The Jakarta Election and Political Fashion Statements

By webadmin on 04:42 pm Jul 10, 2012
Category Archive

Dian Kuswandini

Who
would wear a checkered shirt in exchange for a free glass of orange
juice? A fried rice vendor in Palmerah, Central Jakarta, would and did.
Of course the vendor, who said, “I had to stand in a long line in my
checkered shirt,” didn’t mean the exact checkered shirt made popular by
Jakarta gubernatorial hopeful Joko Widodo (Jokowi) and running mate
Basuki Tjahja Purnama (Ahok). It was actually just a random checkered
shirt. Yet his story made me realize how this dress-code strategy has
created ripples in the current Jakarta election – from the center stage
to the fringes of society.

I always remember electoral campaigns in Indonesia as a parade of
boring T-shirts, during which candidates and supporters would wear
clothes that matched the colors of their parties. In the case of the
Jakarta elections, no particular political statement had ever really
been promoted through wardrobes. Not until Jokowi-Ahok appeared in their
signature red-blue-black checkered shirt, which symbolizes their
support for the city’s pluralism and their entrepreneurial spirit, as it
is mass-produced by home industries and sold to fund their campaign.
Moreover, they pair it with jeans that mirror their relaxed attitudes.
When these men showed up for the first time in this look, I knew I’d see
other candidates jump on the dress-code bandwagon due to the instant
popularity brought about by this strategy. I was right. It wasn’t long
until the campaign trail became a runway for candidates to display
their fashion choices.

Duo Hidayat Nur Wahid and Didik Rachbini seems to have made the most
effort to outshine Jokowi-Ahok’s checkered shirt. The pair launched
their “Batik Beresin Jakarta” (“Let’s Tidy Up Jakarta Batik”). In the
color of orange – like Jakarta’s soccer team Persija – the batik bears
the design of Monas and the city’s skyscrapers. Backed by the
Islam-based Prosperous Justice Party (PKS), Hidayat even emblazoned his
Islamic values on his batik, saying the proceeds of the batik sales
would be allocated to wakaf (donations for religious purposes). With
Betawi’s pucung rebung batik declining in popularity, Hidayat also told
reporters, “We’re the only gubernatorial candidate contributing to the
cultural heritage through our ‘Batik Beresin Jakarta.’ No other
candidate has done this.”

Well, maybe Hidayat didn’t consider the “Si Pitung” style adopted by
Hendardji Soepandji and Ahmad Riza as an homage to traditional Betawi
culture. In any case, dressing up like a legendary Betawi hero has at
least raised the fashion bar in this election, where candidates come out
in a Muslim koko shirt with a sarong draped around the shoulders, a
black peci and tribal pants occasionally adorned with a traditional big
belt. Considering that politicians dress up to relate to their audience,
the pair seems to say to the Betawi people: “Hey, we’re one of you!”
Only, they have to watch out because incumbent Fauzi Bowo and running
mate Nachrowi Ramli are trying to say the same. Yes, it appears that
Foke and Nachrowi prefer the Betawi beskap (traditional blazer) with
half-folded sarong on their waists – although they sometimes wear koko
shirts too. Given that a beskap was originally used by Javanese
aristocrats, this pair seems to want to create an image of experienced
high-ranking officials.

I remember our office driver complimenting Fauzi as the most gagah
(strong and manly) candidate – thanks to the beskap, as we passed the
governor’s banner. Yet, at the same time, he also said Fauzi looked
arrogant. His statement confirms how a candidate’s appearance can appear
intimidating and unapproachable. Perhaps the remaining candidates,
Faisal Basri-Biem Benjamin and Alex Noerdin-Nono Sampono, thought about
this too, so they went for simple white shirts. While Alex-Nono put on
short-sleeve shirts, Faisal-Biem picked the long-sleeve ones. Faisal
rolls up his sleeves, though, saying it symbolizes his readiness to work
hard. In choosing white, he said, it shows their commitment to fight
for a clean government. In terms of grabbing attention, these two pairs
might be less noticeable, but in my view, they wanted to blend in and
look real. It’s like they’re saying, “We’re not way out of your league.”

Some might say this whole appearance-oriented campaign lacks
substance. After all, you should vote based on the plans and programs
proposed by the candidates. However, it’s undeniable that fashion can
serve as a window to the complex world of politics. We remember how Al
Gore chose to wear earth tones in his presidential campaign, as advised
by consultant Naomi Wolf, to attract the female votes. Then we have Rick
Santorum and his famous V-neck sweater vest in this year’s Republican
presidential bid.

All this dressing thing might seem artificial, but any
consultant would tell you that memorable appearances can leave a mark
in voters’ minds. Or at the very least, it can help voters identify
candidates when they’re looking at the ballot. After all, for
politicians, it’s the votes that count in the end.