The idea of using celebrity in politics is not a new phenomenon and it is not unheard of that celebrity translates to power at the ballot box. Let's face it if an actor in B-grade movies can reach the White House and become a revered political leader where people still talk favourably of the Reagan years and Reaganism then why should any body be surprised if similar things happen in Indonesia, albeit on a much smaller stage to date in the West Java elections for Governor.
The Indonesian parliament has a good cross-section of the Indonesian entertainment industry populating its halls of power. As Indonesia enters into an election cycle the political horse trading that goes on to get candidates into the fold will start in earnest. In a country with a population of more than 220 million and myriad gossip shows the reality is that celebrities are often much more recognizable than politicians.
Even where celebrities are not on the ticket they are high profile in a campaign as they come out to support various other candidates. Dangdut singers also make a pretty decent living during the election cycle because just about every campaign stop includes a show! The likes of Dewi Persik are sure to see a financial windfall over the next 18 months even if they do not endorse particular candidates or parties.
Anyway back to the point of this post. The Governor and Deputy Governor-elect in the province of West Java includes in the Deputy Governor slot Dede Yusuf. Dede Yusuf is an actor in both soaps and advertisements (his face is plastered all over the sides of buses as he flogs a headache medication), he is also a former Tae Kwon Do champion, and now a politician. His political credentials are perhaps a little slim in terms of pickings but to all intents and purposes he is pretty much a new-comer to politics as a member of the Amien Rais founded National Mandate Party (PAN).
The Governor-elect is from the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) and has been a member of the Jakarta Legislature for the 2004 - 2009 period. His celebrity is much lower profile than his Deputy although he has been recognized in some political circles as a bit of a shaker & mover. See, it was even possible to write a couple of sentences without even writing his name, Ahmad Heryawan.
Both the Governor and Deputy Governor-elect appear to be relatively clean in terms of not having any lingering corruption issues and not being "tainted" with too close an affiliation with the New Order of Soeharto. Why do I mention this, only because these two issues seem to resonate with voters.
The Governor and Deputy Governor-elect although not saying so publicly do not see celebrity as a major factor in their victory. Most commentators are putting the win down to superior credentials and better grass-roots organizing.
If there is a phenomenon here it has been the ability of the PKS to mobilize voters and get them to voting booths. The celebrity angle might be a factor in who was chosen but the cold hard reality is that you have to get the people from their homes to polling locations and get them to vote. PKS seems to have done this better than the other parties that are affiliated with the candidates in second and third spots.
Heading into a general election cycle this should be a warning to the bigger parties such as Golkar and the PDI-P that the 2009 election will not let them rest on their laurels as big parties they are going to have to mobilize their considerable resources to getting the people to polling stations or some of these newer parties are going to steal their thunder.
However, it was interesting to see that the President put a little bit of perspective into the debate by suggesting that when it is all said and done they were but a Governor and Deputy Governor elect and would have to operate and run West Java in line with national policy and objectives. This was based on the President's belief that he,and he alone, holds the mandate to govern from the people and in essence they should toe the national line.
Yet, the power of celebrity is this, the incumbent managed to run in third place out of the three pairs running, even though he should have been able to capitalize on his incumbency. The second place-getters included a former Soeharto era Minister, an retired army officer, and a relatively high profile post-army life, in Agum Gumelar.
The Governor and Deputy Governor-elect could not even vote in the election because their identity cards register them as residents of Jakarta and not West Java! So, obviously there are no requirements to be resident in the electorate at the time of the vote. Admittedly, Bandung is not that far from Jakarta, but all the same as a matter of principle one would have thought elected office would require residency.