Jakarta’s gubernatorial election: the people versus the ‘oligarchy’
30 March 2012
The 2012 Jakarta gubernatorial election, scheduled for July, will be unlike anything ever held before in the Indonesian capital, despite the way it may seem on the surface. So it’s important to understand who is who – and who is behind them.
Indonesia’s big political parties, of course, all have their preferred candidates stitched up. Joko Widodo, the popular mayor of Solo, Central Java province, is being backed by the country’s leading opposition parties, the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDIP) and the Great Indonesia Movement Party (Gerindra); the ruling Democratic Party of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono is backing incumbent Jakarta Governor Fauzi Bowo; the Islamic-based Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) and National Mandate Party (PAN) nominated Hidayat Nur Wahid, former chairman of the People’s Consultative Assembly. The Golkar party, looking strong ahead of the 2014 presidential and national legislative elections, is backing Alex Noerdin, governor of South Sumatra.
Yet, those are not the only tickets. Aside from these heavily-backed contenders, there are also notable independent candidates: renowned economist Faisal Basri and Hendardji Supandji, a former Army general. One cannot help wonder whether the emergence of independent candidates will make history in the long journey of people power in Indonesia.
The diversity of choice bodes well for voter turnout. In 2007, enthusiasm among voters for Jakarta governor was low because there were only two candidates. Prior to the 2007 poll, while sitting on a panel on a television program about the election, I said that 48 percent of Jakarta's residents were not even aware there was an election. Sutiyoso, the outgoing governor, had been appointed by the late President Soeharto back in 1997, in the days before democracy and direct elections. He was re-elected in 2002 by the Jakarta city council after some horse trading by political parties.
This time, we hope the decision will truly be made by the people. It is simple to assume the corollary that if 48 percent of Jakartans were aware that an election was happening in 2007, an even smaller percentage actually voted in that poll. Fortunately, public interest is much higher this time around, and the erstwhile passive voters could spring to life in 2012. Independent candidates would be attractive to voters, should they display integrity and competence.
That said, popularity and competence alone are apparently not enough to assure a nomination to run for governor of Jakarta, which with some 9 million people is Indonesia’s largest city and the center of national political and economic power. Some candidates have found that financial resources and endorsements from political czars are more important than a track record of strong leadership.
Nominations have come from out of nowhere on the strength of political party support. Widodo and his vice gubernatorial running mate Basuki Tjahja Purnama were popular elected officials in Solo and Bangka-Belitung province, but it was not until presumed presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto, chief patron of Gerindra, threw his weight behind them that their candidacy was assured.
The deal between Gerindra and PDIP to back the ticket was sealed when Prabowo pledged to carry the financial burden for the campaign. The parties control 18 seats between them on the Jakarta city council, three more than needed to nominate a candidate for governor. However, Widodo and Purnama risk the irony of losing the support of their respective constituencies for signing on as candidates for two large, pragmatic political parties.
Public disenchantment in politics is largely a consequence of a national parliament that was elected by the people, but which is not serving the people at all. Members of Indonesia’s House of Representatives are using their legally granted powers for illegitimate interests. It is corruption of the highest order. The executive branch of government provides no solace in returning public trust, as we have a president with a reputation for shying away from important decisions, leaving the political system adrift.
Public distrust of party politics was confirmed at the very beginning of the 2012 Jakarta gubernatorial election process. Just as candidate registration closed, some political parties decided to switch strategy. Having announced his choice of Adang Ruchiatna as his running mate, Bowo changed his mind and announced that Nachrowi Ramli, Jakarta chapter chairman of the Democratic Party, would be his running mate.
Bowo, who had secured endorsement from the Democrats, the leading party in Jakarta, had to split with Adang, the former head of PDIP’s Jakarta chapter, after PDIP decided at the last minute to join Gerindra in appointing Widodo as their joint candidate.
In the Democratic Party camp, Bowo and Nachrowi competed fiercely to win the party’s endorsement. One inside source said the party preferred Bowo because he has more financial resources than Nachrowi. These kinds of clubby deals make the public even more suspicious that politics as practiced by the existing parties is no more than a game of musical chairs driven by money. In popular parlance, this is called money politics.
Regarding a more formal political model, Jeffrey Winters, a noted American scholar and Indonesian specialist, elaborates on the concept of oligarchy, which is also the title of a book he authored and released in 2011. In Oligarchy, Winters describes the theory by noting that for centuries, oligarchs were viewed as being empowered by wealth.
The common thread for oligarchs is that wealth defines them, empowers them and inherently exposes them to threats. The existential motive of all oligarchs is wealth defense. How they respond varies with the threats they confront, including how directly involved they are in supplying the coercion underlying all property claims, and whether they act separately or collectively.
These variations yield four types of oligarchies: warring, ruling, sultanistic and civil. Oligarchy is not displaced by democracy but rather is fused with it. Moreover, the rule of law problem in many societies is a matter of taming oligarchs.
Cases studied in Winter’s book include the United States, ancient Athens and Rome, Indonesia, the Philippines, Singapore, medieval Venice and Siena, mafia commissions in the US and Italy, feuding Appalachian families and early chiefs cum oligarchs dating back to 2300 BC.
It certainly rings true in the Indonesian case. Many can no longer see the ethical differences between political parties, and instead have become increasingly aware of the differences between the money-power elite and ordinary citizens. I referred to this dichotomy in my 1999 bookTowards the Ordinary People’s Party. The Jakarta gubernatorial election presents an opportunity for ordinary people to cast their vote against the oligarchy and elect an independent governor.
If Jakarta voters were to stop viewing politics as a spectator sport and work hard to become active participants, we would have already taken the first steps in moving away from oligarchy and putting power into the hands of the people. As always, the process is more important than the outcome.
Wimar Witoelar is a prominent political observer and commentator.