Election is coming: don’t make the wrong choice (again)!

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Abdurrahman Syebubakar
Chairman of the Managing Board of the Institute for Democracy Education (IDe)

IO – This year, we are in a political year, to be specific an electoral political year. Colossal Regional Elections were held simultaneously on 27 June 2018 in 17 provinces, 39 municipalities, and 115 regencies with a total of 160 million voters taking part. At the same time, the electoral battle drums for the duel to obtain the top position in the Republic are beaten. The two Presidential/Vice-Presidential Candidate Pairs, Joko Widodo-Ma’ruf Amin and Prabowo Subianto-Sandiaga Salahuddin Uno, registered as contestants in the 2019 Presidential Elections just last month.

The Elections Commission (Komisi Pemilihan Umum – “KPU”) will be appointing these two candidate pairs on 20 September 2018, simultaneously with the appointment of the People’s Representative Council (Dewan Perwakilan Rakyat – “DPR”), Regional Representative Council (Dewan Perwakilan Rakyat Daerah – “DPRD”), and Regional House of Representatives (Dewan Perwakilan Daerah – “DPD”) candidates. The electoral politics are expected to generate “visionary, competent, trustworthy, and with strong political commitment” results. The problem is that, political realities are not always in line with expectations. Instead of electing quality leaders, the people frequently elect figures that lack these four political attributes.

5 Types of Political Leaders
When we read into our current political realities, we have at least 5 types of political leaders:

  • First, leaders with a great vision, but they are limited to rhetoric and pipe dreams, without the ability to translate them into policy options and implementation.
  • Second, leaders who are competent on operational and program levels without any vision, so that they lead without any direction.
  • Third, quality leaders with a combination of “alternative vision”, the ability to translate them into policy options, and the political courage in order to dismantle the system and fight evil elements – the economic and political predators – in the system.
  • Fourth, leaders who (seem) simple and populist, but do not have the vision, competence, or political courage to realize the political promises cooked up by their campaign teams.
  • And finally, to borrow the term used by Prof. Daron Acemoğlu and Prof. James A. Robinson in the book Why Nations Fail (2012), “ignorant leaders”, i.e. foolish, predatory, non-visionary, incompetent, and sly leaders.

Ignorant leaders are generally born out of a closed-off, corrupt malevolent authoritarianism, political systems. However, they may also appear due to political accidents or an oligarchic system that hacks into democracy. This type of leader definitely does not have the political will and courage to fulfil their political promises. In the ignorant leader’s dictionary, there is no “moving on” from an unjust hyper-neo-liberalist approach to a “human development” paradigm based on the people’s interest and empowerment.

For an ignorant leader, it does not matter whether the development approach s/he implements supports the common people and generates welfare for them, or to the contrary, will bring suffering for them. The most import thing is that their power expands and continues, their purse remains full, and the political dealers behind the ignorant leader obtain multiple benefits. As they were elected through a flawed system and by cheating, ignorant leaders tend to think only about the efforts to obtain and maintain power by monopolizing economic-political possession.

Ignorant leaders are also interested in maintaining and expanding the reach of their fanatically blinded followers in order to preserve their power. On the contrary, politically-intelligent citizens are a main threat to ignorant leaders. Therefore, ignorant leaders obstruct the channels for the development of the people’s political intelligence in any way they can. With their power, the national and popular life of the country deteriorates. This is more than just stagnation and neglect of development in all fields, but the country itself is being driven towards failure.

 

Why do we make the wrong choice?

A wrong choice can be caused by various factors, including capital-intense electoral politics, the tradition of secret negotiation in politics and money politics, the dysfunction of political parties, and the low political awareness and intelligence of the people. Other than these factors, the elements that should have served as political agents of change and enlightenment, such as the mass media, civil communities, academicians, observers, think tanks, and other liaison groups are also responsible for electoral political accidents. Not a few of these middle-class groups are coopted by power and money politics. A lot of them are fooled by image-making politics because they have technical and technocratic abilities with insufficient political literacy.

In line with these conditions, they also lack the objective and rational parameters that would allow them to choose quality leaders. The general references used in making a voting decision are electability, popularity, and acceptability. In many cases, these three variables can be instantly created and engineered through “image creation” political projects with strong financial backing. In conse­quence, the ones elected are those with thick billfolds, celebrities, incumbents, or incumbents’ families. Political competence, vision, credibility, and commitment, which are strongly related to the quality of candidate leaders, are frequently bypassed. Figures with qualitative and ideal characteristics do not have the chance to assume the stage on electoral politics.

Then what can we do to reduce the potential of wrong choices or electoral political accidents, specifically in the 2019 Presidential Elections?

Adopting economic-political analysis instruments, two key variables other than popularity, acceptability, and electability should be used as reference in making a choice during the Presidential Elections: “political necessity” and “political credibility”. Political desirability helps in mapping out the main developmental problems or challenges for a relative comparison of the quality of a candidate.

The main challenge faced by our people and nation is not about the technical-technocratic options of development, but unfair systems and policies. Unhealthy political systems conspire with “phony capitalism”, a term used by Prof. Joseph Stiglitz, Nobel Prize winner in economics, in his book, The Great Divide (2015). These cross-currents are fertile for the growth of oligarchy, the possession of the nation’s wealth among a few people, which is a common conspiracy pattern between leaders and backers.

Monopolistic possession of economic and political resources generates multi-dimensional inequality and poverty: social, economic, and political. These three inequality and poverty aspects negatively affect each other in a vicious circle. What is happening is not the reduction of the number and level of suffering of poor people, but the impoverishment and marginalization of the common people. The list of this country’s problems continues to expand within the past 4 years. The list includes the paralysis of democracy with the persecution of civil liberties, a depressed economy, a Rupiah sinking in value against the US dollar, skyrocketing debt, slow human development growth, selective implementation of the law, continued increase of natural resource exploitation, lowered happiness quotient, and continued expansion of corruption. A most poignant point amid the infrastructure construction extravaganza is that our brothers and sisters in Asmat, Papua, suffered from starvation in early 2018.

In order to resolve these challenges, which are rooted in corrupt systems and corrupt policy selections, we need leaders who are not only competent at an operational level, but much more importantly, have a great vision and a strong political will to dismantle the unfair system of oligarchy. The logical consequence is that there is a moral responsibility to fight against oligarchs, corruptors, and power hunters. They are also expected to have the political courage to leave the oligarchic system behind in a move towards a human development approach that puts the people as the central point (agents) of development. Under the command of quality leaders, the people are present for all the people, not for the interest of specific groups.

However, the consideration of political necessities is insufficient. It is even meaningless in the effort to generate quality leaders, unless it is accompanied by the tracking of political credibility. This variable directs us to review the political records of our candidate leaders and the groups surrounding them, including supporting political parties. Leaders who are replete with negative records, surrounded by political power leaders and dealers, and supported by political parties that are replete with corruptors, cannot possibly have the courage to go against the flow. It is more than likely that they would be dragged by the flow, turning into main perpetrators of corrupt policies and practices that bring misery to the common people. Therefore, we must ensure that in the next electoral political process, i.e. the 2019 Presidential Elections, we select leaders who have the closest balance between political idealism and political realism, not an ignorant leader. We must prioritize political necessity and political credibility as part of our political idealism, and mix it with the three variables of political realism: popularity, acceptability, and electability.