February 1, 2012
When political elites lack a sense of crisis — Donny Syofyan
It is really shocking to see the dramatic pictures of students risking their lives to get to their school in Sanghiang Tanjung after three suspension bridges in Lebak regency, Banten province, collapsed due to flooding recently. It is not wrong to say that such kids are more daring than Indiana Jones, a famous Hollywood hero, judging by their numbers and ages. This story has been covered by various global media outlets such as Reuters and several international newspapers.
Though government officials finally closed the bridges for repairs, the pictures are a contrast to the country’s recent political scene where elites such as lawmakers are preoccupied with their own business and getting comfortable. The new House spending on the renovation of the House Budget Committee’s meeting room, pricey chairs from Germany, parking lot, toilet cubicles, or calendars featuring portraits of the House leadership simply suggest that Indonesian elites lack a sense of crisis or even worse.
A tendency toward pro-elite politics contributes to a dying sense of crisis among the country’s elites. The new House spending certainly does not represent public interest, prioritising the elites’ comfort over the people’s urgent necessities. The pictures of children crossing a collapsed bridge to reach school against the new House spending are a startling contrast between poor public infrastructure and opulent facilities for political elites. It seems that the standards of the elites are totally dissimilar to those of the rank and file.
Rather than issuing a public apology and cancelling the spending plan, lawmakers and the House’s Household Affairs Committee (BURT) members disclaimed liability and blamed each other. Indeed, House of Representatives Speaker Marzuki Alie visited the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) office with Nining Indra Saleh, the secretary general of the House, to submit reports on the controversial construction projects. Yet that is nothing more than a smart and temporary defence and an escape mechanism. Though Nining and her staff are responsible for the House spending chaos, it is the House leadership under crisis now.
The performance of the elites is similar to that of Sophocles’ Athenian tragedy Oedipus the King whose sins led to disaster for others. Adopting the perspective of Sophocles’ tragedy, it is to a serious extent that public crime and social disaster in this country are inseparably bound to elite injustice, not necessarily moral wickedness. The elite’s sense of crisis vanishes in their amnesia about widespread poverty and starvation.
Recent Indonesian elites should learn from Mohammad Hatta, the country’s first vice president and one of the founding fathers, on how to appreciate modesty. Hatta had a dream of purchasing a pair of Bally shoes. He deposited money in a gradual manner but failed to purchase them. His savings were mostly spent on helping relatives and people who needed to make a living (Detiknews, Nov. 15, 2011). Learning from Hatta, lawmakers and government officials must avoid political blunders by setting aside their vested interests and giving in to the people they are representing.
The elites’ sense of priorities could lead to horizontal crises. Public tension between the pros and cons of particular policies and issues in the House, for instance, has destroyed social cohesion in society in the form of respect for diversity, mutual assistance and friendliness. Lawmakers’ hedonistic behaviour in their spending plans has sparked a burgeoning survival mode among citizens without taking propriety and prudence into account. “The ends justify the means” approach will be most commonly used to show public resistance to despotism, lack of justice and imbalances in democracy.
Elite figures could get down to earth to show their sense of crisis if they set about annulling biased legislation. For example, they should perfect the Law on the National Police to put an end to corrupt recruitment procedures. Otherwise, there is not going to be a change in the corrupt police force any time soon. Other conflict-prone law is about bridging a yawning gap between employers and employees. The 2003 Labour Law is subject to reforms since it makes Indonesian companies uncompetitive, which is not good for the economy and workers. The corrupt police force or relations between employers and employees, to mention just two, are sources of conflict and crisis within our society.
Indonesia is never short of leaders and politicians performing in an exemplary manner. Popular Surakarta Mayor Joko Widodo, much praised for his pro-people approach and down-to-earth attitude, or State-Owned Enterprises Minister Dahlan Iskan, who is famous for his endless breakthroughs, are sources of inspiration for millions of people hungry for exemplariness and guardianship.
People mostly have found role models outside the political power circle, such as Aa Gym, Syafii Maarif, the late Munir, Nurcholish Madjid, and many others. Now, role models have been and are coming from the inner circle of political power and bureaucracy. Those political role models will be instrumental in returning power back to its place and function, namely to serve the people to the fullest degree.
Amid the hustle and bustle of short-termism, people long for alternative and far-sighted figures that think and act out of the box to cure deep-seated political illnesses in this country. Do not let fake politicians alienate those statesmen or reformers in the making. Political statesmen and reformers are urgently required to eliminate political crises and raise public optimism to meet the challenge of the country’s future demands. — The Jakarta Post
* The writer, a graduate of the University of Canberra, Australia, teaches in the Faculty of Cultural Sciences of Andalas University, Padang.