A shock occurred in Edinburgh, Scotland, earlier this year when the results of the election for the city council were announced. An independent candidate called Professor Pongoo, who dressed in a penguin suit and promised to wear the costume to the council meeting if got elected, gained more votes than the candidates from Liberal Democrats and Green Party. Professor Pongoo, a middle-aged man whose real name is Mike Ferrigan, got 444 votes, dwarfing the Lib Dems’ 377 votes and Green party’s 322 votes.
The Edinburgh city council didn’t manage to see one of its members attending a meeting in an animal costume because, despite being superior to other candidates from more established background, Professor Pongoo didn’t pass the threshold to get a council seat. But the fact that an independent candidate who looked more like he had not changed clothes since the last Halloween party beaten the more serious candidates told us that some people just had enough of the political parties.
One of the two independent candidates for Jakarta’s gubernatorial election, Faisal Basri, hardly followed the steps of Professor Pongoo by dressing weirdly. He and his running mate, Biem Benyamin, chose to don white shirts as a symbol of middle class and workingman. At the end of the day, Faisal Basri didn’t get enough votes to progress to the 2nd round after the quick count results showed that the Solo Mayor Joko Widodo and incumbent Fauzi Bowo topped the table. But, like Professor Pongoo, quick count results indicate that Faisal beat Alex Noerdin, a candidate from a seasoned political machine, Golkar.
You don’t need to have a degree in political science to see that some of Jakarta citizens, no matter how few they are in numbers, believed that they’re fed up with the political parties and opted to vote for the independent instead. Faisal was said to get 5 percent of total votes in Jakarta, a formidable achievement considering that he didn’t have the privilege and financial power like candidates backed by the parties.
The biggest supports for Faisal Basri came from the middle-class, a certain niche in the society where apathy towards politics is not uncommon. These supposedly ignorant people, who previously treated election day as an extra day-off, thought that everyday’s politics would not affect their life in any way.
Ever since Faisal announced his candidacy for DKI-1, skeptics had been been playing down his chance of winning the election, stating that he was nothing more than an ivory tower scholar turned politician with an unimplementable work plan and lacked leadership experience. He didn’t even stand a slim chance to grab seat and would be swept aside by the political juggernauts.
“Do you seriously think that he’s going to win it?”, asked a friend a few weeks ago. I did not. Faisal was a very popular candidate on the Twittersphere and he had a star-studded list of endorsers from musicians to actors, but unfortunately the election was not based on social media and only those who went to the ballot whose votes would be counted.
“If you dont think he’s going to win it, why bother to support?”, he came again. The thing is, participating in election doesn’t work like football betting. You don’t support a candidate who you think has the biggest chance to win, instead, you support a candidate who you would like to see winning. This is not glory-hunting.
It’s some kind of a political experiment and although the results might not be the most ideal, it shows an encouraging trend that it’s not improbable to break the political parties’ hegemony. Running as an independent candidate comes with its own sacrifices. Faisal, for instance, had to sell this house to fund his campaign, but now we know that relying on the political parties is not the only option. There is always another way.
They may be called naive but these people have made their voices heard and their presence felt. Five-percent of total votes are not enough to secure the governor seat, but are never too little to echo across the city of Jakarta.