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[Interview] Election Means Many Things in Indonesian Politics
Citizen reporter Maria Margaretta V.N. Hakim shares view on country's recent legislative elections
Amin George Forji (amingeorge)     Print Article 
Published 2009-04-11 14:19 (KST)   
Indonesia has just concluded its parliamentary elections, and although the final results would not be known before two weeks, early returns from the poll however indicate that President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono is well placed for re-election. With the credit crunch looming, most candidates could not resist the temptation of re-branding themselves as Obama-the man now believed to solve the current global economic meltdown. How has this played down with the electorate? What are the expectations of Indonesian voters?

I posed some of these questions to Maria Margaretta Vivijanti N. Hakim, a fellow citizen reporter in Jakarta, via email. In her answers, she told me that the people obviously want change in reforms as well as big results. Despite the skepticisms of the past, she argued, Indonesian politics is finally on a sure path, as the country take cognizance of world attention.

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Indonesians are currently queuing for what has been described in some circles as an Easter Parliamentary election. How important is this present elections in your country's political process?

This is the third election after the era of reformation, but this is also the first time we can vote our own legislative by name. Personally I like this new system, because we can choose names that we do know and we can ask their commitment for their promises. If we do not know any of those legislative names then we can also relying on the party that we trust will represent our voices to the government. I think it is important that people choose their own legislative. Sometimes votegetters did not receive their seats as they were not in the elitist circle of a party, while actually people trusted the party because of those votegetters' hardwork and commitment to people.

Yet, this new system is also confusing for the grassroots as we do not always know those legislative track records. Some said in Indonesian expression "Membeli kucing dalam karung" (it is like buying a cat in a bag), we don't really know who we are voting for. But, I believe that once this system is working, then people will learn how to watch and choose their future legislatives. And legislatives chosen will be careful as people can give their votes to any name in the party. They are representing peoples through the political party. If a party is not loyal to the interest of the grassroots, they should be the internal voices to remind their party about our voices that was given to them. My only concern is the possibility of money politics, as this five minutes vote will affect us for at least five years consequences. But, the first step is always the harder one.

Maria Margaretta Vivijanti N. Hakim
©2009 Maria Margaretta Vivijanti N. Hakim
Easter holiday also made some citizen away for holiday. The election system this year doesn't supportive for those who are not in the district where their ID card issued.

Indonesian democracy is just 10 years old. With 38 political parties taking part, without any clear agenda, would you say that the democratic process in Indonesia is still struggling to discover itself, or people are not just so inspired with politics?

I wouldn't say that Indonesian democracy is just 10 years old. Indonesia was born together with our UUD'45 (the 1945 Constitution of Indonesia, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Constitution_of_Indonesia). Constitutionally the power of people is recognized, and we are giving our voices through the electoral process to our representatives. We went up and down in democracy through the years. We can say that we are facing a struggle into a (hopefully) more mature democracy. We went through the previous nine elections, each with its own problems. From the first election (1955) women were already exercising their right to vote. Yet, we might be in the process of a new democracy, where freedom of speech is really granted. Where communication is really interactive and universal, acknowledging that the world is really watching us.

For more than 20 years, we only have had three political parties. We are re-learning how to perform our freedom to choose our own legislatives, we are studying the commitment of all those new parties. In the other part, we were also disappointed with the result. We are living in an instant generation, we would like to harvest as soon as possible. It would take time...Yet around 40 percent of the voters are 'golput' (white party, not choosing any party). This time there are also people who become 'golput' by administrative mistakes.

Most candidates have produced posters identifying themselves with celebrities and eye catchy names such as Obama, Beckham, James Bond, etc. What is your take on this? Does this make them questionable or connected to the public?

Hey, it's interesting to know that you are aware of that. I don't know about Beckham and James Bond. But I do know that President Obama made a lot of impact here. I will send you a picture of a legislative using Obama as his catchy name. For me, it would make those who used names like that questionable. Are they seriously working for us, or they are just trying to make us laughing? Through the years of Soeharto we were facing the electoral period as a democracy party. It was a party, we went out in mass to show our support to a certain political party, a time that we can exercise our freedom to vote (perhaps those in working as government officers and PNS and or their family were not really experiencing this, so this is really personal opinion). But, we are developing... at least the new generation needed more than that. We don't need false promises, we do need action, we need to hear mission, planning, and then action. Perhaps that's the reason behind the increased white party voters.

As a citizen journalist, what has been your personal observation of the process? Has the mainstream media been balanced in coverage? What has been the role of citizen journalism in this year's poll?

Personally my interest is more to art, culture, and education. I'm not really keen on politic, but a lot of art, culture, or education issues will have a direct correlation with the new legislatives. So, I'm not really observing the whole process, but I'm not being indifference too. We have a lot of media, printed media and online media, so we can choose a lot of sources of information. Citizen journalism is an important bridge from citizen to the conventional media. Our voices are the support for the mainstream media to develop their own articles. It is a win-win solution. We are free to say what we have in mind, and the mainstream media can help explain things or situation that is not yet in our perspectives. Wikimu (the local citizen journalism website that I joined), together with vivanews.com made a special writing competition about the election. Vivanews has a u-report section, a citizen journalism part of that online media. That section will show article from Wikimu's contributors. Wikimu readers can also read those articles uploaded by Vivanews' citizen contributors. Articles went through an editorial decision in cooperation between both websites.

New citizen journalism websites were also emerging like Politikana, or pilahpilih. Mainstream media who have citizen journalism section in their online website are also giving more rooms to show opinions on this political event, the example is Kompasiana from Kompas group. The most amazing up-dated news perhaps came from the social networking like Face Book. We can read all those angry "administrative driven golput" grumbling in Face Book, or who went out after the election to have a free cup of Starbucks coffee (and having a small reunion with friends there) only by showing the tinted finger (sign that we have voted), or more serious questions and opinions coming from citizen to candidates.

President Obama has proven the strength of the new media, and it seems that Indonesian legislatives are also turning their head to the new media. Yet, we are still learning to face the new media in its own stand, changing our way from viewing it only as a conservative media going online. And there is still the need to accommodate the opinion from people who are not connected to the internet.

What are the expectations of the electorate? What in your opinion would be the mistakes at the poll?

I think every time citizen give their votes, what it actually means is that they want a better life. Facing the global financial crises is the most difficult task that the new elected legislatives (and the new government after the presidential election) to handle. Security in term of financial and human right exercises is most important facts that we need. That, I think, is also a universal need.

For the last question, I'm going to use the answer from a scholar who is also a politic observer, Anis Baswedan. He said that the most important thing is that those who lost in this election should accept that and help those in the position to develop the country. I agree with him. So, in my opinion, the mistakes would be: if we are angry with the situation and do not follow the judicial procedures. We are in the process of learning this new democracy; hopefully we won't ruin the success that we had in the 2004 election by exercising violent protests. This is a step of learning for the presidential election in July, and for the next election...five years from now.

Your last remarks?

This year, the General Elections Committee has made a lot of unprofessional mistakes, but I do hope that it won't ruin the process of learning this new democracy. I hope we are going to learn from our past and present mistakes as a foundation to a better tomorrow.

©2009 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Amin George Forji

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