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Urban Chat: Quo vadis, Indonesia?

Lynda Ibrahim

The Jakarta Post

Jakarta  /  Thu, October 3, 2019  /  04:20 pm
Urban Chat: Quo vadis, Indonesia?

An illustration of the House of Representatives compound. (Shutterstock/-)

The new batch of House of Representatives members was inaugurated this week.

There were familiar faces we have publicly scorned and fresh faces we are questioning.

Let's start with Golkar politician Yahya Zaini, who fell from grace and out of the House in 2006 after a video of his lustful, nude self with a dangdut songstress came to light.

Massive public outcry ensued, with many women vowing never to vote for him ever again. Perhaps the public has since suffered collective dementia because Yahya managed to find enough voters in East Java to return to the House, for now.

Perhaps Golkar, supposedly Indonesia's largest and most well-oiled political machine, is losing juice, so they had to recast someone like Yahya Zaini.

Fast forward a decade after Yahya Zaini's sex-tape scandal and we have a high-profile graft case involving Bank Jatim and the East Java chapter of the Indonesian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (Kadin).

La Nyalla Mattalitti, the Kadin chapter head, was named a suspect by the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK), though later acquitted in trial. Many people criticized him then, in addition to many others who disagreed with how he managed the Soccer Association of Indonesia (PSSI).

La Nyalla is having the last laugh now because not only did he secure enough votes to enter the Regional Representatives Council (DPD), he secured another round of votes from fellow members to become its chair.

Near the top, as deputies of the House, are Muhaimin Iskandar of the National Awakening Party (PKB) and Azis Syamsuddin of Golkar, two politicians who were targeted by the KPK in different cases.

The PKB with its internal disenfranchisement is one thing, but I was seriously surprised Golkar could not produce better names from its deep pool of talent.

The cherry on top, pun intended, is none other than the precious daughter of late president Sukarno's precious daughter-turned-president herself.

Recently, Puan Maharani was widely quoted as asking if she could not be factored in the political arena just because she was the daughter of Megawati Soekarnoputri. I thought of a very colorful response to that, but in this column I'll stick to the facts for comparisons. 

What Indira Gandhi, Benazir Bhutto and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo had in common was not just the top political positions of their fathers, but also academic degrees from Oxford, Harvard and Georgetown respectively.

Ho Ching, deputy head of Singaporean government investment fund Temasek, is not a mere daughter-in-law of Lee Kuan Yew – the woman earned a master's degree from Stanford and, yes, by all means reviews how Temasek fund has been performing. Even Chelsea Clinton, if one day she ever decides to go into politics, can actually list on her resume degrees from three top universities (Stanford, Oxford and Columbia) and careers in McKinsey and NYU.

I wholeheartedly agree with the sharp tweet from scholar and activist Gadis Arivia that Puan Maharani's crowning as the first chairwoman of the House was more cultural capital than a win for feminism because, frankly, that is what I always saw in her momma's presidential election.

Indonesian TV channels should just rerun 1980s soap opera Dynasty because clearly Indonesians clamor for such a concept.

What about the fresh faces?

To be fair, I want, and will, give them a fair chance, but I couldn't help cringing over three incidents already: crooner Krisdayanti musing solely about her new office's interior when first interviewed; singer Mulan Jameela posting a daft selfie video inside the House auditorium; and Lora Fadil proudly bringing his three wives to his inauguration and getting caught falling asleep during it. 

Quo vadis, Indonesia, until 2014?

With Jokowi still standing on the fence with the massive protests over draconian laws produced by the previous House, and the new legislators garishly dotted with problematic members, I'd say we were probably not much better off politically than where we are now.

What about economically?

Pundits much smarter than me have painted a looming global recession amid trade wars and environmental concerns – our last hope hangs on whether Jokowi would appoint more accomplished technocrats than free-riding politicians. 

Do we always get the government we deserve?

Individually, maybe not. Collectively, yes.

In the last election, I voted only for candidates characterized by female, progressive party or minority status. None of them got elected.

My fellow countryfolk either voted for the new House members or chose not to vote for anyone and hence allowed the bad apples to grab more votes. Collectively, this is the House we deserve now.

So, I'll focus on what I can somewhat control in the bread and butter. I'll grab more work and be even more prudent with finances to ensure a certain freedom and detachment from whatever storm is brewing in the horizon.

At least for the "Where are you going until 2024, Lynda?" question I can console myself with a semblance of a plan. In the meantime, I will watch the country gradually unfold in whatever way it does until the bigger question of "Until 2024, quo vadis, Indonesia?" is answered.

Sigh.

Lynda Ibrahim is a Jakarta-based writer with a penchant for purple, pussycats and pop culture.