Many political scientists and politicians practice politics with such complexity that the realm is distanced from the everyday lives of ordinary citizens.
Ganjar Pranowo, a lawmaker from the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) who co-chairs the House’s Commission II overseeing home affairs and regional autonomy, however, sees politics from a different angle.
To him, politics is the art of convincing others and creating win-win solutions, and in the larger scheme of things, maintaining interesting communication with all people.
Ganjar, who graduated from Gadjah Mada University’s law school in 1995, knows politics from the street level.
“We were still living under the NKK policy in which student political activities weren’t allowed,” he recalled.
Under the banner of the Campus Normalization policy (NKK/BKK), Soeharto’s New Order regime banned political activities within universities throughout the archipelago. The policy was enacted as a response to the string of mass rallies organized by students from the early 1970s to the early 1980s.
Dozens of students were apprehended at that time, many continuing their schooling abroad and returning during the New Order’s last decade and becoming professionals.
Names like former finance minister Dr. Rizal Ramli and former presidential advisor, the late Dr. Syahrir, are among those students who went abroad.
Ganjar recalled that as a new student, he was invited to attend a study club called Gemini by older students of varying majors at the university. During the meetings, he was taught basic values like nationalism and marhaenism, a socialistic view firstly formulated by president Sukarno that highlights society’s lowest social class.
After years of attending the study club, a big secret was eventually revealed to him. The so-called Gemini study club was none other than GMNI, the Indonesian Nationalist Student Movement that was working clandestinely at that time.
By the end of his years in university, Ganjar had planned many mass rallies with GMNI.
After graduating from law school, he did not want to start his own law office. Instead, he went to Jakarta and start developing a network with his seniors at GMNI.
In early 1997, those friendships eventually delivered him to Megawati Soekarnoputri’s house in Kebagusan, South Jakarta. Megawati was known as a worthy contender within the Indonesian Democratic Party (PDI), at that time led by Soerjadi.
Ganjar recalled that he often took part in discussions at Megawati’s home, frequently in the kitchen, along with other activists.
“Hundreds of people were coming from all over the place, discussing political dynamics. Mas Taufiq [Kiemas] set a good example for us, young activists, on how to treat the people who flooded the discussions, by serving them out of limitation,” he recalled.
Megawati earned the party loyalists’ respect, but Soerjadi brought home Soeharto’s blessing. As a result, another congress to put Soerjadi back in the top position was arranged in Medan.
Megawati and her loyalists once again fought the effort by staging a free speech rally in the front yard of the party’s headquarters on Jl. Diponegoro in Central Jakarta.
History was made that day as a bloody clash between Megawati loyalists and the so-called Soerjadi followers occurred there on July 27, 1996. Dozens of people were hospitalized and others never came home, their disappearance a mystery up til today. The clash was widely known as the Kudatuli.
Two years after the Kudatuli, Soeharto stepped down on May 21, 1998. Megawati marked the reform era by changing the party’s name to the PDI-P and ran in the 1999 general elections, even winning.
During that time, Ganjar remained a regular PDI-P member, without a fancy rank or title. But he was noticed when he was appointed to replace Jacob Tobing, who had been appointed as ambassador for South Korea in 2004. Ganjar was first placed in the farming commission, and during recesses, he recalled that he used to visit his electoral district in Purbalingga, Central Java, bringing small tractors or money to fix irrigation systems.
“I needed to prove myself useful to my voters,” he said.
In order to establish his integrity, Ganjar recognized that he had to refuse kickbacks. Most of these kickbacks, he recalls, were offered in return for his political support.
“I made myself and my family get used to living our lives modestly. We are grateful for what we have today. This has become a faithful reminder whenever I am offered kickbacks,” he said.
Having proved his integrity and competence with the public caused Ganjar to become a media darling during his second tenure as a lawmaker.
The House plenary decision to pass the Yogyakarta special status bill into law was seen as due partly to Ganjar’s stellar leadership in chairing the special committee.
He said the commission had focused on mediating the interests of conflicting parties — the central government and the people of Yogyakarta — over the statuses of Sultan Hamengkubuwono X and Sri Pakualam and their political affiliations.
As a result, the new law allows both Hamengkubuwono and Pakualam to hold their posts as governor and vice governor but at the price of giving up the sultan position in the Golkar party. The new law doesn’t allow both the governor and vice governor to be affiliated with political parties.
“I hope this can be viewed as the best solution for everyone,” he said.
Ganjar acknowledges that politics could consume him, and therefore when he isn’t trapped in the hustle and bustle his world comes down to three things: listening to rock music, reading good books and family time.
“My wife and son take after my taste in rock music. In fact, ever since we were dating, we’ve been listening to rock music like Dream Theater, Metallica and Guns n’ Roses,” he said.
He said listening to rock at high volumes allowed him to regain the energy to carry on. Ganjar acknowledges that whenever he is stuck in the middle of a problem at the office, sometimes the only thing he can do is drive his car with the music on high.
“I enjoy politics and rock music so much. That is why I always think of myself as someone who uses his hobby to make a living, a political hobbyist who craves rock music.”