Let’s be serious, political clowns are everywhere

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Partyforumseasia: The results of the Italian elections three weeks ago were followed by rather sarcastic comments about the “clowns” (Economist et al.) who were successful against the normal odds. One of the surprise winners with a quarter of the votes was comedian Beppe Grillo, the other with a surprise comeback Silvio Berlusconi. The mature democracies in Europe with such results? Many politicians could hardly believe it, but in reality it highlights  the frustration of most of the voters with the disappointing performance of the “serious” type of lawmakers.Can Southeast Asia compete? President Joseph Estrada in the Philippines is not forgotten, but we have a new example in Indonesia. Columnist Julia Suryakusuma in the (link:) Jakarta Post today comments on
“The awesome power of sausage politics” :
Julia Suryakusuma, Jakarta | Opinion | Wed, March 20 2013, 11:31 AM
Paper Edition | Page: 7
It’s hard to take a public servant seriously when you see him waving a sausage in the air and singing “It’s so nice”, with a motley crowd of backup singers sashaying behind him.

Yet that’s precisely how Deddy “Demiz” Mizwar recently became deputy governor of West Java — and his awesome sausage-waving skills helped secure winning votes for his running mate, incumbent Governor Ahmad “Aher” Heryawan as well. Yes, that’s right, Aher, worried that his own popularity would not be enough, decided to “buy” sausage-star Deddy to shore up his reelection bid.

In fact, Deddy has a solid reputation as an award-winning actor and film director, but that’s not what made him a familiar face nationally. Nope, he became a star by constant appearances in TV ads for a mobile phone network operator, bottled mineral water, motorbikes, toothpaste, heartburn medicines and others — including, naturally, the oh-so-nice sausages.

Of course, most of these products could be linked to politics in one way or another (especially mobile phones and heartburn!) but sausages are the closest connection. Think about it. Sausage-making is smelly and made up of unhealthy, disgusting and even dangerous ingredients, including preservatives and the dreaded “pink slime” (blood, fat and bits of meat trimmings disinfected with ammonia, all colored with dye — and not always food dye). Same with politics! It’s also too often made up of unsavory ingredients, including, of course, ambitions, egos, greed, corruption, manipulation and outright lies.

Ah well, perhaps Deddy’s career in advertising has prepared him well for the horrors hidden within. Just look at the sausage ad he did for Ramadhan in 2011 and 2012. Wearing Indonesian Muslim garb, Deddy exhorted viewers to gobble sausages for sahur (the early morning meal before commencing fasting), and again sausages first thing for iftar (breaking the fast). Get real? Touting this junk-filled product as healthy? In the fasting month to boot? Well, that’s advertising for you — and that’s politics too.

Besides riding on the back of Deddy’s sausage-stardom, Aher’s win was also allegedly the result of pork barrel politics (not to be confused with the recent pork-tainted meatball scare). In January 2013 — just before the elections! — Aher’s West Java provincial government allocated “grants” and “social funds” of Rp 100 million (US$10,303) per village for 5,304 villages in West Java, Rp 50 million for 2,000 agricultural extension workers, and Rp 90 million for 400 private universities. Big buck handouts and a big banger TV star! What’s not to like? No wonder he won.

Politicians like Aher, who are in “low-batt” mode (i.e. low popularity) don’t usually resort to the sausage for salvation. Instead most simply go to their political party for a “recharge”. Political parties often act as a power-bank — you know, those portable chargers you carry around so your smartphone doesn’t run out of power — for candidates. The trouble is that Aher, who hails from the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS), doesn’t seem to want to advertise the fact that he’s a PKS man too much.

You see, in recent years, his party has become pretty low-batt itself. Initially touted as clean and free of corruption and sex scandals, it has since had its fair share of both, and is in no position to help anyone anymore. The most recent uproar involves Luthfi Hasan Ishaaq, former PKS president, now embroiled in the imported beef scandal, and an alleged sex scandal involving a 19-year-old student, (“Agriculture minister faces further grilling over beef”, The Jakarta Post, March 15). At least the beef makes a change from sausages.
But let’s face it, all Indonesian political parties are in serious low-batt mode at the moment. In fact, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s (SBY) Democratic Party (PD) seems to have completely short-circuited. With Anas Urbaningrum, the former chairman, finally forced to resign after being declared a suspect by the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK), it looks like not even sausages could save the party now. The way things are going, lame-duck SBY will soon be able to hold the PD’s annual general meeting in the bathroom, all on his lonesome.
So, who’s winning from this situation? The business cronies are, because our low-batt politicians are increasingly desperate for campaign funds as elections daily creep closer. This means they are also vulnerable to cronies pressuring them for policies that will benefit their businesses. That is maybe why recently economic policy has suddenly swung protectionist, and with trade barriers soaring, imports have fallen. Slowly but surely, technocrats are being marginalized and the free-trade reforms of the last decade seem to be unraveling fast.
The Coordinating Economic Minister, Hatta Rajasa, in-law of SBY and presidential candidate from National Mandate Party (PAN), has been pushing protectionism. He claims it will strengthen domestic businesses, deliver food self-sufficiency and give added value to raw materials. But, in fact, the main results are a general increase in food prices, including basic commodities — most notably the recent spiraling price of onions and garlic — and now serious food shortages as well. Could it possibly be because his policies are motivated not by economics but political interest? In the end, the push for power is pushing policy aside.
At least the scarcity of garlic is good news for vampires. They can roam freely now. But what to do with the political vampires whose blood-sucking ways don’t depend on the absence of garlic, and who operate in broad daylight?
Perhaps we should force-feed them all smelly sausages till they burst?


 The writer (www.juliasuryakusuma.com) is the author of Jihad Julia

One thought on “Let’s be serious, political clowns are everywhere

  1. Pingback: Indonesia’s PKS: The serious side of “sausage politics” | Political Party Forum Southeast Asia

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