So We Have A New President. So What?
Words by Paramita Mohamad
I don’t think I will ever forget that day. It was one of the happiest days I have ever lived through. Everybody was elated, and no single soul was in a foul mood —despite the piercing heat, the unruly crowd, and the ubiquitous disarrays along the day. It was October 20, 2014: a day that will be fondly remembered as the day of Pesta Rakyat ("People's Party").
For many, it was the day we celebrated the inauguration of Joko Widodo (Jokowi) as the seventh president of Indonesia. For many others including myself, we heaved a collective sigh of relief: once again we, the improbable nation, dodged a bullet called “the return to ersatz democracy”.
But it was much more meaningful than that.
Pesta Rakyat was indeed a happy day. But it was not just a day of someone’s victory. It was the day of our victory —we, the people. It was essentially a grand funeral where we buried indifference and apathy, as we celebrated the series of happy incidents that turned us all into the so-called concerned citizens. It was also the day we pledged that we would never go back to be the bystanders who don’t give a damn.
I read somewhere that maturity is the journey where we continuously dispel one myth after another, as we plunge further into real life. We used to believe that the universe revolved around us —didn’t our mothers treat us so? But right in kindergarten playground we immediately realised we had to share a lot of things with a lot of people, and that we had to wait for our turns! Other examples are the myths of “our parents were perfect human being”, “people get what they deserve”, “hard work gets you promoted”, and many others.
The last presidential election was another myth-busting moment for me. All along I thought elections were about voting for the most ideal candidates. As days of the election time went by I realised that it was not the case. We don’t vote for the most ideal candidates in elections, since they simply don’t exist. We are to vote the least intolerable ones. Democracy is still the best system to govern, but alas, it is never a guaranteed path to prosperity or nobility. After all, Nazi Party came to power in Germany in 1932 because people voted for them.
That what Jokowi was to me: the least intolerable candidate. I was never a devoted fan of his, the partisan who blindly sided with him. I supported him but not without reservations: in fact I had, and still have, doubts about him. I will not elaborate as this post is not meant to be a political one, but suffice to say that I am uncomfortable with many of his rhetorics. Yet I found him much less intolerable than the other candidate, because of the latter’s reluctance to respect or protect democracy and civil liberty.
I am old enough to reminisce the days of Orde Baru (“The New Order”). I witnessed how people lost their voices, jobs, or even their life because of power that went unchecked. And in the last couple of years I have been observing how new laws that don’t uphold democracy and civil liberty got passed by the House. I have been smelling the eagerness to roll back to Orde Baru as some elites state that “Democracy is too overwhelming for Indonesian people who are not yet smart. " As I publicly identify myself as a member of multiple minority groups (one of them being LGBT), I have been feeling so uneasy.
I remember questioning myself whether Jokowi had been the right candidate since the days of the legislative election.
My questioning didn’t end up there, thankfully. It brought me to the myth of “Ratu Adil” (literal translation: The Just King). It was a Javanese myth, told in the prophecies of Jayabaya, about the imminent coming of an enlightened leader, a knight in hiding, who comes from a humble origin. He (of course it’s not a she) will save the nation from the doom and gloom, and lead the country into prosperity and justice.
Suddenly it dawned on me that this myth did two things: it muted the frustration the people have towards the ruler, while at the same time made them believe they could do nothing to change the situation. I began to suspect the myth was actually propagated by a tyrannical ruler.
The idea that there would be the ideal candidate —our own contemporary Ratu Adil — goes hand in hand with the belief of the powerless citizens. They perpetuate each other. The myth of the ideal candidate waives citizens’ responsibility to be involved in politics. Thus, not only this myth of the ideal candidate is misleading; it is actually dangerous.
I am glad that I have killed this myth. But more importantly, I am glad so many Indonesians have done the same thing. Not only they have killed it, they have assumed the responsibility to be involved in guarding democracy and civil liberty. We saw how some of us tried to campaign on behalf of our candidates in any ways we could. Yet there was no better example than the crowdsourcing effort to monitor the vote counting process via kawalpemilu.org. I remember I was taking a short course in UX Design in New York when kawalpemilu.org started. I remember feeling so proud of being an Indonesian, of how I wanted to talk to my classmates and professors about the amazing collective effort behind this simple website with rather horrible user-interface.
So we have a new president. So what? I bet to my last dollar he is not, and will never be, the Ratu Adil. I have high hopes for him, but I will remain critically vigilant in watching him and his administration.
Yes, we have a new president, and we elected him in a peaceful manner. But what matters the most, to me at least, is that we the people have a renewed faith in our own power to determine how this country will be governed.
May the force be with us.