The Jakarta Post
Where was I on Wednesday morning, April 9? I was having an unassuming but fabulous fried egg along with toast and jam, decent sausage and soggy potatoes, plus a plate of melons and watermelons. I was having a breakfast buffet while eying a tall brunette who was watching the morning coverage of the legislative election.
I was wondering if she was Dutch actress Famke Janssen, although it seemed unlikely ' a celebrity visiting Indonesia would have stayed in a five-star hotel in Bali, not a three-star hotel in Surabaya. I was going to ask her but the real Janssen would have denied, plus her husband was with her.
I chatted with my sister, who just voted and said I was supposed to show up at polling station number six. She simply wanted to get voting out of the way, with two holes neatly perforated on two heads for the legislative bodies. Then I started conversing with my best friend, who was horrified that his host parents in Jakarta ' his uncle and auntie ' voted for the party of an alleged human rights violator and war criminal.
Every party was optimistic of winning. Many articles discussed the benefits of voting ' making a change, being a good citizen, keeping the bad guys out of the House of Representatives and discounts at restaurants. Up to the last minute, no candidate was clear about their policy.
In Surabaya, I didn't notice that many candidate posters. Back in Bandung we saw their giant faces, names (complete with academic and religious titles), party names and slogans. But at least one candidate listed his vision, in indecipherable fine print.
I left the hotel and bought some accessories at a mall. The cashier's pinky had been inked ' she got up, went to vote, and went to work. I remember the trace of ash Catholics have on Ash Wednesday ' school starts a bit later and many students attempt to join morning mass just so they could be in school with ash on their foreheads. No teacher questioned those who didn't have ash on their forehead, but other kids did.
Of course, nobody asked me about my clean pinky. Back at the hotel I followed the news on television, following the quick count like others following the stock market or the relegation race on the last day of the English Premier League. I was not sure though on what I was missing. Maybe the pundits or graphics were not interesting enough.
The biggest problem with Indonesian politics is we don't really have ideas. Once upon a time Pancasila was the only legitimate ideology, which is very hard to define. It was designed to be a form of third world socialism (with points to represent the interests of Muslims, European educated humanitarians, nationalists and socialists). By the 1980s it had evolved into militaristic conservatism. Decades later, political parties declare their ideologies as being in accordance with Pancasila without being clear on what principles they stand on.
There are basically two major political orientations here ' Islam and nationalism. But even this year the Islamist parties adopted more nationalistic tones and refrained from publicly declaring an Islamic agenda. What angers me is that they don't make clear distinctions on what differentiates them from their rivals.
What's the difference between the Islamist United Development Party (PPP) and the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS)? How different is the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) from the Gerindra Party, Hanura Party, Nasdem Party, Golkar Party and the Democratic Party? Who are their key ideologues? What makes people choose one 'Pancasilaist' party over another? How do voters see themselves, being citizens and tax payers?
I took a nap with the television on. When I woke up, the quick count results were in. According to the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), voter turnout was 75 percent, not including me. No party garnered 25 percent of the vote and by night people were talking about the failure of the 'Jokowi effect'.
Well, it's not all that surprising that, with a dozen weak parties contesting the election, there was no clear cut winner. I went out for dinner in a crowded restaurant in a crowded mall, where nobody talked about politics.
As I returned home to Bandung, there were reports of (alleged) rifts within certain parties, winners and losers. I never liked the idea in Indonesia that a leader and his deputy should be from different parties. They should be from the same party. It's not about checks and balances, because no Indonesian government has ever been active in this regard. Politics is about governing, not sharing profits.
Of course, I didn't vote because I was away. Had I been home, I would have gone to the polling booth and made last a second decision on who I would nail ' two heads or one.
To those who made it to the legislature, I hope you are happy and ready to work. To those who said that voting was cool, congratulations, you have made a difference to Indonesia. See you in July.
The writer teaches English and Australian cultural studies at Uni-Bridge, St. Aloysius High School, Bandung.