Indonesian celebrities go for political seats

Indonesian celebrities go for political seats

THE JAKARTA POST – September 03, 2008

Diaz Hendropriyono, Washington, DC

The rise of celebrities in the political arena has created a mixed message. While many are against it, mainly because of their lack of political experience, others are willing to give these actors an opportunity to prove themselves.

At the executive branch, as it is widely known, actors Rano Karno and Dede Yusuf have been democratically elected as the vice regent of Tangerang, Banten, and deputy governor of West Java, respectively.

Currently, Helmi Yahya is running for deputy governor of South Sumatra and Dicky Chandra for vice regent of Garut, West Java. There are at least two “dangdut” singers running for deputy mayor, Syaiful Jamil in Serang, Banten, and Ayu Soraya in Tegal, Central Java.

Additionally, there are indications that Wanda Hamidah, Della Citra and Ikke Nurjanah are eyeing the second-in-command position in the City of Tangerang and the regencies of Serang and Majalengka.

Having celebrities running for a political seat at the executive branch is undoubtedly not a new phenomenon. In the Philippines, actor Joseph Estrada had been the mayor of San Juan before becoming president. Comedian Joey Marquez was the mayor of Paranaque City. The job of chief minister in the Indian provinces of Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu was filled by actors N.T. Rama Rao and M.G. Ramachandran, respectively.

Turkish actress Fatma Girik was the mayor of Sisli. Argentine cabaret dancer Isabel Peron replaced her husband as president. Twin child-actors Lech Kaczynski and Jaroslaw Kaczynski were for a year the president and the prime minister of Poland at the same time. And in Russia, actor-comedian Mikhail Yevdokimov was trusted as the governor of the Altai Krai region.

In the United States, actor-producer Sonny Bono, once married to singer Cher, was elected mayor of Palm Springs, California; TV host Jerry Springer was mayor of Cincinnati, Ohio; “Dirty Harry” star Clint Eastwood was mayor of Carmel, California; singer Jimmie Davies was governor of Louisiana and World Wrestling Federation star Jesse Ventura was mayor of Brooklyn Park, Minnesota, as well as governor.

As was more popularly known, actor Ronald Reagan was elected governor of California before becoming the U.S. president. And presently, actor-bodybuilder Arnold Schwarzenegger is in his second term as governor of California.

In some cases, celebrities’ popularity is not always enough to get them elected. For example, Filipino actor Fernando Poe, Jr. lost the presidential election to incumbent Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. Beverly Hills Cop star Gill Hill failed in his bid to become the mayor of Detroit, Michigan. Italian adult movie star Ilona Staller was unsuccessful in her run for the mayor of Milan. And more recently, TV star Fred Thompson withdrew his candidacy for U.S. president after losing in the primary election.

In Indonesia, running for deputy governor of Banten, Marissa Haque lost the provincial election. Didin Bagito even decided to pull out from his candidacy for deputy mayor of Serang before the election for lack of public support.

Although there are celebrities running for political offices in other countries such as what is found in Indonesia, there is still one notable difference: The majority of Indonesian celebrities seem reluctant to run for local executive head and are more comfortable to be number two. Among the many who participate in the race, only a few run for the first-in-command posts. Although unsuccessful, Gusti Randa ran for mayor of Padang, and Primus Yustisio is now running for the regent of Subang.

The small number of celebrities who run for regional head may create negative impressions. The public may judge that these actors do not have the confidence to manage a government, thus they need to be coupled with someone who has experience in public administration and policy. Doubtless, this will eventually hurt the artists’ reputations.

It should be remembered that there are many actor-politicians who have had some accomplishments during their administration. For instance, although the court found him guilty of plunder before finally being pardoned by the current president, some still consider former president Estrada a success. At least 46 Moro Islamic Liberation Front secessionist camps, including that of Abu Sayyaf, were overrun during his time in office.

California Governor Schwarzenegger recently signed landmark legislation to reduce carbon emissions to 1990 levels by the year 2020. He also banned the sale of sodas in schools and set a stricter nutritional standard which required more fruits and vegetables in meal planning. And California will be the first state in the nation to ban the use of trans-fat oils in restaurants.

In his first inaugural address, former U.S. president Reagan boldly preached: “Government is not the solution to our problems; government is the problem.” During his presidency, he reduced income tax rates, increased GDP by 3.4 percent annually, created more than 16 million new jobs and increased military spending — although at the end, left his government with a huge deficit. Many even think he deserves credit for ending the Cold War.

To forbid Indonesian celebrities from entering politics is to go against the pillars of democracy. Their participation does not violate any law either. Hence, celebrities who take part in district head elections must prove themselves capable of managing a government administration and creating public policies, such as those movie stars in other countries. It is then the public’s duty to evaluate their performance.

However, evaluating their contribution to the public seems difficult when these celebrities are “only” elected as second-in-command. Thus, celebrities must be emboldened to run for, and political parties need to support them as regional heads, not deputies. Only by doing so will the public know whether or not these celebrities can truly govern.

The writer is PhD Candidate at the Center for Public Administration and Policy, Virginia Tech University. He can be reached at d_hendropriyono@

2 Responses

  1. […] Hendropriyono highlights the notable difference of showbiz candidates in Indonesia compared to other countries: […]

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