Cool Cat for president!

November 16th, 2008 § 0

Mr. Endy Bayuni over at The Jak Post has an interesting piece that lays out the differences between US presidential election and that of Indonesia. He argues that the American election produces better presidents as the result of lengthy public vetting processes that bring all the questions–the good, the bad and the ugly–out in the open.

He says:

Voting for a president in Indonesia is an exercise of “buying a cat in the sack”, to borrow the popular Indonesian expression. We know they move and meow, but not much else about them. There remains the big risk of picking the wrong cat.

By contrast, the U.S. election is like a cat beauty contest, where the candidates are paraded before voters who scrutinize them right down to the smallest of details. The risk of picking the wrong cat is virtually eliminated.

Americans get the Cool Cat, while Indonesians will likely end up with the Smelly Cat.

I’m guessing that he’s referring to this cat (it’s the one making the cool finger while holding the dog–not the dog):

I’m kidding. He’s probably talking about this cool looking cat:

Mind you, the cooler cat would be the taller guy on the right, not the other one, who is too cool for Arab janitors, but not too cool for Arab former US congresswoman, and obviously not as cool as the guy on the right.

According to Mr. Bayuni, Americans are able to pick cool cats for president because of their unusually long campaign processes. He writes:

Obama underwent close public scrutiny for more than 18 months before he won the contest. He took part in grueling public debates, initially with competing Democratic presidential hopefuls including Hillary Clinton, and then with Republican candidate John McCain a number of times.

Sure. I can’t wait for the day when Indonesian political nominees dominate the airwaves with their glorious sound bites for almost two years, rousing voters with catchy rhetoric and ear-splitting dangdut rhythms from the latest booty-shaking act on the stage.

Boy, I sure hope the new porn law doesn’t ban this stuff. This is probably the only language of democracy understood by the Indonesian grassroots. And with long political campaigning, you will get months and months of ass-shaking treat by each political party, the non-Islamist ones anyway, from east to west.

Okay seriously, extensive public vetting of political nominees is a good idea, because we do need to know about our representatives at the executive and even at the legislative branches. But the problem is, the type of exposure you see in the American election requires a lot of money for any candidate. Here in Indonesia, requiring costly campaigning for political candidates is risky. Number one, it skews the playing field toward the incumbent candidates and major parties. Number two, it is not fair. With big parties continuing to tweak regulations in their favor–such as the 20% votes requirement for nominating a presidential candidate recently enacted–I, for one, am for more diversity as opposed to less.

In terms of allowing voters as much information as possible about a given candidate, the American campaign model could be a good idea. I actually wouldn’t mind being able to know more about what our presidential candidates stand for, their character, temper and likeliness to follow through on campaign promises. It is arguable, though, whether voters will actually use the available opportunity to examine their candidates and make an informed decision accordingly. Some people have also argued that the unusually long campaign in America is responsible for voter apathy as indicated by low turnout at the ballot boxes.

So what is our option? I think the best option to learn about candidates is to rely on the so-called fourth pillar of democracy, or journalists like Mr. Bayuni. As he reminds us, the presidential election is only eight months away. With people like Megawati, Gus Dur, the two Rizals (Ramli and Mallarangeng) etc. announcing their candidacy–even though most of them wouldn’t have enough party backing–I am looking forward to reading more about these people in the Jak Post, Kompas, Tempo and so forth. I mean, they do realize that the presidential election is eight months away, right?

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