Insights from the Campaigns for Jakarta Governor 2012
This online exhibition shows photographs, videos and other material from the 2012 election campaigns for the Governor’s office in Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia. It covers the two main pairs of candidates in the field: incumbent Governor Fauzi Bowo (Foke) and his running mate Nachrowi Ramli (Nara) vs. challenger Joko Widodo (Jokowi) and his running mate Basuki Tjahaja Purnama (Ahok).
The exhibition was designed to allow you to browse through and just pick individual sections that might be interesting to you OR read it as a story from beginning to end. As this is not an academic article it does by no means aim at presenting a comprehensive picture of the dozens of different campaign strategies followed by each team. Due to the mostly visual nature of an exhibition, several important but less visible elements of these campaigns can only be hinted at within this framework. Nevertheless, this exhibition aims at conveying an impression of how enormously contrasting these two pairs of candidates and their respective campaign approaches were and what has enabled Jokowi’s remarkable rise from small town mayor to Governor of Jakarta to most promising presidential candidate within just a bit more than a year.
Fauzi Bowo and Nachrowi Ramli mostly relied on typical strongman campaign tactics involving money politics, voter intimidation, campaigning based on ethnic and religious discrimination, and mobilisation of various ally groups from within their patronage network, but also staged media events and expensive advertising. While Fauzi was believed to win easily within the first election round, the radically different campaign strategy of challenger Joko Widodo turned the game around (Jokowi-Basuki 42.6 % vs. Fauzi-Nara 34.05%), leading to a remarkable catch-up race and his final victory after a second election round (JB 53.82 % vs. FN 46.18%). Jokowi and his running mate Ahok combined strategically located face-to-face campaigning with a clever marketing technique to capture the attention of the media. They performed on a good governance agenda of providing services for the population, against ethnic or religious discrimination, and promoting the inclusion of the population into politics.
JOKOWI & BASUKI CAMPAIGNING IN THE SLUMS OF JAKARTA
The campaign strategy of Jokowi and Basuki was to a large extent based on face-to-face campaigning in the slum areas of Jakarta. Their arrival was often anticipated with a mixture of curiosity and sceptisism, however, mostly the candidates managed to switch the atmosphere to one of excitement and even euphoria within a few minutes.
They immediately pick up individual conversations with people of the kampung (neighborhood), while walking through the narrow alleys lined with tin-roofed huts and shaded by plastic sheets. Dozens of potential voters and even more kids follow them on their way through the densely packed kampung.
Every now and then Jokowi or Ahok stop to enquire about the often very visible problems of the area (flooding, bad water- and sanitation conditions, waste-disposal). They explain the most important points of their programme, such as a health card or cheaper education.
During the whole time their entourage of a few close campaign team members and party allies responsible for organising the event in that particular kampung remain quietly at a distance. Only their bodyguards in civilan clothes stick around closely but almost invisible. There are no speeches by local leaders, party members or the like.
This creates a very personal and lively atmosphere for the encounter. People are laughing and joking around as they follow along through the kampung or pose for the journalists’ cameras (or mine) to show the “rock ’n roll” campaign sign with three fingers. This stands both for the candidates’ no. 3 on the ballot and Jokowi’s love for rock music. Using this hand sign was new to most people and created quite some fun and confusion, when people tried to get it right. Over the course of the campaign it became so iconic that ever since no. 3 candidates in several other local elections all across Indonesia have taken it over as their own campaign sign.
An important direct effect of these face-to-face campaign events is, that the population feels genuinely respected by the candidates, as they even take time for several minutes of personal discussion, as Basuki here does in a several minutes long conversation with a pious Muslim man (Basuki is of Chinese descent and Christian, which plays a large role in his own as well as in Fauzi’s and Nara’s campaign – albeit in very different ways, as we will see later).
Many voters even feel honored to have the chance to meet Jokowi or Basuki and come up with their own creative ideas to support the candidates. In this case two women came rushing after Basuki with a caricature of him riding a bicycle, which they had made themselves and they wanted him to sign.
However, the central point of these campaign events was not to meet as many people as possible and directly convince them to vote for Jokowi-Basuki – an attempt which would have been doomed to fail in a city of more than 10 million inhabitants. This strategy could only be successful because it was paired with a highly clever marketing of these events via the media, so that the messages sent at these small events affected the perception of the wider population.
This marketing strategy via the media had actually begun several months before the campaign got to the grounds of Jakarta neighborhoods. Agenda-setting pushing selected issues of Jokowi’s performance as Mayor of Solo into the national media made him rise as a media darling as soon as his candidacy had been decided behind the scenes. Overall this turned out to be so successful, that the campaign for the local Governor’s office developed into a national event on a scale never seen before for any local election.
FAUZI’S & NARA’S MEDIA CENTRE
The incumbent Fauzi and his running mate Nara chose a very different strategy quite in contrast to the personal face-to-face approach of Jokowi and Basuki. During the first official two-week campaign phase in June / July Fauzi Bowo even left all the activities to his vice-candidate. Only in the evenings he would do campaigning behind closed doors.
The team carried out two main kinds of public campaign events, the first one being staged media events mostly taking place at their media centre with no electorate (other than journalists) present.
This group of pictures from the media centre shows typical scenes of these staged events: A group of celebrities has been taken under contract to voice their support for Fauzi-Nara. While Nara speaks they are obviously completely bored and don’t pay any attention to what is going on, until the moment they are asked to give their two-lines statement of support for the cameras. What they say is almost the same, uninventive and fairly unconvincing standard phrase. The journalists do not bother to ask questions, because they know the answers are meaningless. Then the stars and starlets get up to show the candidates’ sign no. 1 with the index finger, smile for the photographers and off they go. The media will make a brief news item out of this, saying celebrities X and Y have stated their support for Fauzi and Nara. During the rest of the campaign we will not hear from them again.
NARA ON THE CAMPAIGN TRAIL – CENTRAL JAKARTA
The second type of public campaign events by the Fauzi-Nara team took place outside and usually involved cloths-covered pavilions and chairs for the VIPs to sit, a stage, microphones to bridge the distance between the speakers and the voters and a line-up of local leaders, strongmen, party allies etc., all delivering longwinded but mostly empty speeches.
This set of five pictures is a prime example of such an event in a neighborhood in Central Jakarta. First, Nara sits together with several other VIPs on a shaded verandah in the back of the stage, while waiting for his turn to speak. He is hardly visible to the audience assembled in front of the stage, all niecely dressed up in brand new campaign shirts or shirts of ally organisations. When it is his turn he starts with a several minutes long list of acknowledgements towards the present allies. During the remainder of his speech he makes a few jokes, which make the audience laugh and bring a moment of ease into the otherwise tense atmosphere. Apart from these instances the faces of the assembled population remain between disinterest, sceptisism and discomfort.
The reasons for this are – among others – to be found in two little details: In the back of the audience you see several men wearing caps with the writing FBR (Forum Betawi Rempug or Betawi Brotherhood Forum) – a Jakarta organisation between ethnic gang, local mafia, strongmen, employer on the informal market and generally a powerful local actor, particularly in this area of Central Jakarta. Nara holds close ties to FBR and their significant presence in this event sends a clear message who to vote for in this kampung.
Secondly, a banner reading Anak Polisi Pasti Pilih Foke-Nara (the clients and members of the police will vote for Foke-Nara). This banner is more than a mere statement of support from the police – which as a state organisation should remain neutral – it can be read as a “friendly reminder” for the local population to be on the right side, if they want to avoid trouble.
NARA ON THE CAMPAIGN TRAIL – ANTI–MONEY–POLITICS
Aksi SAPU (Aksi Satgas Anti Politik Uang) or Action Task Force against Money Politics perfectly merges the two campaign event types mostly used by Foke and Nara: staged media event combined with a “show of force” directed at the electorate, while at the same time making sure to keep a distance from them – both socially and physically.
This time the purpose is the declaration of a task force against the use of money politics in the campaign. As usual, it involves a large array of allies from various parties and other supporting organisations of Foke and Nara. The action is meant to counter the manyfold accusations against the team, exactly because of their widespread use of money politics.
Again, a cloths-veiled pavilion is set up in the background for the VIPs to be seated in the shadow of the burning sun. A line-up of speakers gives their obligatory recitations of support and condemnations of money politics, while standing on a small podest at a large distance from the assembled population – but directly in front of Tugu Proklamasi – the momument commemorating the declaration of independence, complete with the statues of the founding fathers of the Indonesian nation Soekarno and Hatta. Only the press is allowed to come a little closer to take pictures.
After Nara’s speech the whole press is called closer to take the key picture: central figures from the ally groups, all men in the prime of life, well nurtured, several sporting expensive watches and gold or diamond clad seal rings, and wearing sunglasses so you cannot see their eyes. On top of this they wear white caps and shirts with the “Task Force Anti Money Politics” emblem – after this event you will not hear about this task force again. Instead of posing with the campaign sign of one finger (for ballot no. 1), they show a typical strongman guesture with their fist raised right into the cameras, conveying a picture open to interpretation.
MAIN CAMPAIGN EVENT FOKE & NARA
In their largest event towards the end of the first election round the main candidate Fauzi Bowo attended a public campaign event for the first time.
Again, this event combines typical features of their campaign style: The obligatory comfortable sitting area for VIPs. A few celebrities advertised on the huge stage-spanning banner in the background; most notably Rhoma Irama, a famous singer and Muslim conservative, who should spark an outcry of protest a few weeks later, when he preeches in a Jakarta mosque that Muslims should not accept to have a non-Muslim leader. Here he is greeting Fauzi Bowo after he finished the performance with his band. Then, again, there follows the range of prominent speakers, this time quite high ranking party officials such as Anas Urbaningrum (at the time still Chairman of the Democrat Party, recently he had to step back because of large scale corruption allegations); Edhie Baskoro Yudhoyono (son of the current president, Secretary General of the Demokrat Party, Vice Chairman of a sub-section in the Indonesian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, until recently Member of Parliament); Wiranto (former military General infamous for being Commander of the Indonesian military during the last months of Soeharto’s dictatorship, former and future presidential candidate), and Sutiyoso (Governor of Jakarta before Fauzi Bowo and one of his sharp critics until he suddenly changed his mind half-way through the first campaign phase).
Interestingly, a few hundred supporters get squezed into the small space directly in front of the stage and directly in front of the media’s cameras, behind them a wall of large party flags and banners. In the videos and photos that will be used in official campaign material later on this looks like a sea of many thousands of supporters, while in reality behind the flags were mostly not more than a few dozen dispersed people. You can see the results of this in several brief scenes in the camaign video entitled Foke-Nara INSYA ALLAH Nomor 1 untuk 1 Putaran, which is displayed in the video section further below. This video shows many scenes filmed during this particular event. In line with this portrayal was the suspiciously equal “estimation” of all members on the campaign team claiming there were about 50.000 supporters present. My personal guess would be somewhere around 10.000.
CAMPAIGNING BASED ON RELIGIOUS AND ETHNIC SENTIMENT
Religion as well as ethnicity played a major role in the election campaigns of both teams. Having said that, there was a huge difference in how voters were attempted to be mobilised along those lines.
Jokowi is a moderate Javanese Muslim from the area Central Java. His running mate Basuki is a pious Christian of Chinese descent, originally stemming from an Indonesian archipelago far away from Jakarta (Kepulauan Bangka Belitung). The opposing Fauzi and Nara are both Muslims and originate from the local Jakarta ethnicity Betawi, which has a reputation for being rather conservative, compared to the more syncretistic traditional Javanese Islam. Therefore, it may seem natural that Foke-Nara were trying to attack this perceived weak spot of Jokowi-Basuki as not being “sons of the soil” (putra daerah) of Jakarta and not representing the religious stream of the local ethnicity.
However, this calculation neglected several important facts: Jakarta has a Muslim majority population of about 85 %, but with more than 10 % also a relatively large Christian population, mostly from the Chinese Indonesian minority (the term Chinese in this context refers to Indonesian nationals of Chinese ethnic descent, whose families mostly have been living in Indonesia for many generations). With an estimated 7 % – 10 % the Chinese hold a significant share of the Jakarta electorate. Furthermore, the local ethnicity Betawi has been strongly marginalized in Jakarta and today only makes up less than 30 % of the population. By far the largest voting block comes from the approximately 40 % of Javanese, who mostly follow the rather moderate form of traditional Javanese Islam.
Jokowi and Basuki understood how to take advantage from those figures. Generally the two performed on a platform against racial or religious discrimination, but this does not mean that they abstained from using racial or religious sentiments for their campaign purposes.
JOKOWI CAMPAIGNING FOR MUSLIM VOTE
Rather silently and not very visible to the media or larger public Basuki ran an enormously successful underground campaign among Chinese and Christians, gaining the team remarkable 100% of the Chinese vote in the first election round and about 93% in the second. In public, however, the team was careful not to make his Christian belief a topic of debate, but rather countered the attacks against him by portraying Jokowi and Basuki as candidates for all religions and ethnicities in Jakarta. Meanwhile Jokowi devoted his evenings to tour through the Muslim communities of Jakarta and eat and talk with local Muslim leaders to portray himself in the media as a pious but moderate Muslim man.
During the fasting month of Ramadhan just after the first election round, he spontaneously made a small Hadj to Mekka, which was widely reported about. Ramadhan greeting cards with photographs from this Hadj were distributed among the population to be send to friends and relatives.
In these and similar ways they efficiently managed to counter the aggressive negative campaigning by Foke and Nara, who were trying to mobilize anti-Chinese sentiments and conservative Muslim ideas discriminating against other religious groups. Finally, Jokowi-Basuki even garnered about 48 % of the Muslim vote, drawing almost even with Fauzi and Nara among this voting block.
The term black campaigning (kampayne hitam) describes the use of discriminatory, illegal, or generally morally doubtful campaign strategies, such as defamation, personal attacks, spreading of lies etc.
Both campaign teams were accused of using black campaigning, however the attacks carried out by the team Foke-Nara were rather obvious, widespread and often particularly nasty. It was a major part of their campaign strategy, in particular in the second, more aggressive election round. Discussing the high risk such a strategy brings along, a team member even confessed “We know that it can backfire, but what shall we do? We have no alternative.” (confidential interview Jakarta, July 2012).
Hence, in the second election round the black campaigning was brought to full force. Regularly pamphlets against Jokowi or Basuki were spread in the city. In conservative mosques hate sermons against both candidates were to be heard frequently. The smear campaigns also spread online via the social media, most notably twitter. Both teams had hired groups of young people to fight the social media war for them. In Fauzi’s team, for instance, a group of 20-30 students assembled every evening throughout the second election round to follow a black campaign strategy specifically designed for the web: The messages were to be spread via one central twitter account, two “offspring” accounts (akun anakan) with a designated use of “blunt and open language” and another 400 minor twitter accounts, each student being responsible for administering 20 of those. These 400 accounts were to be used to retweet the messages of the first three accounts and counter other twitter users backfiring at them. Each student earned about 15 US $ per night. This went on for approximately one to two months during the second election round and the number of accounts was raised throughout this time to become about 600.
Among other things, the students were told to portray Jokowi as a tool for the 2014 presidential election bids of the party leaders Megawati and Prabowo; at the same time they should spread fear about Chinese vice candidate Basuki becoming Jakarta’s Governor in 2014, when Jokowi might run for presidential office himself; in a particularly impudent statement it was said that behind Jokowi-Basuki would be a hidden agenda of PKI (PKI is the former Indonesian communist party, destroyed in bloody massacres 1965/66, which brought dictator Soeharto to power; Communism is forbidden ever since and PKI does not exist anymore). After a series of fires in Jakarta’s slum areas the team of Jokowi and Basuki raised allegations against Fauzi-Nara of being behind these incidents, as the fires allegedly occurred in Jokowi’s strong support areas. The twitter team of Foke-Nara then was responsible for countering this attack by simply pointing the finger in the other direction: Jokowi and Basuki themselves would have created those incidents in order to defame Fauzi Bowo.
Interestingly, the teams usually tried to portray their defamations and allegations as “objective facts” supported by “evidence”. This can be nicely seen in the Anti-Jokowi flyer displayed here. The content of the flyer is translated in the separate document below.
FLASHMOB AT BUNDARAN HI
In the early morning hours of the last day of campaigning before the final election supporters of both teams assemble at Bundaran HI, the large central roundabout and landmark in Central Jakarta. All of a sudden the campaign song of Jokowi and Basuki starts to play really loud. A small group of dancers performs a choreography telling the story of the campaign song. After 3 minutes of their performance the audience of about 3500 people suddenly starts to join in the dancing and pull off their jackets and shirts, revealing the iconic checkered campaign shirt of Jokowi and Basuki below. The song plays over and over again and the masses keep dancing, celebrating their candidates, who had just arrived at the scene.
This Flashmob had been organised during the previous two weeks via the social media. Somehow the organisers managed to get several thousand supporters informed and prepared for the performance, while keeping it a relatively well-kept secret. The opposing team did not know about this in advance, neither did many of the journalists covering the campaign events. This being said, it was of course made sure, that enough press, especially TV, was gathered in the right places to get good shots of what was going on. The event immediately went viral over the web, and TV stations broadcasted it over and over again for the whole day. (In the video section below you can see a video of this event and read an English translation of the song’s lyrics).
Therewith, it marked the peak of Jokowi’s and Basuki’s election campaign and sent a final key message to voters: Campaigning and politics can be done in a creative and positive way AND to make this work you should get involved and participate voluntarily to support who or what you believe in.
As if to provide a final counter evidence supporters of Fauzi Bowo and Nachrowi Ramli went around distributing flyers with anti-Chinese hate speeches directed against Basuki right at the same time and place (in the less crowded background of the photograph to the left).
FOKE CAMPAIGNING FOR CHINESE VOTE
Loosing the entire Chinese vote of the first election round to Jokowi-Basuki came as a shock to the team of Fauzi and Nara. Despite their aggressive anti-Chinese rhetoric no one had expected this. At least the rich and influential Chinese business community had been expected to be on the side of Fauzi Bowo.
Despite this defeat the anti-Chinese mobilisation grew even more aggressive in the second election round, as it was a crucial element to their dominant campaign strategy: the intensification of negative and black campaigning in order to weaken the enormously positive image of Jokowi and Basuki.
This type of campaigning was mostly aimed at a rather poor and uneducated Muslim electorate and based on widespread anti-Chinese stereotypes such as the corrupt and rich Chinese entrepreneur. It also built on a taboo from Soeharto times (Indonesia’s authoritarian leader from 1965 to 1998), stipulating that Chinese Indonesians cannot be in politics. This was paired with a radical Islamic demand not to accept a non-Muslim leader.
However, this does not mean that Fauzi Bowo and Nachrowi Ramli would be anti-Chinese, Muslim fundamentalist radicals. This approach certainly needs to be regarded as a tool in the face of lacking alternatives. Five years earlier during his first election into office Fauzi Bowo himself campaigned on an open and pluralist platform in order to counter his only rival – a Muslim hardliner.
In this context it also needs to be seen that the educated Chinese community of Jakarta was expected to dismiss this black campaigning as mere election rhetoric and not perceive it as a real threat. Accordingly, in this picture you see Fauzi Bowo on one of the last nights of campaigning before the final and determining election: He speaks in front of several hundred rich Chinese Indonesians assembled in a luxury Chinese club in the Chinese-dominated area of Glodok.
He stands at a distance of about 50 m even to the first row, alone, on a huge and empty stage. As forlorn as he seems up there, as forlorn was his attempt to gloss over the public discrimination in the face of the Chinese community: Five days later at least 93 % of Jakarta’s Chinese Indonesians voted against Fauzi Bowo a second time.
STREET ART FOR FREE AND FAIR ELECTIONS
Of course the citizens of Jakarta did not solely get soaked up in campaign activities for one candidate or another. Many NGO’s from Indonesia Corruption Watch (ICW), over the Independent Committee for Election Monitoring (KIPP Komite Independen Pemantau Pemilu) to the Association for Elections and Democracy (Perludem Perkumpulan Untuk Pemilu dan Demokrasi) were active in observing the ongoing process. They monitored the work of the local election commission (KPUD) and the state-directed committee for election supervision (PANWAS) and reported critically to the media, when necessary. They organized numerous political debates for the public, held trainings for the municipalities’ administrative staff involved in the election process, and put large efforts into voter education.
One prime example of their efforts is a public awareness campaign organised and supported by a number of local, national and international NGOs in cooperation with several groups of Jakarta’s street artists. In a number of strategic places in the city graffities addressing election related problems were put up under the title Street Art Peduli Pilkada Jakarta (Street Art Care About Jakarta’s Local Election). The three examples in the photographs from Central Jakarta read:
PILIH JANGAN ASAL AGAR NANTI TIDAK MENYESAL
Vote carefully, so you don’t regret it later.
JANGAN KAU SUAP WARGA DENGAN UANG ITU UNTUK MEMILIHMU
Don’t you bribe the citizens with that money to vote for you.
The third example is difficult to interpret correctly as it contains several double meanings. It was not included in a digital street art catalogue along with the other pictures. Quite likely this is because both depicted figures wear traditional Betawi clothing and the traditional Muslim headcover peci, the figure to the left has some resemblance with Fauzi Bowo. Both symbolism and text contain references to Satan. The sentence in the bottom reads “Together, let’s destroy Jakarta!!!”. The combination of these details seems rather radical and not quite in line with the ambition of the project to use art as an educational tool against the negative excesses of the campaigns.
Serrum – an art forum dedicated to use art as educational tool and main organiser of this street art campaign – kindly sent us their digital catalogue containing the remaining street art pieces. Previously this catalogue had also been exhibited online on Serrum’s website http://serrum.org. Now you can view the pdf document here:
In the following campaign videos you can get a final impression of how contrasting the approaches towards these two campaigns really were.
The first video by the Indonesian band Cameo Project is an adaption of the hit song “What makes you beautiful” by British boy band One Direction. The song was already highly popular in Jakarta at the time of the campaign. Cameo Project then rewrote the lyrics to tell about the problems of Jakarta and their hope in the candidates Jokowi and Basuki to overcome these. The music video depicts the narrative of the song. The story goes that the band had done this voluntarily and on their own initiative. Only after the song had become famous the campaign team started to officially use it for their purposes. This version of the YouTube video features English subtitles, which underlines that it was even successful enough to obtain some international interest. You can also read both the Indonesian lyrics and their English translation here:
It is the same song that was used for the flashmob performed by about 3.500 supporters of Jokowi and Basuki on the last day of campaigning, described earlier on in this article.
Following the initial success of this song, the campaign team also produced a short TV spot, in which Jokowi and Basuki perform together with Cameo Project, who are singing one of the campaign slogans Jakarta Baru, Harapan Baru, Wajah Baru (New Jakarta, New Hope, New Faces).
Again, the most widely spread campaign videos of Fauzi Bowo and Nachowi Ramli revealed a quite different picture. In the one-minute TV spot Jakarta Masa Depan (The Future Jakarta) you can witness a very professional and expensive animation of what a future Jakarta under Fauzi Bowo would look like. On the last day of campaigning (at the same time with Jokowi’s Flashmob and in parallel with handing out anti-Chinese campaign flyers), the team of Fauzi gave out DVDs with a more than 20!-minutes long version of this supermodern, extravagant, utopian and highly expensive vision of Jakarta.
The videos entitled Foke-Nara INSYA ALLAH Nomor 1 untuk 1 Putaran and Fauzi Bowo Nachrowi Bersatu Jakarta Indon.Subs also serve as typical examples of Fauzi Bowo’s campaign spots. All exactly one minute long, they were designed as costly TV spots, not as low-cost social media virus. And they bear the handwriting of one of Indonesia’s most successful advertisement gurus / new political marketing experts – Ipang Wahid. As mentioned earlier on, in the first of those two videos you mostly see scenes skillfully cut together from the largest campaign event of the first election round in order to create the impression of large crowds of supporters. However, both videos are generally rather similar in terms of music and imagery: they both contain passages where the Fauzi is speaking in a soft and friendly voice; they both contain references towards Allah in the song lyrics; they both contain images of a united Jakarta population living happily together and celebrating their candidates Fauzi and Nara. These videos were specifically designed to counter the negative image of Fauzi Bowo as an arrogant, distant and stiff person, short tempered, impatient, unfriendly and rarely smiling.
Ironically, their professional outlook might have partly worked against their very purpose, if you compare them with another campaign video by Jokowi-Basuki. In Bukan Putera Dewa (Not the Son of a God) both the lyrics and the imagery portray Jokowi with the humbleness and unpretentiousness, he is famous for. Most of the scenes are taken from “real” campaign events, meaning they were not shot specifically for this video. Generally, they appear to be more genuine and less constructed in direct comparison with Fauzi’s videos. The technically much less sophisticated filming and cutting techniques actually underscore the message meant to be send.
Looking back into Fauzi Bowo’s videos, they seem neither humble nor completely authentic, not least because of their polished, professional style.
HOW MUCH IS VICTORY? OFFICIALLY …
By now you might have wondered what all of this costs. Just to provide you with a brief insight, in the last two pictures you can see the summary page of the two teams’ official campaign budget reports. These legally required budget reports only need to cover the two-weeks official campaign phase during the first election round. The law does not explicitly require a campaign budget report for the second election round.
Hence, these figures cover about two weeks of legal campaign expenses for each team. The figure for Jokowi-Basuki reaches 16,089,431,757 IDR (approx. 1.7 million US$ at the time of campaigning). The figure for Fauzi-Nara reaches 61,874,182,486 IDR (approx. 6.5 million US$ at the time of campaigning). They both do not include any expenses during the months leading up to this short official campaign phase directly ahead of the election on 11th July 2012 – let alone for the more than two months to follow before the second election on 20th September.
Moreover, these figures only cover expenses directly related to campaign activities (such as stage events, face-to-face campaigning, TV debates) or campaign material (advertisements in print media, TV and radio, posters, stickers, shirts etc.). They do not cover any service-related expenses, such as payments for any of the dozens of official campaign team members involved full-time for several months, or the expensive services provided by the numerous political consulting and survey companies in the field. Needless to say they do not cover any of the illegal or “grey area” campaign expenses, such as for vote-buying, “motivational encouragement” to make the members of the nominating parties go out and do their work as foot soldiers of the campaign, getting parties and other organisations or celebrities to support the candidate in the first place, financial or logistical support for any of the hundreds of volunteer networks mushrooming across the city, bribing influential newspaper editors to give a final touch to the articles, paying journalists to provide insider information, financing the black campaigning in the social media, and so on and so forth.
Now, what do these two election campaigns and their results tell us about the state and the future of Indonesian politics?
The fact that Fauzi-Nara still obtained 46.18% in the second election round – under different circumstances a quite respectable result – suggests that traditional strongman politics still work very well, particularly if there is simply no convincing and strong enough alternative candidate to challenge this kind of politics and campaigning.
However, Jokowi’s success with his campaign style (and his previous performance as Mayor of Solo) has already turned out to be much more than just a one hit wonder of one electoral competition. The “phenomenon Jokowi” – as it is called in Indonesia by now – has triggered the imitation of parts of his campaign style all across Indonesia. Candidates even go as far to try to portray themselves as the Jokowi of regency X or Y. The Indonesian term merakyat (to mingle with the common people) has almost become synonymous with him. For many months already, he is heading in nationwide surveys for next year’s upcoming presidential election. His own and even rival parties, who had been attacking him until recently, now slowly open up to the idea of nominating him as their presidential candidate. At the moment it merely seems a matter of strategic timing when his candidacy will be announced.
If he will really run, his chances of winning are very high, because with his approach Joko Widodo hits the nerve of a population that is tired of being treated as “floating mass” – the passive subjects of the state’s agency – something which has not fundamentally changed with Indonesian democratisation 15 years ago. If he succeeds to transform his campaign style into realpolitik, of course, is another matter and needs to be discussed elsewhere.
By Vera Altmeyer, Associated PhD Student, NIAS.
I would like to thank my colleagues at NIAS, who not only sparked the idea for this exhibition, but have also been enormously supportive throughout my research process and preparation of this exhibition. NIAS and NIAS Linc are also the sponsors of the physical exhibition accompanying this online version at the Faculty Library of Social Sciences, University of Copenhagen, Gothergade 140, 1123 Copenhagen K, room 01-1-11. It will run from 30. May to 31. August 2013.
Vera Altmeyer is PhD candidate at the University of Hamburg, Germany and associated PhD candidate at the Nordic Institute of Asian Studies (NIAS), Denmark.
For her PhD project she focuses on election campaigns as the core arena of political power contestation in a democracy. The research aims to investigate how recent changes of institutiones and actors involved in campaigning influence the power relations between key actors in the national and local political sphere of Indonesia. More broadly it should also be considered how this affects the wider political economy behind election campaigns and ultimately impacts on the democratisation process of the country.
For this particular case study Vera has done field research from May to October 2012. All the photographs shown in this article are taken by the author. Copyright belongs to Vera Altmeyer and if you want to use any of the pictures please contact her at email@example.com.
This spring six museums in Copenhagen exhibit collections of art and handicraft depicting flowers. As a visitor to the museum called Davids Samling – which houses the most exquisite collection of Islamic art in Denmark – one learns that in the Indian subcontinent prior to 1707 flowers were often depicted naturalistically. However, when in that year Aurangzeb ascended the Peacock Throne, a more stylistic representation of flowers came into vogue. Thus we are given to understand that when strict Islamic beliefs began to assert themselves, artists moved away from nature and closer to a standardized ideal. The museum also notes the exception that proves the rule: Poisonous plants continued to be depicted naturalistically even in times of Islamic reassertion.
But does this pendulum swings theory of art history set between the stern Islamic renderings of the living world and naturalistic renderings of the same world tell the whole story? Perhaps this generalization should be supplemented to include a third rendering of nature, which is neither stylized, nor naturalistic. The recent elections in Pakistan would seem to indicate that even in the Land of the Pure, baroque and quasi-naturalistic forms of art asserted themselves in the space between science and religion.
This was evident in the campaign of Nawaz Sharif, the winner of the elections. Both before and after the elections, Nawaz Sharif was virtually lionized as his party and followers played heavily on royal symbolism equating their chosen leader with the top predator of the natural world, i.e. the lion. Equipped with the “fair, unused hand[s] of a wealthy Kashmiri-Punjabi” (Sethi 2013), the chubby rotund Nawaz Sharif hardly resembles a clawed feline predator. Nevertheless, in the streets of Pakistan and at party meetings his followers greeted him holding aloft lion toys or they painted themselves and their vehicles in feline stripes to give substance to their collective representation. Those fortunate enough to be invited to Nawaz Sharif’s garish palatial Punjabi home in Raiwind close to Lahore were treated to the sight of two stuffed lions guarding the staircase. The lions (imported from Zimbabwe) serve as the party symbol, and – said the granddaughter – as symbols of Nawaz Sharif and his brother Shahbaz Sharif, whose term as Chief Minister of Punjab helped Nawaz secure an electoral victory (Sethi 2013).
Lions were not the only predators with which the Sharif brothers were equalized. Tigers and leopards, too, were indiscriminately held forth as the symbol of the brothers and their party. All of this would seem to be an instance of a popular political culture throwing Islamic cautions to the winds by neglecting the call for stylization, while also not heeding the scientific call for the accurate identification and portrayal of the species found in nature. Tigers, lions and leopards are all big cats and top predators. As such they seem to be equally good to think with and hence they are evoked interchangeably in popular political imagination. Tellingly, the word sher is used for two of these species, i.e. for the lion and for the tiger (Madsen 2007). Altogether, the feline symbolism that infused the election campaigns exemplifies the powerful ways in which nature is widely used as a metaphor for human society (Madsen 2004-5).
The Pakistan Muslim League (N) won a resounding victory securing 35% of the votes and winning 45% of the seats in the National Assembly. In Punjab the party gained 49% of the vote securing an impressive 78% of the seats. Had not Imran Khan (the cricketer whose luxuriant mane more obviously entitles him to be considered the true lion of men) been around to challenge Nawaz and Shahbaz, the Muslim League might have won 60% of the votes in Punjab (Dawn.com 2013).
For sure, the lions had it in the worlds of the humans, but that did not mean that the real lions and tigers had a field day. During the election campaign, the Muslim League fielded a striking female white tiger. The animal was securely chained, placed on a vehicle and repeatedly paraded around as part of the election campaign. Nawaz Sharif’s own daughter was one of the persons engaging in this stunt. The party had apparently rented the white tiger from “a former PML(N) MNA, Mian Marghoob, who owns a large farm in Mehmood Booti in Lahore” (Khan 2013). This piece of symbolic politics stretched the natural world to the limit. Just before the election day, the tiger was reported to have died, but soon after this tragic-comic news was broadcast, it was contradicted by reports to the effect that the tiger was alive and well and had only suffered a minor ailment for which it had been successfully treated. As of May 15, it was still not certain whether the animal had survived, but it seemed certain that a legal case had already been filed in the Lahore High Court by animal rights activist and actor Faryal Gauhar against the Muslim League. Wrote Rina Saeed Khan:
“The first hearing has taken place already and the next hearing will take place at the Green Bench in Lahore headed by Justice Mansoor Ali Shah tomorrow. The complainant would like to see a ban on displaying big cats in rallies and improvements in private facility inspections. The Election Commission of Pakistan will be called as well since they are the ones who agreed to awarding the “sher” as an election symbol in the first place” (Khan 2013).
Pakistani is still home to leopards and snow leopards in small numbers, but both tigers and lions are extinct. The only place on the Indian subcontinent where the Asiatic lion survives is the Gir forest in the state of Gujarat (Madsen 2007). The lion population in Gujarat is currently healthy, but in order to ensure its long-term survival it was proposed years ago to move some of the lions from Gir to Rajasthan or Madhya Pradesh as a fallback option in case the Gujarat population would come under threat. This plan was resisted by people about to be affected by the proposed translocation. They did not fancy lions in their area. However, resistance proved fruitless and the Madhya Pradesh government has eventually managed to relocate 1,545 families from 24 villages in the Kuno-Palpur wildlife sanctuary to make room for the lions. This human hurdle overcome, one might expect that the translocation of lions would be carried out. But lo and behold! The Gujarat government did not want to let go of the lions which they consider theirs:
“The Gujarat government argued that the lions in Gir were doing well, they were protected, they had enough food and therefore there was no need for relocation. It went further by arguing that even though it was reasonable to conclude that restricting an endangered species to one area could lead to its extinction and that the translocation site in MP was a sound choice, the lions of Gujarat were like family and hence decisions had to go beyond ‘scientific reasoning’ . Chief Minister Narendra Modi had personally put his heft behind this argument” (Economic and Political Weekly 2013)
The case came up in the Supreme Court of India which quashed the “anthropocentric” argument in favor of an “eco-centric” argument delinking the protection of lions from the particular site and people who had hitherto allowed them to survive. The court found that the lions were Asiatic lions, not Gujarati lions. The Gujaratis may well claim that they do have a special relation to the lions. After all, nowhere else has the Asiatic lion (which differs only a little from the African subspecies) been allowed to survive (Madsen 2007). But this argument did not persuade the court which ruled in favor of translocation based on scientific and universalistic reasoning, rather than in favor of status quo based on ethnic and historical reasoning.
Now that Nawaz Sharif has already been invited to India in the latest of umpteen attempts to mend the fences between the hostile South Asian neighbors, one might suggest that some lions be relocated to Pakistan, too. Would it not behoove for India’s likely future Prime Minister Narendra Modi in an act of public diplomacy to let himself be cast in the role of the magnanimous dispenser of symbolic political capital, and would it not be wise for Nawaz Sharif to supplement his human stock of uncontrollable jihadist wards with a few free-roaming feline wards less likely to turn against him?
Senior Research Fellow, NIAS
Dawn.Com, “The Election Score”, 16 May 2013, http://dawn.com/2013/05/16/the-election-score/
Economic and Political Weekly, “The Lions in Gujarat. The Supreme Court judgment marks a welcome move away from anthropocentrism”, Editorial, 18 May 2013, p. 8
Khan, Rina Saeed, “The mysterious case of the white tigress”, 15 May 2013, Dawn News, http://dawn.com/2013/05/15/the-mysterious-case-of-the-white-tigress/
Madsen, Stig Toft, “Musharraf lets in the lions”, Asiaportal, 29 November 2007, http://infocus.asiaportal.info/2007/11/29/novembermusharraf-lets-lions%E2%80%9D-by-stig-toft-madsen/
Madsen, Stig Toft, 2004-5, “Narratives of Nature as Metaphors of Society”, Folk 46/47: 121-141
Sethi, Mira, “Watch the throne: Nawaz Sharif on the cusp of power”, 1 April 2013, Caravan, http://www.caravanmagazine.in/reportage/watch-throne
May 23, 2013
At the time of writing, there is every sign that Japanese politics is at an historical crossroads. In December 2012 the Japanese electorate voted the conservative Liberal Democratic Party back to power after a three-year break from 2009. Before then, the LDP had governed the country almost uninterruptedly since the onset of the Cold War. With the help of a highly capable bureaucracy, the party presided over the country’s rapid economic recovery and consequent wealth creation in the 1960s and 1970s. Its long reign, however, has also created a rigid and inward-looking political culture, and a self-serving political class that is unwilling to carry out difficult but necessary reforms if they are deemed to threaten its vested interests. A policy that favours big business, ad-hoc pump-priming measures using public works projects, and various measures that hinder women’s fuller participation in work outside the home, are just three examples of this culture.
In Japan there was a real sense of euphoria when the party was ousted by the opposition Democratic Party three and a half years ago. However, a series of blunders, but also tough policies (such as an increase in the consumption tax, which some specialists asserted was necessary in order to balance the national budget) made the Democratic Party extremely unpopular, and the party was resoundingly defeated by the LDP in the general election of 2012. Backed by its simple majority in the House of Representatives, the LDP is now pursuing an aggressive monetary and fiscal policy, which some pundits regard as ‘a gamble’, and also, more alarmingly, flexing its muscles to revise the pacifist Constitution under the leadership of the hawkish Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Nationalistic rhetoric and provoking behaviour by some members of the party, such as their regular ceremonial visits to the Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo which commemorates the Japanese war dead, are aggravating its already strained bilateral relationships with China and Korea.
This is happening against the backdrop of a myriad of domestic problems that the country now faces. These include the mounting national debt, the rapidly aging population, and the decline of local industry. All have been aggravated by the recent natural and man-made disasters, the Great Tohoku Earthquake and the Fukushima Nuclear Disaster in 2011, and come with international challenges, such as the rise of China and Korea as strong economic rivals amid unsettled regional security.
Some observers point to a general sense of malaise in today’s Japan, ‘a loss of hope’ as the Nobel Laureate Kenzaburo Oe described it nearly two decades ago, a society which is still wealthy but unsure about its place and destiny. A most worrying sign is that many young people have become even more inward-looking and apolitical than previous generations.
Some fear that the LDP’s aggressive spending policy and its populist and nationalistic rhetoric may be a sign of the party’s reluctance to tackle more fundamental questions. They fear that under the veneer of the determined posture of the party lies the working of an opportunistic and populist group, who are trying to preserve the old-style of politics, an economics-centred, big-business-friendly modern-day policy of ‘Fukoku Kyohei’ (Rich Nation and Strong Army), and to preserve the monopoly of power of a self-elected few. More generous observers might say that they cannot identify persuasive alternatives, so stick to familiar policies on a larger scale. Either way, the LDP’s nationalistic posture may be dangerous, as it may work to agitate and manipulate an already vulnerable population. And if it lasts too long, this belligerent policy is also detrimental to Japan’s further transformation into a fully participatory democracy and to a more open and cosmopolitan society.
At the moment, Japan resembles a boat drifting in a rough sea without a competent helmsman, an image that may conjure up the Japan of the late 1920s and 1930s for more pessimistic observers.
And yet the resources of Japanese civic life seem to remain intact. There are many signs of a more assertive citizens’ politics, as demonstrated by the large numbers who travelled to the quake-hit areas to help recovery operations, and by citizens’ anti-nuclear movements in the wake of the Fukushima Disaster. Shortly after the disaster struck, a group of citizens began to stage regular anti-nuclear demonstrations on Fridays in front of the Prime Minister’s Official Residence; these continue to this day. More importantly the Japanese judiciary, the heart of the Japanese politico-legal system, which has long been criticised for its inaction, has also begun to produce some noticeable rulings which are more in tune with the spirit of the Bill of Rights. As ever, however, progress here is slow.
At present Japanese democracy is facing one of its hardest tests, which has to be borne by the generations who have no first-hand experience of the major events that have shaped modern Japan, namely the Second World War and its aftermath, to say nothing of the remote, epoch-making, yet still crucial transformations and aspirations of the Meiji period (1868-1912).
At a time of such uncertainty, history is often a useful guide to gauge the present. It is high time to examine Japan’s democratic legacies (it is one of the oldest democracies in Asia) and to measure the strength of its foundations so as to judge where it is heading. What therefore were the major mistakes that the country made in the pre-war years that led it to war? What were the alternative paths that Japan could have taken so as to avoid it? How, in the past, did individuals learn to confront the state, and what principles sustained them in criticising their own government and society?
My forthcoming monograph, Power and Dissent in Imperial Japan , juggles with these questions with a deep concern for the present and future of the country. The Japanese tradition of dissent may also be relevant to other Asian countries which are also pursuing their own democratic futures. The claims of the rule of law, parliamentary politics, and individual rights, are intensely relevant to divided Korea, Burma, and elsewhere, too. The Japanese experience the book tries to recover is full of cautionary tales, but it can also provide inspiration and hope for a better and fairer future, both within and outside Japan.
BIO DETAILS: Dr Hiromi Sasamoto-Collins is a former lecturer in modern Japanese history at Durham University, and is currently a tutor in Asian Studies at the University of Edinburgh. Her monograph, “Power and Dissent in Imperial Japan: Three Forms of Political Engagement“, will be published by NIAS Press in August.
Malaysia’s thirteenth general elections (GE13) will be a battle of the coalitions, pitting the world’s most successful ruling coalition – the 13 party Barisan Nasional (BN/National Front) against the 4 year old, three party Pakatan Rakyat (PR/People’s Pact/People’s Alliance).
It is not easy to categorise the two opposing coalitions and its members as they are disparate, complex, and, with multiple agendas, often fractured. This is primarily the outcome of Malaysia’s recent history. The disparate regions and people that make up Malaysia today are, after all, an artificial construct whose only common denominator was that they were all subject to British Imperial power. A peninsular with 9 Malay kingdoms at the end of Asia’s land mass whose citizens were populated in majority by a polyglot of people from the Malay Archipelago, the Chinese and South Asian subcontinents, with a sprinkling of Arabs, Turks, remnants of past colonialists, various unique groups that were created through inter-marriages, and not to mention the many indigenous peoples aggregated together with two geographical entities on the island of Borneo, that is separated by 800 kilometres of the South China Sea, and whose people have greater cultural affinities with the peoples of the Philippines and Indonesia, and who themselves are disparate in culture, ethnicity and language.
However, all these societies did have one feature in common – feudalism. This was buttressed by British efforts to violently suppress progressive elements in the Malayan polity, preferring instead to hand over power after independence to conservative elements, primarily as a means to protect British interests. The feudalistic nature of these societies gave rise to what has become a very successful model of politics practised by the ruling coalition since the first elections before independence in 1955: Consociational politics, where the elites bargained and struck a deal where each group – first three, then rising to 14, now 13 political parties – had some share of political and economic power under the hegemonic power of the Malay and increasingly Islamised United Malays National Organisation (UMNO). This system has served BN well, chalking up electoral victory after victory at the past 12 general elections.
More importantly, the BN and its predecessor, the Alliance, were able to monopolise power because they were able to forge a ‘syncretism’ in their style of government i.e. governing via a variety of ideological orientations and political practises. The BN was successful not only because of its competent stewardship of the Malaysian economy but mainly because they were able to straddle competing (social, economic and political) interests within their coalition as well as address competing interests outside it by either co-opting them into BN, stifling them through draconian measures or skilfully manipulating these competing interests. The opposition parties and coalitions of the past were not able to successfully mount a challenge to the Alliance and BN partly because the electoral process and system was stacked against them, but also because the opposition parties could never successfully find a way to manage the competing interests that they each represented.
In the past decade or so, especially since the sacking of former Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim and the East Asian Financial Crisis of 1997/98, the BN appears to have lost this unique ability to straddle the competing interests of its members and the communities they represent, while the opposition, led by, ironically, the sacked former Deputy Prime Minister, appears to be increasingly adroit at managing these tensions.
Therefore, one big question at GE13 is how the two coalitions are projecting themselves as true representatives of the people’s wishes, and how they go about addressing the key challenges that Malaysia as a country and Malaysians as a people face, in a way that satisfies the myriad competing interests.
The key reasons for widespread dissatisfaction with the present situation are manifold, but the key issues that both coalitions have to address are the rising living costs, demographic change, rapid urbanisation and increasingly uneasy race-relations.
The BN, in the past, has been very successful with their politics of development and key among these has been the reduction of absolute poverty to below three per cent and shaping Malaysia into a middle income economy by 1994 on the back of a low-cost, export-oriented economic model whilst at the same time creating a Malay middle class, primarily through the expansion of the public sector and government linked corporations (GLCs) jobs that is financed primarily through Malaysia’s revenue from non-renewable resources.
However, this particular model has two unintended effects: widespread relative poverty and high income inequality. The low-cost model has seen wages for 80 per cent of Malaysian households stagnate over the past three decades. These households earn less than RM3,000 (around AUS$ 1,000) a month in a country where the average monthly income is RM4,025 (around AUS$ 1,250). More critically, the bottom 40 per cent of households earn on average RM1,440 a month (around AUS$ 450). Most shockingly, the vast majority (71 per cent) of people in the bottom 40 per cent are bumiputeras – literally sons of the soil, a designation that includes Malays and a range of indigenous groups – despite 40 odd years of affirmative action for this group. Indeed, their well-being is and has been the raison de être of UMNO, the backbone of the ruling coalition.
People have been able to get by in spite of rising living costs, because they have been kept at bay by infusing government funds into basic social services, food staples and a fuel subsidy. The last especially has proven effective, but any attempts to rein in costs have been met by popular resistance as a motorised populace has become addicted to cheap petrol.
There is also a significant demographic change in Malaysia. 71 per cent of Malaysians are under the age of 40 with 34 per cent aged between 20 and 40. They face a major challenge. Malaysia is in a middle income trap and must either develop or procure high quality human capital as a pre-requisite to transition into a high income economy. However, Malaysia’s poor quality education has not prepared them for the necessary challenges of a knowledge intensive economy. International benchmarks and surveys shows that the quality of education in Malaysia, at all levels, is no match to the successful East Asian economies that Malaysia has chosen to emulate. 80 per cent of Malaysia’s labour force has no more than the Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM – equivalent to year 10 or O’levels qualifications), and the 57 universities and the more than 500 colleges are producing large numbers of graduates that the Malaysian labour market deems unsuitable or poorly skilled. This in an economy experiencing full employment since the late 1980s, and severe skills shortage since the early 1990s. Ironically, unemployment among graduates was highest. In 2007, graduates accounted for more than one-quarter of those unemployed, while unemployment among new graduates was 24. 1 per cent in 2008. With limited employability, mediocre wages and loans to be repaid, young Malaysian graduates end up saddled with enormous debt. The bloated civil service and GLCs, which are also perceived to be inefficient and a fiscal drag on the economy, are unable to provide the expected middle class jobs for bumiputeras long accustomed to getting them as part of a perceived social contract with UMNO.
However, perhaps ironically, it has been rapid urbanisation, that has brought these once disparate communities closer together. While many urban areas are still stratified by race and class, the sheer density has increased the interaction. 71 per cent of Malaysia is now urban. Only Kelantan, Pahang, Perlis, Sabah and Sarawak have rates or urbanisation below 55 per cent.
Better infrastructure, especially information communication and telecommunications, in urban areas have also provided a platform for dissatisfied Malaysians to hear alternative views and to connect with each other. 65 per cent of Malaysians were using the internet in 2010. As the internet largely remains uncensored, the opposition coalition and civil society movements have used it effectively to mobilise support for their causes. These groups have used social media, technology and the internet to also penetrate into rural areas through free radio, websites, but also the audio-visual recording of government scandals in DVDs, and other forms. While the ruling party has also joined the information technology revolution, the opposition has been quicker and more able to marshal support online despite being out-resourced by the ruling coalition.
These developments, whose impacts were first experienced at the 2008 general election, have impacted the coalitions in different ways, and have prompted different reactions. It appears that the BN continues to rely on its tried and tested race-based, trickle-down economic growth, and welfarist approach to policies while PR sensing that the ground has shifted, appears to focus on class-based and rights-based policies.
The BN possibly believes that it is best to straddle the competing interests among ethnic, religious, cultural and regional groups by addressing their needs individually, while PR appears, in general to address issues more holistically.
In the BN, the president of UMNO and Prime Minister of Malaysia now takes precedence over the other political leaders in the coalition. Different interest groups today, do not go through their “representative” political leaders or parties to seek government support, but approach the Prime Minister directly, who then, channels the support to these communities through the “representative” political parties. This, however, applies only to Peninsular Malaysia, and not in Sabah and Sarawak which have different dynamics.
PR’s approach is markedly different. Although Anwar Ibrahim is the leader of the opposition coalition and is most likely to be the Prime Minister should PR win, several factions in PAS have indicated some misgivings, preferring their own candidate. This suggests a more equal distribution of power in the opposition coalition members. But most significantly, Anwar Ibrahim is the first mainstream Malay politician to persuasively argue for the dismantling of the race-based affirmative action and has committed to it in the PR manifesto. This alone stands in contrast to BN’s continued reliance on continuing and expanding affirmative action for bumiputeras (although the Prime Minister has made contradictory statements on this).
PR also appears to be moving towards depoliticising contentious issue such as education and language issues. While BN has made side payments to vernacular schools on a piece-meal basis, PR have promised to embed these into government budgets should they come into power. While BN has demonstrated inconsistency in its language policy in primary and secondary schools, PR has been consistent in promoting the right of communities to use their preferred language in education in vernacular schools. This was in the context of using English in the teaching of Science and Maths, that former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamed introduced, and which has since been reversed succumbing to strong popular protest.
Both coalitions however have resorted to populists strategies. PR’s strategies such as free education, removal of excise duties on cars, etc. all show that they are targeting the young and lower and middle income earners, much like the BN is doing now by handing out cash bonuses to Petronas (the national oil company) workers and through its many 1Malaysia initiatives, one of which provided a cash payment to low income earners to purchase a smartphone.
Handouts and their associated media attention are economic and visual reminders of a party in trouble and a party seemingly still able to resource its mass redistribution of wealth according to the principle of affirmative action and poverty reduction rhetoric. The former has been shown to have benefitted those in power (the now infamous 1 per cent) much more than the majority it is meant to aid. The latter, too, has been critiqued, especially in Sabah and Sarawak where poverty rates remain high.
And yet, BN has maintained a strong showing in polls and a support base that does not wish to change the way Malaysian society, economy or politics is structured. The status quo is highly reassuring for many who have yet much to gain from it as well as those who deeply believe in it. And belief is crucial in a country where mosque sermons are written by politics, ‘race’ is used as an everyday descriptor of ethnic background and ‘class’ is not uttered since the crackdown on the communists in the 1950s and 1960s. Who will Malaysians believe come the next elections? Personal attacks against political leaders has been a mainstay in Malaysian politics and lurid stories abound, backed up by court cases, exposes as well as much rumour, gossip and coffee shop talk.
Malaysia today is not the feudalistic society it once was, but the political is still dominated by communal topics such as race and religion and the need to ‘secure’ both against some unknown and often unnamed threat. Many people are willing to move beyond the politics of fear into a brave new world, but will there be a job, a car, cheap petrol and cheap food for them?
Only after the election will we see.
Greg Lopez is a visiting fellow at the Department of Political and Social Change, Australian National University and the New Mandala’s Malaysia section editor, an academic blog hosted by the College of Asia and the Pacific, also at the Australian National University.
This article was previously posted on the New Mandela website
By Mai Corlin, Ph.D. student, Aarhus University
Gender inequality is not simply the unfair treatment of men and women. It is a complex issue tied to a whole range of disparities in society at large, argues Professor Min Dongchao, who has just been awarded a Marie Curie International Incoming Fellowship and will be a guest professor at the Nordic Institute of Asian Studies for the next few years. Her object of study is the travels of gender theory between the Nordic countries and China.
Just another day at the factory
Like many other researchers and academics of her generation, Professor Min Dongchao was young during the turbulent years of the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976). Most of China’s schools and universities were closed down during that period, and the youth were sent to the countryside or to factories to learn from the working class. Professor Min spent the Cultural Revolution as a worker at the Tianjin Machinery and Tool Factory, beginning her factory career at the age of 15 in 1969 and staying there for eight years.
“During the Cultural Revolution, society was turned upside down. We grew up in a transformed environment with no language to talk about gender or differences between the sexes, because there wasn’t supposed to be any difference. Everybody wore the same kinds of clothes, did the same job, got the same pay, and so forth. There was basically no sexual division in society — at least not on the surface,” says Professor Min Dongchao.
The open door
It was only after the death of Mao Zedong in 1976 that schools and universities reopened, and it became possible for at least some of the so-called “sent down youth” to return to the education system. Once again, society was turned upside down: Foreign cultures and influences entered the country, spurring an irreversible development of Chinese society.
“Suddenly we could watch films and television from abroad, films that often demonstrated a clear gender differentiation, where men looked like men and women looked like women. So we wanted to look good, and we wanted to look different from men. Women started wearing makeup, and clothes in general became more colorful. Suddenly, a more diverse expression and mode of behavior were allowed again,” explains Min.
But there was another side to the new developments. It soon became more difficult for women to find employment, and they were paid gradually less, as men were generally favored in job situations. The factories started to lay off workers, and women were often the first to go. Other problems such as prostitution and men taking second wives also resurfaced and, according to Professor Min, this laid some of the foundation for why women and gender studies started taking off in China in the 1980s.
Professor Min returned to China in 2004 after almost ten years in the UK, and discovered a country in rapid transition. The new generations of young girls had reversed the Cultural Revolutionary tradition of going to the countryside. Instead, they were heading to coastal cities to work in factories — a mixed experience, to most. On the one hand, they experience the freedom of getting their own job, earning their own money, and freeing themselves from the pressure of country life. On the other, they work under exploitative conditions, are paid very little, and without any unions to protect them.
The introduction of gender
United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women Opens in Beijing, September 1995. Photo: UN Photo/Milton Grant
Gender as a concept was introduced into China in connection with preparations for the Fourth UN World Conference on Women, which was held in Beijing in 1995. There was growing awareness of increasingly visible gender inequality, and a new conceptual language to discuss these issues was made available to concerned academics and activists.
One of the gender-related issues under discussion in recent years is quotas. During the Mao era, the sex ratio was 50-50 in most party and government organs. In 2008, the government introduced gender quotas stipulating that 22% of the congress should be female, and last year, in collaboration with the All-China Women’s Federation, it was decided that there should be at least one woman on village committees. Professor Min, however, argues that the solution to gender inequality issues doesn’t lie only in quotas or the recognition of gender issues. Rather, it is a matter of general inequality in society at large:
“Gender equality should be addressed as a very important issue, and by this I don’t just mean gender difference — it is not a matter of achieving complete similarity between the sexes. Gender inequality has to do with general inequality in the society at large, the gap between rich and poor, inequality between the regions, between city and countryside. There are males and females of all classes and walks of life, so there are very rich females and very poor males. Gender inequality exists and can only be understood in the context of all levels of society, and within all classes. The inequality gap in general is growing bigger, which in turn affects gender inequality. When you conduct your research you may forget this, you may think in different categories, but you always have to see the society as a whole. The conditions for life in China are so dependent on geography and class. In many rural places, there are no proper schools, and children run around hungry. And then you have Shanghai with its multimillionaires — even billionaires. If you only look at one class or one geographic location, you get a skewed picture of what is actually going on in China,” Professor Min emphasizes.
The local is not subordinate to the global
Many academics agree that you cannot separate globalization and the local; they are two sides of the same coin. In other words, you cannot take the local out of the global. Globalization happens in the local. Professor Min argues that this is the case even for places with myriad global connections, like London: Even though all the money flowing through the financial center influences London from abroad, there is still a feature of something “local.” Understanding the global in relation to the local is a way to give prominence to people, because they are the ones who experience the changes on an everyday basis, and they are the ones who actually “practice” globalization.
As Professor Min notes, “We often see the railway as a symbol of globalization, because it links places together, but what we tend to forget is that there are places and people in between the stations. As with railways, there are different routes for gender studies in China. Some people go to Beijing and Shanghai and read Judith Butler, and then others go to the poor areas, like Yunnan. In Yunnan they have gradually changed the gender discourse and related practice, and as a result, the Yunnan Province Women’s Federation has managed to obtain more funding for larger projects than they have in places where they have not yet incorporated the new discourse.”
“Yunnan Province Women’s federation is a good example of how the global and the local are linked, of how things change in a local environment,” she argues.
The next generation
The new generation of women has begun to stir up radical performances and protests in the big cities. One example is a domestic violence protest last year in which young women painted their faces so it looked like they’d been beaten, and posted pictures of it on the Internet. Another incident was the Occupy Toilet Movement, where women occupied men’s rooms to protest the lack of women’s toilets in most public places.
“They might have gotten the idea from Taiwan or Hong Kong,” Professor Min adds.
Last year, some universities refused female applicants even though they had the same scores as their male counterparts. The Ministry proclaimed that for the sake of the country the universities needed more men, not girls. The women reacted by staging a happening where they shaved their heads and stood out on the street in defiance.
“Because of the Internet, this protest became a big deal. I think it’s good that young women have started to react to society’s gender inequalities; it is a good sign. I think it’s important that they protest, that they fight for something. My generation is about to retire, and we need the younger generation to take over and do the job. I hope that is what we’re seeing now,” Professor Min concludes.
Professor Min Dongchao, director of the Centre for Gender and Culture Studies at Shanghai University, has received the Marie Curie Actions International Incoming Fellowship and will be a guest professor at Nordic Institute of Asian Studies (NIAS) at the University of Copenhagen from April 1, 2013 to March 31, 2015.
Professor Min’s project is titled “Cross-Cultural Encounters — The Travels of Gender Theory and Practice to China and the Nordic Countries” and is concerned with the cross-cultural translation of knowledge and practices that may or may not take place when different cultures interact, and the resulting production of new knowledge. Taking the travelling routes of gender theory and practices to, and also between, China and the Nordic countries as the empirical object of study, the project will focus on the crucial questions of why and how knowledge travels or fails to travel.
This interview with Professor Min Dongchao can also be found on ThinkChina.dk – Blogging on Denmark and China.
On December 15, on his way back from work, the Laotian director, activist and award winner, Sombath Somphone, mysteriously disappeared. The last people to see him, according to leaked surveillance footage, were the Laotian authorities at a police control post, where he was pulled over, and then driven away in a different car.
Despite that, the Laotian government still went out with a full denial of any knowledge as to why Sombath Somphone was detained…by their own officers. Since then, there has been no sign of the director, and no explanation as to why he disappeared.
Just weeks before, another activist had a run-in with the Laotian authorities – the director of the Swiss NGO Helveta, Anne-Sophie Gindroz, were expelled with a 24-hour warning for writing a critical letter.
The Laotian government explained that she “dismayed” the government with her “improper behavior.” Whatever that means – a quite surprising argumentation for throwing a peaceful activist out of a country.
Somehow , though, Laos has still managed to successfully present themselves as a charming little nation with a slow pace and idyllic farm life for the ever-smiling population. Relaxation, leisure and spirituality are key words in any glittered tourist brochure on Laos.
Truth is that the life in Laos is far from idyllic, and the pace is very, very far from slow. Since the 90s, the Laotians have built dams, constructed hydropower plants and made deals with neighbors Thailand, China and Vietnam so efficiently that the economy is today the fastest growing economy in ASEAN.
The country has recently joined the World Trade Organization, hosted an ASEM-summit – the biggest diplomatic event ever to take place in the country – and they have co-signed a range of international agreements, putting them into a world market that they could only dream of entering just a few years ago.
The main reason for the excellent economical performance is the energy sector. 30 percent of the country´s BNP comes out of natural resources converted into energy, mainly hydro electricity from plants and dams on Mekong and it´s many tributaries.
And while making this profit and shining in the spotlight of international recognition, Laos – quite on par with the behavior in the cases of Somphone and Gindroz – ignores that there are people living on and off these rivers.
Right now, Laos is constructing a dam called the Xayaburi Dam. Since the proposal of the project in 2007 it has been met with protests from experts, governments, activists, NGOs…pretty much everyone, who knows anything about water: It will hurt the migration of fish, it will endanger a number of species of fish – including the rockstar of Mekong; the Mekong giant catfish – and it will affect crops cultivated in and near the river. WWF estimates that a whopping 60 million people will be affected by the dam in its present form.
Naturally, there are negotiations going on, both with international experts and with the neighboring countries, on how to construct the dam with minimal damage. Both Vietnam and Cambodia have officially called for a halt in construction.
The Laotian response? Well. They ignore all the fuss and carry on building.
Laos has risen from dirt-poverty into a flourishing trading nation, and the fact that it will hurt some groups in the population – namely the poor and the minorities – seems to be of minor importance. The logic is: You cannot make an omelet without breaking some eggs.
But you know what, Laos? Economy is not an omelet and people are not eggs. There are ways to have economic growth without shattering the lives of the most vulnerable groups in your nation.
It is so, though, that the cases of horrible governance, the breaches of basic human rights, the bypassing of negotiations and good advice – all these things factor in, when you new lucrative, international friends are to do business with you.
You don´t seem to realize it, but the spotlight is on you now, Laos. What are you going to do with it?
Anya Palm, Journalist and NIAS Associate