23 April 2008

Celebrity Politics

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.


Patung said...

I'd vote for Dewi Persik if she ran.

Unknown said...

i was just going to drop you an email to ask if you knew more of that residency stuff.

weird, i know.

Rob Baiton said...


My understanding was that you had to be resident of the area that you were going to run in! This was fallout from the New Order and Soeharto's kids all looking at getting into the political arena in locales such as Sulawesi or other areas in which their primary connection seems to be a business trip!

It is one of those bits of information that is locked away in the trivia part of my brain but it stubbornly refusing to come out. I will look it up later today and drop you an email...

By the way...I was just on your blog nice picture of Mr. Whippy's product after he takes a dump!

Unknown said...

it'll get worse :) - the template i mean... :D

Rob Baiton said...

Now that is a comforting thought!

Unknown said...

Hi Rob,

I think celebrity (or "Media Profile") will be a major factor in winning any elected position for the first time. Following that 2 factors will keep you there, performance or apathy. The fact is most people no matter where in the world or under what system of government have limited knowledge of the workings of government or the philosophy of the candidates/parties. This is a general statement and I understand that some people,including myself, take a keen interest in politics and results. It always annoyed me that my vote was always cancelled out by someone with just as strong political interest as myself, only with the opposite view, and we both had to rely on the masses who formed their opinion based on the outfit they saw on the Today/Midday/Sunrise type program. Thats the system.

Hows the stats holding up??, last week had a surge but things seem to be coming back to normal again. The positive thing is month on month I do have continuing growth. For example today I will surpass last months total.

Enjoy reading