16 Years Ago, Did Any of Us See This Coming?

If you read through Indonesian media this week you’ll find many references to how Indonesians eventually won our democracy these days sixteen years ago when Soeharto finally relinquished his 32-year iron grip following bloody protests, brutal attacks on Chinese descendants, and the crumbling of our worst-hit-by-Asian-monetary-crisis financial system.

Oh, how we cheered– painted the blue sky with our highest hopes of a more open, less corrupt and better Indonesia. Anything related to the New Order was immediately kicked to the curb, slipped under the rugs, or publicly disowned.

To be fair, government has been more transparent, corruption while not reduced is prosecuted openly, and our press is notably the freest in SE Asia. Any Indonesian can criticize officials or politicians without the fear of quietly being picked up by midnight like in those dark Soeharto years. Mass organizations and political parties have been springing about, new media keep debuting nationwide, and almost everywhere under the glaring tropical sun you’ll notice the rising middle class that has indisputably contributed to the >5.5% growth in recent years.  No longer associated to some terrorists-harboring Asian backwater, Indonesia is the latest darling for investors.

Then enters election year 2014. Widespread disappointment over SBY’s poor leadership on his 2nd term, endless corruption and widening income gaps has made political powerhouses trying to offer anything to fill the void. This is where it started to get interesting. Drummed up mostly by Islamic parties and oppositions like PDIP and Gerindra are anti-liberalism and ultra-nationalistic rhetorics. Sentimental tunes referencing New Order’s wildly subsidized commodities and harsh crackdown on thugs like FPI are sung loudly by Soeharto kids’ fledgling party, Soeharto’s old party Golkar and also Gerindra.

So many good people were pinning their hopes on Jokowi, who despite sketchy performance as Governor of Jakarta for the past 20 months is much-touted by PDIP as the era’s only new and almost Messiah-like candidate. When PDIP embarrassingly failed to pass the 20% threshold of legislative election last month and was forced to form a coalition, most Jokowi believers defended the move to court NasDem. Surya Paloh had indeed come from Golkar but NasDem offered fresh perspective and its National Restoration platform might fit well with Jokowi’s grand idea of Mental Revolution, they said. Gus Dur diehards among Jokowi supporters suddenly managed to find a forgiving spot in their heart when PKB was embraced. But the camp turned eerily silent when earlier this week Jokowi held a joint presser with tycoon Aburizal Bakrie to announce Golkar’s entrance into the coalition.

Forget Bakrie’s long list of political handicaps from the Lapindo mud disaster to tax evasion, but what about New Order’s years-long ‘oppression’ over Megawati or PDIP that’s not only been well-documented by the party but also used unabashedly as a point of staunch opposition? What about the proud claim of Jokowi as the true post-1998 leader when the star partner is the old guard themselves? What about the human rights grandstanding used as an excuse to renegade on political pact with Prabowo, when Golkar’s own unresolved dark past and Bakrie’s murky business dealings are public knowledge? Is Golkar’s well-oiled and well-endowed political machine worth to bet for PDIP’s integrity that was supposedly drawn from our founding father Soekarno? Whoa.

Now, on the human rights violations that are used by activists to slam Gerindra through Prabowo, it’s interesting to keep note that less and less Indonesians are bothered by it. I’m talking about 9-to-5 office warriors and SME business folks who seldom get on public social media to rant on the government or personally knew any activist missing in 1998 riots,  yet are increasingly affected by the lack of law and order on daily live and thinking that a tough ex-military like Prabowo would be the salvation. These people feel the immediate pinch of income taxes and find it hard to like, let alone vote for, an old guard tycoon like Bakrie that’s been seen as evading taxes, balking out of a major corporate responsibility and now harboring illusion to (co-)rule the country. They may or may not be aware of Gerindra’s manifesto to nationalize all foreign assets, but they remember how PDIP screwed up our economy while in power. I’ve never done any measurable research on this demographic, but they do exist and unless there’s a third option they may vote for Gerindra or forego voting altogether, neither which will help Jokowi to get elected.

You think this is bleak? Think deeper and note that doesn’t matter how you turn the angle around, there solidly remains a good ol’ Golkar seed on each of the running ticket, wearing yellow or not. So, what new leaders have exactly we, as a nation, produced for these past sixteen reformed years? Apparently, very few and far between. For 32 years Soeharto denied the nation proper political education and adequate public leadership training ground, and halfway through that time now we haven’t managed to fully reverse the motion or even rid of his ghosts. Sixteen years ago, in the middle of the euphoria, did any of us see this coming?

Happy sweet sixteen, Reformasi. Gosh, I need a stiff drink.

As published: http://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2014/05/17/urban-chat-sixteen-years-ago-did-any-us-see-coming.html

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