Oct 21, 2014

    Jokowi faces uphill battle with oligarchs

    MOST countries have oligarchs, but in Indonesia, the oligarchs have a country. They have been lording it over us for so long, arresting the nation from its march towards the common good.

    What we witnessed in the past few weeks was a display of their craze. Having been defeated in this year's presidential election, they made a resurgence with their well-financed machinery to reverse the Regional Elections Law, followed by a legislative coup.

    That their manoeuvre was backed by religious bigots only shows what heinous forces will frustrate the country's new hope.

    It is against this backdrop that the inauguration of Joko "Jokowi" Widodo as the new president of Indonesia makes the story of hope come to life.

    His is a story of loneliness and stardom, the lone voice of the cantor that is outrageously more enchanting than the chorus. He is a mockery to oligarchic diehards, religious bigots and unsavoury politicians.

    But he is a novice. We can replace the "but" with "and", yet we end up with the same point - Mr Joko will be the target. His supporters' inflated expectations can easily harden into fanaticism, whereas his opponents' animosity can readily beget a wicked plot. Agonised by these forces, his government runs the risk of simply producing hot air.

    No doubt, there will be some realignment of party coalitions in the legislature. The sooner it happens, the better.

    But we often forget the entrenched interests of the oligarchs. I have no doubt that Mr Joko has the guts to go face to face with his opponents.

    Alas, history is not made of only goodwill and political nobility. Now that Mr Joko's inauguration is over, the real plight will commence in earnest.

    First, to claim that the Joko victory had nothing to do with the work of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) and its coalition is preposterous. Yet it is true that, had the Joko volunteers not entered the arena, the outcome would have been different for the amateurish PDI-P.

    Once the electoral win was secured, however, these diverse volunteer groups began to bicker over the spoils of victory.

    They have a strange notion of governance bordering on populist dilettantism, wishing to be included without heeding the rules of statecraft.

    They hardly realise that governing requires the so-called reason of the state - the necessity that must be done out of necessity.

    It is time for these groups to stop their noise and begin their work of safeguarding what the victory has promised. Among many tasks, two are of crucial importance.

    One is to ensure that the Joko regime carries out what I would call "re-embedding the art of government". This is pressing after 10 years of an uprooted presidency concerned more with its self-image than constitutional mandate.

    The other is for the diverse volunteer groups to confront the forces of oligarchy and religious bigotry both inside and outside the legislature.

    Second, we have gradually learnt the strength and weakness of Mr Joko's leadership style. He is possessed with a genuine passion for public-service delivery, but he is less equipped with the ease of conceptual formulation and presidential grand posturing.

    When his opponents painted him as being not presidential enough, they meant this grand posturing - of course, former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has too much. This game of appearances will be the object of derision exploited by Mr Joko's opponents.

    Such is the puzzle of power. Our idea of a great leader is shrouded in the Nietzsche Syndrome. That is, deep down, we feel that real power must be simultaneously fascinosum (fascinating) and tremendum (frightening).

    Its holder must be like God in the old days, both frightening and fascinating. This explains why voters were in awe and voted for an authoritarian figure with a penchant for grandiose and grand posturing.

    For many, Mr Joko is not frightening enough to be fascinating. This mass pathology will be exploited by his opponents in their attempt to sow discontent. Therefore, all supportive parties need to help his leadership by educating the populace that public-service delivery is the true mark of quality leadership.

    Third, although Mr Joko does not seem obsessed with self-image promotion, it is worth reminding him and his staff not to ape what the former president has been known for.

    The essence of the presidency in today's Indonesia may boil down to this: To govern the sacrosanct plurality of Indonesian society and the optimal management of public-service delivery, with a preferential option for the least advantaged.

    True, the image of Indonesia is indissolubly bound to the way he represents it to the international community. But, as happens so often, this game of appearances leads one to a self-imprisoning logic, in which a president forgets that his mandate comes from citizens, not from international ranking agencies.

    There is no point being adulated if it disguises ugly facts coming from incompetent governing. The best way is for Mr Joko to focus on the fulfilment of his mandate at home; plaudits from the international community will be added to his record.

    Of course, all this is a tall order. He may have been at home among ordinary people everywhere, but he now finds himself safe nowhere in the world of oligarchs, bigots and cabals. They are lacking goodwill, ignoble, conspiratorial, noisy and ultimately, they will devour themselves.

    So, welcome to the house of oligarchs and cabals, Mr President. The cunning fox may feel puzzled, but at least he should start to howl a little louder.