Which Candidate Has the Best Loot? The Answer Might Decide Jakarta’s Governor Race
It has been a while since democracy wallahs throughout Indonesia had something substantive to get their teeth into, but the July 11 election of a Jakarta governor has firmly put the issue back on the agenda.
Were you also wedged into the traffic jam last weekend on Jalan Rasuna Said’s roomy six lanes as it was turned into a scene of mayhem? Did you notice the orange minibuses strewn everywhere, like abandoned carrots after a reckless farmer’s poorly executed gathering of his crops, blocking lanes and being even more of a nuisance than usual? And all in the name of an election for future representatives who most likely haven’t ridden in a minibus since they were high-school students.
The time taken to work out how to find a convenient side street as an escape route gave me the opportunity to contemplate and start a dialog with the voice of the people. Indeed, in the way many democracy wallahs shape their world-view in Indonesia, I too took the road to instant gravitas and asked the most trusted source on all things Jakarta: my driver. What is going on here?
This, he said, was an opportunity for new T-shirts, other gifts and occasionally a not-unsubstantial financial contribution to one’s family income. In other words, it was an electoral campaign — the greatest opportunity for a redistribution of assets to the “little people.” My driver noted with glee that he had already received Rp 150,000 from one candidate pairing. I looked at him through the rear-view mirror, his face was almost aglow with pleasure at possible future gifts. Could this be the same driver who curses all demonstrations, all demonstrators, their mothers and the motley crew shouting down the microphone even more so?
I knew it was futile. I knew I would likely regret it, but I thought, this is democratic Indonesia so I must guide the discussion down a dangerously substantive path.
What about the platform of the candidates, I asked. Which of their policies do you think will be the most useful for the citizens of Jakarta? Who has the best record on supporting women, education or combating corruption? Is it crucial that a pairing gets at least the backing of one party or another?
His expression reflecting back in the rear-view mirror was like a blank page.
“I did return a T-shirt once,” he said.
Had he not understood the question or, if he had, why was he not opening up to me about his inner feelings. Undaunted I continued. Which mayoral pairing will be best for you and your family? Will you influence your wife to vote for the same candidate you vote for?
His silence said nothing, yet said it all. Did it really matter? He had no idea if there were any differences between pairings. He just knew that he could take gifts from all of them and there would be no way for anyone to know. Like most democracy wallahs, my ability to find a silver lining among an astonishing array of dark clouds was almost an art form. I took this to mean that there had been a step forward then, that the integrity of the electoral system was now understood and believed to be secret by everyone.
Balloting is indeed a secret in Indonesia and no one group or party is able, at the national level at least, to decisively influence the overall result. Yes, he could take all the gifts with impunity.
I pushed on with the questions about the substance of the gubernatorial election. Would my driver vote along party lines? I knew he liked Megawati. A slight interest was shown at the mention of her name. Would her endorsement be enough for him to select “her” candidates?
At this point a convenient side street was found and he went back to concentrating on the road, leaving me with my thoughts of democracy and party politics, representation, candidate accountability and suitability, even the value of demonstrations. My attention moved, in a more general sense, to the average citizen who might not see that it was their right to ask probing questions of their candidates about issues that are important to Jakarta. It moved to the differences in the gubernatorial pairings on their policy stances and beliefs, to evaluate these differences and rank them, to show why and how these differences made pairings more or less acceptable, and how these differences were the reason for selecting one over the other.
I thought again of my driver.
Knowing I might regret his response, I nevertheless had to know: why did he return the T-shirt? Was it out of abhorrence for bribery? Was it a gesture about good governance practices, teaching his children a valuable lesson?
“It was too big, sir.”
Keith Hargreaves is a director at Strategic Asia, a consultancy promoting cooperation among Asian countries. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.