The shape of the world a generation from now will be influenced far more by how we communicate the values of our society to others than by military or diplomatic superiority. William Fulbright, 1964

Friday, June 22, 2018


A picture tells a thousand lies 

Indonesians will go the polls on Wednesday 27 June to elect their local government represenatives.  The process is called Pilkada  (Pemilihan Kepala Daerah) 

This big beamer on the front page of the Jawa Pos is the mayor of Malang, H Mochamad Anton. If you don’t understand the headlines you might assume his abundant joy shows he’s won either another five-year term in office or a lottery, which in Indonesia can be much the same.

The reality is strikingly different: Anton, leader of the central East Java city and the second largest in the province, had just been charged with bribery by the Komisi Pemberantasan Korupsi (Anti-Corruption Commission - KPK). His orange vest is the fashion statement for those under arrest.

It’s alleged he paid other public reps to pass the 2015 budget.

Eighteen Malang city councilors - that’s 40 per cent of the total - have also been named as suspects in the scandal. They include Anton’s main rival in the upcoming elections, Ya’qud Ananda Gudban from the Hanura Party.

Hanura’s full title is Hati Nurani Rakyat, which loosely and ironically translates as the People’s Conscience Party. Anton’s backer is the Islamic Partai Kebangkitan Bangsa – the National Awakening Party.

\Opinion polls rate the KPK as the most trusted authority in the nation with a 100 per cent conviction rate; its bag has included regional governors, scores of lesser officials and even national government ministers like Dahlan Iskan.

In 2017 the former CEO of the Jawa Pos media conglomerate was sentenced to two years jail for selling East Java Government assets while Minister for State-Owned Enterprises.

Anton must be concerned he’ll be treated like former Bandung mayor Dada Rosada; in 2014 the West Java leader was handed a ten year term for bribing judges to acquit city officials caught stealing millions in social aid funds.

Further proof of the KPK’s effectiveness has been fang-pulling attempts by politicians who want oversight of the Commission’s activities and their own nominees in key positions.

More brutal has been an acid assault outside a Jakarta mosque. The target was investigator Novel Baswedan who is now partly blind. The police, who have no love for the KPK, say they are still seeking the attackers who struck a year ago.

The H in Malang Mayor Anton’s title stands for Haji, meaning he’s a pious fellow who has made the pilgrimage to Mecca.

He’s also rich; according to data declared to the KPK his personal wealth is more than Rp 113 billion - around 11 million Australian dollars. His two main rivals report they have Rp 6 billion and Rp 2 billion.

Perhaps Anton is grinning because he reckons he can squeeze out of jail by claiming it’s a political stitch-up. Or maybe he thinks his candidature in this year’s Pilkada (election of regional heads) will stay put for the 27 June vote.

Two weeks after Anton’s arrest giant billboards and banners were still on Malang streets promoting his values. His slogan is apik, which in Javanese means ‘good and clean’ – a lie because the city has a major waste disposal problem while traffic congestions worsens by the week. Citizens still toss their rubbish into the Brantas and its tributaries, or any empty lot. Rodents squeak their joy.

Anton has twisted apik into an acronym standing for agamis (religious), progresif, inklusif and kreatif. Like political motherhood slogans everywhere, they are vague enough for electors to accept as shared values. Policies? Too boring to bother.

Campaign photos usually have men wearing the peci, the traditional rimless black Javanese cap, women the full jilbab or penutup kepala, a shawl which partly covers the hair. This is supposed to prove they are devout, though not extreme, so safe for the non-Muslim vote.

To prove they are just everyday folk some male contenders go bareheaded and don casual gear. They add honorifics of endearment like Mas (similar to bro or mate) and Abah (Arabic for father). Academic qualifications, whether earned or bought, are another essential tag.

For those who claim to be real sons of the soil, the weird Malang trend of writing words backwards is supposed to prove local authenticity. So one hopeful has dubbed himself Sam, Mas in reverse.

Because the big TV networks are Jakarta-based, regional candidates rarely use national TV. Local stations are seldom watched so contestants rely on banners and rallies.

Students of cultural differences might contrast Anton’s Jawa Pos pic with those in the Australian press of wet-eyed former Test cricketer Dave Warner. These showed a portrait of shame though there’s no risk the cricket cheat will end up behind bars.


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