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In Indonesia’s Elections, Poll Machinations Gone Wild

In Indonesia’s Elections, Poll Machinations Gone Wild

By Pitan Daslani on 09:18 am Jun 24, 2014

If you arrive in a place where pots are calling kettles black, wait a minute: that is probably Indonesia. This is a painful assumption that I hate to draw, witnessing the political crossfire involving retired military generals ahead of the July 9 presidential election.

All of a sudden some retired generals are attacking each other, revealing their true feathers. When still in uniform they looked like heroes and exemplary models of statesmanship. Today they look like villains whose selfish pursuits behind the presidential candidates have unmasked their quality of pseudo patriotism.

Hypocrites are mesmerizing voters with convincing proclamations of innocence; and every one of them is free from any sort of dubious acts, even to the extent they want to be acknowledged as defenders of human rights and champions in the fight against graft.

Such crap is being perceived in the intellectual community as an apple-polishing maneuver to win sympathy from presidential candidates Joko Widodo and Prabowo Subianto in the hope of being bookmarked before the formation of the next cabinet. But the cheap political investment is too obvious to escape the attention and scrutiny of an increasingly educated and politically conscious public.

Here is a simple proof: In 2004, when Prabowo joined the Golkar Party’s convention, nobody bothered to obstruct him publicly with allegations of human rights violations — because he lost.

Wiranto, who became Golkar’s candidate, was then struggling in vain to thwart international mass media allegations of human rights violations over East Timor’s independence referendum and yet was still endorsed by the former ruling party, only to be soundly defeated by his former subordinate, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

The irony was that Wiranto was the one who repeatedly persuaded then-president Abdurrahman Wahid to include Yudhoyono in the cabinet as the minister of mines and energy. This was revealed in Wiranto’s own book, “Bersaksi di Tengah Badai,” published in English as “Witness in the Storm.”

The book gives Wiranto’s account of the events surrounding Suharto’s downfall and B.J. Habibie’s short-lived reign, and also unmasked Suharto’s green light for Wiranto to take over the embattled presidency. It gives detailed accounts of key events during the process of change, except any mention of Prabowo’s alleged breach of human rights. In fact, Prabowo receives positive coverage in the book.

In 2009, when Prabowo became the running mate to Megawati Soekarnoputri, the retired generals did not make a fuss about him, probably because the pair lost to Yudhoyono. Wiranto had in 2004 teamed up with Solahuddin Wahid but was defeated by Yudhoyono, partly due to unfriendly foreign media opinions against him that to some extent influenced Indonesia’s middle-class voters. He was the running mate to Jusuf Kalla in 2009, but they lost, again to Yudhoyono.

Because Wiranto and Prabowo both lost the 2004 and 2009 elections, they retained their bittersweet relationship. In fact, the tradition of seniority in military circles dictated that Prabowo would continue to respect Wiranto and the latter would continue to respect him as a figure he used to praise for his rapid rise to the military leadership.

The moral of these events is that when you lose, even the opponents can become your good friends; but when you win, even good friends can suddenly become your opponents. And I only wished this had happened elsewhere, not in the circle I have for decades proudly upheld as patriotic defenders of the motherland.

It was a surprising coincidence that I was contemplating on this on my way home from the hills of Hambalang in Bogor when Wiranto’s voice  broke the silence over the car radio. He was giving a news conference in response to Prabowo’s earlier challenge to tell the truth about allegations of human rights violations over the disappearance of pro-democracy activists in 1998.

Wiranto’s news conference elicited mixed reactions. Some said he was a great statesman who wanted to purify history; others questioned his motivation, saying that if purifying history was what mattered, why wasn’t it done in 2004 and 2009, and why didn’t it start with much earlier records of the military’s alleged human rights violations that claimed much bigger numbers of casualties?

But Golkar politician Idrus Marham has challenged Wiranto to tell the truth and not mislead the public with dubious remarks. Had Prabowo been discharged dishonorably, Idrus said, he would not have had the right to get a general’s pension, which he still receives to date.

Most voters wouldn’t give a heck who is right and who is wrong. They know too well that most public figures and even state officials are good preachers who don’t walk their talk. People need concrete solution for their economic woes, but not fruitless political controversies.

This stupid row was triggered by the leakage of the military tribunal ruling against Prabowo regarding the 1998 abductions reportedly involving the Mawar Team from the Army Special Forces (Kopassus), which was once under Prabowo’s command.

This kind of document is kept by the general affairs and archives department at the military headquarters and cannot be disseminated without the consent and permission of the officers in charge.

The first question to be asked is not its content but the motives behind the leakage that analysts believe was intentionally done ahead of the presidential election, with Prabowo is gathering momentum thanks to the political machines of the six parties already backing him plus 115 legislators from the Democratic Party.

The commander of the TNI must explain whether he respects the fact that the leak of a military verdict against a three-star general is an acceptable practice that carries no sanctions by the military’s own disciplinary standards. A failure to investigate the leak and provide a proper explanation could erode public trust in the TNI’s neutrality.

Opportunism apart, those retired generals trying to block Prabowo need to learn a very basic lesson in mass psychology: sympathy goes to the victim. The best way to propel Prabowo to the presidency is to position him exactly as they have done — the reason Prabowo has preferred to stay calm, though his legal advisers are restless.

The more character assassination Prabowo is subjected to, the bigger a reverse public sentiment could build in his favor. The same is true for Joko, who claims to have suffered from 23 separate smear campaigns. The more he is attacked, the bigger his chances of winning the election, because the quickest way to turn a victim into a hero is to attack him mercilessly and arouse reverse public judgement of your actions.

Yudhoyono wasn’t a media darling when he quit Megawati’s cabinet and challenged her in the 2004 election. It was her late husband Taufik Kiemas’s repeated disparaging remarks likening him to a kindergarten kid that made him popular and invoked a sudden outburst of public sympathy that eventually swept Megawati from the presidency.

Above all this, I prefer to look beyond the election. It is not who wins that counts for most Indonesians; instead whether the next president and his administration can deliver optimally to satisfy people’s expectations.

Not only is the capacity to realize their campaign promises a barometer of credibility; the ability to lead the change through healthy political education is just as important.

That cannot be based on demonstrative finger pointing. Joko and Prabowo are good leaders and they must rely on their statesmanship instead of listening to noisy political merchants busily rubber-necking for opportunities. Indonesia needs capable national leadership to raise its dignity in the increasingly competitive world, not one that is spoiled by selfish political engineering.

Pitan Daslani is the director of Managing the Nation Institute in Jakarta. He can be reached at pitandaslani@gmail.com

 

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