Perspectives on the 2014 Succession

22 July 2014

by: Wimar Witoelar

Tempo Column: July 21 - 27, 2014                                                                

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I was with a crowd of 10 ordinary citizens, watching TV at home with more intensity than the World Cup matches. The sense of relief was palpable as the Quick Count was announced just hours after voting stations closed.

Elation came with the feeling that we were coming out of the tunnel. We knew that we had done more than just successfully participate in a peaceful election.

In a sense, the 2014 elections closed the chapter of transition that followed Presiden Suharto’s resignation in 1998. The four presidents we had in that period presided in the best way they could over a polity richly blended by old Suharto era forces and new elements of our tentative democracy.

The 2014 elections bring the promise of a fresh president with fresh popular support. First time voters were an important part of the voter mix.

Being advanced in years, I have had the chance to experience six presidents: Sukarno, Suharto, Habibie, Abdurrahman Wahid, Megawati, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. Soon we will have Indonesia’s seventh president. When I was a child, I took it for granted that we would only have one president for almost forever. In fact, Sukarno was officially anointed as President for Life, Great Leader of the Revolution. I sensed that this is very different from countries like the USA, where Eisenhower was succeeded by Kennedy and Johnson and Nixon and so on, routinely elected every 4 years.

But we put an end to our acceptance of dictatorship as “the people” rose against Communism and Sukarno and ushered in the New Order in 1966, led silently by the modest but effective General Suharto. No tears were shed for Sukarno until 40 years later when romanticism rescued his place in history. Now even the self-appointed inheritor of the New Order emerges as a presidential candidate dressed in Sukarno regalia and emulating his style of speech.

Suharto stepped down by the will of the “people” and the void was filled by four presidents holding five presidential terms in rapid succession. Like a driver emerging hastily from deep waters, the nation was hit by a case of severe decompression. It became difficult to associate democracy with peace and prosperity. Democracy became an empty slogan, Peace and Prosperity an empty promise as leader after leader took people down confusing roads.

As an engaged type of person always involved in some small form or another with public movements, I was a 1966 enthusiast, a 1998 activist and now a volunteer in the 2014 elections.

What are the differences among the 1966, 1998, and 2014 generations? The similiarity is clear: they all are all based on discontent. The difference is the reality behind the “people” terminology. They all felt like people power movements. Adrenalin flows, people assert themselves, heroes emerge. But the 1966 movement was managed by the military and the controlled press. The 1998 fall of Suharto was more of an implosion suffered by a regime that lost its edge through self-indulgence. Students and academics took to the streets, but the rewards were claimed by cynical politicians.

1966 was regime change, 1998 was not. It is delayed until 2014 when we are on the threshold of true democracy, unless we choose a 20-year backwards movement driven by self-serving political ambitions. Now we have raw people power.

Quote from a young digital marketer: “I was listening to somebody say, let’s not put too many of these memes on the internet... It was said as a joke but there was something serious in there. And I said to myself: hold it, what’s going on here? It’s 2014 and we’re still defending freedom of speech? It’s like we’re going back 20 years... I can’t support the other candidate. Then I saw there were so many people on the side of Jokowi, so many volunteer groups, and that’s where it started. At that time Jokowi had not even announced his vice-presidential candidate. Then I saw there were so many people on the side of Jokowi, so many volunteer groups, and that’s where it started. At that time Jokowi had not even announced his vice-presidential candidate. And I saw like in everything else in Indonesia, there’s so much vacuum here, so much void. So I thought if I just jumped in, if I just did something, we could generate a lot of energy. The more we brought people, the more people we needed. In the end, we became Jokowi’s largest digital team.”

An intern at the Jakarta Post wrote:

Ordinary people across the country and internationally are volunteering their free time to monitor the national recapitulation process, to help ensure a fair and accurate final electoral outcome.

Grassroots networks of volunteers have been collaborating with one another to analyze the slew of ballot records that have been gathered from polling stations nationwide.

In an election that has generated massive public engagement, citizen participation has taken a new meaning.

The process has been almost entirely crowd sourced, making it easy for anyone, whether in Indonesia or overseas, to join the collective effort of monitoring the election results.

Social media has played a large role in assisting the electoral scrutiny.

Many of the unofficial monitors hope that the election fervor will carry on beyond the election periode and spur regular citizen engagement and participation in Indonesia’s fledging democracy.

“....people could not tune out if, as quick-count results suggest, Jokowi was elected president. “It is our responsibility, our duty, to keep an eye on him, and we will not stay silent if he does bad things in the future as president,” she said.

The official real count is scheduled for July 22. It may be resolved earlier as a result of volunteer work energized by strong public will. The irrational resistance to reality by the losing candidate may represent the death throes of the public career of a very ambitious man with no options. The public has no place for him.

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