Insight: Artists and politics: Where is Indonesia heading?

source: http://www.thejakar news/2008/ 09/16/insight- artists-and- politics- where-indonesia- heading.html

If things go as planned, next year Indonesia will have new members of parliament. The 2009 general elections will change the configuration of the country’s lawmaking body, the House of Representatives. Through the polls, old members will retain their positions and new faces will join as rookies in parliament.

There is no novelty in this regard. Throughout the history of Indonesia’s political development, the House — as the product of both competitive (1955, 1999, and 2004) and noncompetitive (1971, 1977, 1982, 1987, 1992, and 1997) political practices — has been a regular political festivity. With the exception of 1971 and 1977 cases, all elections were held at five-year intervals.

In other words, the circulation of the elite in the House is a regular phenomenon. But the makeup of the 2009-2014 House could be slightly different. If the majority of registered voters think the way party leaders do, then perhaps the country will sport a “fresher” and “glossier” looking lawmaking institution.

The reason behind this assumption has been the move by many party elites, if not all, to enlist a number of young and beautiful celebrities and comedians in their party candidacy lists for the elections. Even though the lists submitted to the Election Commission are still temporary in nature, there will in time be permanent lists. Their names will remain on the list, as party elites seem determined to have celebrities as an important part, in some cases even a spearhead, of their electoral armory.

Why is this the case?

There is no easy answer to such a simple question. Constitutionally, celebrities enjoy the same rights as citizens of different occupations. They have the same right to have a share in public office. This is the reason why there are no laws or regulations prohibiting them, or any one else for that matter, from aspiring to become a member of the House.

Professionally, a serious study has yet to be undertaken to determine what kind of skill and expertise is perceived as most suitable for a position in politics. In this regard, we really cannot entertain the argument that artists are considered less competent for a post in parliament than, for instance, economists, political analysts, religious leaders, lawyers, or even thugs and bullies (the latter’s presence in the 1999 election was enabled by a prominent figure from a major political party).

Many often describe politics as something involving “art”: The art of negotiation or manipulation. If this is the case, then there are no better candidates for practicing politics than celebrities themselves!

Nevertheless, it is important to remember that the above constitutional and professional considerations are only conventional or normative arguments. Nations do not live by conventions or norm only. There is also an element of decency that needs to be taken into account in executing and administering our public lives.

Constitutional and professional considerations put aside, given the general picture of the world of celebrities, there is a strong likelihood the majority of Indonesians share the idea that celebrities and the House simply would not click. The awkwardness of a number of celebrities currently serving as House members to carry out their duties is a perfect example of this.

Parliament, as one notable female celebrity wisely said, is not something she or her fellow celebrities can suddenly plunge into it. It needs adequate preparation and adjustment.

In the debate over the decision by many party leaders to recruit celebrities as legislative candidates, the celebrities are not to blame. If my reading of the case is correct, they did not seek such a position. It was the party elites who went after them.

And their choice is understandable given the plummeting popularity of political parties in the public eye. Corruption, moral indecency and a lack of seriousness are among the most oft-perceived stereotypes the public harbors about their representatives at the House.

All parties appear to suffer the same burden of unpopularity. Neither religious nor nonreligious parties seem to uphold their stature of morality in doing politics. Regardless of the ideological fact that some religious parties aspire for a more symbolic and formal connection between religion and politics, their lawmaking performance suggests otherwise, where religious ethics do not appear to function or have any influence in their day-to-day legislative activities.

To avoid further electoral deterioration, many parties are seeking a shortcut. Perhaps inspired by the general perception that the majority of voters are simple people, to whom political issues do not really matter, celebrities — simply because of their popularity — are invited to save the party’s popularity by serving as vote-collecting spearheads.

Theoretically, this line of logic might work. In practice, however, the public is not dumb enough to choose a comedian over an economist, a model over an NGO activist, or a soap-opera star over a political analyst.

Should my observation prove wrong, then it is true that in the last 10 years, politics has become the only game in town in its naked sense. The primacy of politics has been reduced dramatically from an art of governing, lawmaking and adjudicating, to becoming an instrument of power for the sake of power, condoned by the public.

In this new development, I am not sure Indonesia is heading in the direction our founding fathers once point to in their introduction to the 1945 Constitution.

The writer is a lecturer at the State Islamic University (UIN) in Jakarta. He can be reached at bahtiar_effendy@