Democracy is ugly, but is all we have

March 22nd, 2009 § 0

logo-pemiluElection day is nigh, and this would be utterly obvious at least to anyone living in Jakarta for they have had to endure the horrid experience of playing hide and seek with rowdy campaign crowds and the traffic debacle that would almost certainly transpire since the hunting season officially kicked off last week.

Isn’t democracy wonderful?  At least it should be to most of us who are too busy trying to make ends meet–or to pay off the loan on that glittering new SUV now perched peacefully in the garage–to be properly informed about our foremost civic duty.  If it hadn’t been for democracy, nothing would have forced our ignorant souls to pay any inkling of attention to whatever the legislators-to-be have to say about how a sprawling archipelago nation of 245 million is to be governed.  Nay, there is nowhere to escape the constant onslaught of political newspeak delivered right to our face; not the television as all the big networks are contemptuously coveting the title of “the election channel,” not any of the scandal sheets where all the most insidious perversions of our nation’s crème de la crème have been laid bare for all to see, and certainly not the internet where online political ads have turned up even on the most seemingly unassuming sites.

votingIf you think this is a prelude to a sarcastic rant about the failings of democracy in a  perennially developing nation such as our beloved Indonesia, you would be wrong.  I celebrate the fact that it took me 2 extra hours to get to a meeting with the most challenging client in the middle of an unforgiving tropical storm.  I’m grateful about seeing political talking heads rattling off the most unbelievably thoughtless analyses about the candidates’ chances of winning enough votes to secure a seat in the parliament, or their takes on what VP Jusuf Kalla’s run as a presidential candidate means to his cohabitation with President SBY.  And yes, I enjoy seeing haphazardly prepared candidates unbecomingly turning a TV debate show into an episode of Whose Line Is It Anyway, even though they were not supposed to be funny.

I believe in the oft-repeated wisdom of the general election as the time to celebrate our newly found democracy.  Indeed, campaign seasons were almost certainly a big quinquennial bash with music shows–and political sermons–served to political constituents eagerly blessing any candidate who was willing to pony up the highest amount of rupiah.  If political rallies seem to have become more subdued nowadays, that doesn’t mean no celebration is taking place.  Don’t take my word for it; just look at the polychromatic exhibition of candidates’ banners persistently adorning our streets.

Yes, democracy is brute, noisy, traffic jam-inducing, and most certainly ugly as Plato would readily attest to.  But it is also the only way to let the politicos know that they don’t mean a penny without us.  At least once in every five years, the honorable parliamentarians whose utterances are law and incomes are far beyond what us mortals can dream of will be focusing hard, devising illegitimate trickeries, hiring the most attractive campaigners they could find, manipulatively scheming solely to get our valuable votes.

model-kampanyeYou may be lamenting that when campaigning, the candidates should be offering the most sophisticated sounding economic arcana to get us through the global credit crisis or peddling the most convincing ideological platform with which voters can identify, but these are all beside the point.  In fact, the whole point of democracy is neither to ensure that our nation becomes a land flowing with milk and honey and streets lined with gold, nor to cater for our ideological inclinations.  Rather, democracy means that nobody can have exclusive claim over the fate of our land, and specifically for us Indonesians, it is quite possibly the only thing in which we can say we are far ahead of our neighboring nations.  Sure, other nations in our neighborhood can boast better living standards, higher incomes and faster internet connection.  Yet as democracy continues to take roots in our land but falter in theirs, none of them can claim to be a nation of free and desperately optimistic people.

So shut your eyes, close your ears while the politicos bombard you with their nonsense, their operatives stubbornly surround you with their likenesses for the next month or so.  On April 9, go to the voting booth or don’t, and be glad that whatever you do you have the freedom to choose.

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