people they’re supposed to represent.

Moreover, the number of suspect laws being proposed that focus more on a desire to regulate the people’s private behaviour and put forward their own petty prejudices, than any real effort to ensure good governance, show just how out of depth our legislators are with the rest of the country on this march towards modernity.

It also shows an alarming reliance on basic emotions as our ruling elite’s barometer for shaping this country’s policies rather than any well thought out consideration expected from those in high position, with the strength of emotion and loudness of voice often mistaken for the truth: in other word knee-jerk reactions that might be tolerable in a much smaller environment such as a household or even a local neighbourhood, but completely unsuitable and even dangerous if brought to a national level.

When the strength of one’s narrow conviction or when self or group interests become the driving force behind the making of the country’s law, then governing is reduced to a level of street brawls. And it is only a matter of time that the people are disenchanted with the way politics are conducted in this country and discover that there is ultimately not much difference between the street thugs and paid demonstrators obstructing traffic and creating havoc in the streets with the paid thugs populating the house of parliament.

Except that the latter is inconveniencing the entire country and hampering the progress that Indonesia should be making given the amount of precious time that has been wasted.

(Desi Anwar: First published in Tempo English)

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