Jakarta Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, popularly known as ‘Ahok’, speaking to journalists in Jakarta, Indonesia, on Wednesday. EPA PIC

THE election for Jakarta’s governor in Indonesia finally ended this week, likely to the great relief of many city residents across Indonesia.

The electioneering had perhaps gone on for far too long, starting in earnest some six months before at least.

The campaign was extended when the first round produced no clear winner who commanded a majority of votes cast, triggering this week’s run-off vote.

The election had kicked off on a most promising and inspiring note.

Here was an incumbent governor, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, popularly known as “Ahok”, a Christian and an ethnic Chinese in the world’s largest Muslim-majority country, being inducted by something approaching popular citizens’ acclamation into his first electoral test as governor (he got promoted from deputy governor into the post after
the then sitting governor, Joko Widodo, won the Indonesian presidency).

A better advertisement for political tolerance and pluralism in Indonesia could hardly be dreamed up.

Indonesians and particularly those in their capital city — many of whom fought bravely and idealistically for full democracy — were justifiably proud of what they had achieved.

But what now, after an energy-sapping and often dispiriting electoral campaign that has dangerously polarised much of the country, as probably never before, along religious and racial lines.

As Wimar Witoelar, a former key presidential aide, was quoted about the election in international news reports: “Indonesia is at a crossroads, and I mean Indonesia, not just Jakarta.

“This is a test case for Indonesian pluralism, if it can withstand the pressure of the religious groups, the populists.”

Political optimists will likely try their best to paint the drawn-out electoral campaign in a positive light, suggesting that a clear winner eventually emerged, never mind that it came about atop a deeply fractured polity that is being prised apart by the most troubling and usually almost unresolvable of social fissures.

Those fissures, of course, are the ones to do with race and religion, the same fissures tripping up even supposedly politically mature democracies, such as the United States and those of Western Europe.

The more realistic among observers of Jakarta’s and Indonesian politics will be hoping Jakarta’s next governor will not spend much of his tenure merely mending political fences and neglecting the manifold civic problems of a bustling metropolis.

Too often in our own Malaysian political context, the idealists mistakenly believe we can build a political super-structure that transcends our own social fissures.

There is a wholly misplaced belief that such a super-structure will somehow, almost magically, overcome the realities of our social fissures.

Largely unproven benefits — greater political legitimacy, accountability and virtuous stability — will then be ascribed onto the ideal political super-structure.

It is such supposed benefits that inform the motivations of those behind our “Bersih” protests and the perhaps related clamour for a return to directly elected local councils.

The possibly fatal flaw of such arguments for political “reforms” is one to do with unintended consequences that the race for Jakarta’s governorship brought into such sharp relief.

Even the most technically competent Jakarta governor may be rendered largely impotent and unable to carry his well laid-out plan to fruition if through the process of his very election, wide political chasms emerged.

Jakarta and Indonesia’s social fissures may be fraught but pale in comparison with our very own here at home.

Our existing home-grown political super-structure is by no means perfect, questioned by some among us and maybe in need of tweaking at the edges but has served us so well that its
clear benefits thus far have mostly been taken too much for
granted.

Perhaps we had been lucky in that political realities mugged our political idealists much earlier in the game and we already once stood at the precipice, getting a peek into what existential political calamities potentially lay beyond.

We do not have the luxury those in our region may think we do in experimenting with, and affording full play, political idealism.

johnteo808@gmail.com

The writer views developments in the nation, the region and the wider world from his vantage point in Kuching, Sarawak

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