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Promises Promises

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Interviewing the president a while back I made a mistake of reminding him about his campaign promises. When did he plan to implement half of them, if at all? He was not amused to the point of being upset (which one always suspects as a sign of guilty feeling). All the presidential candidates made similar campaign promises, he said. It was unfair to pursue him on those issues. He preferred it if I focused more on the stuff that he was actually doing rather than on the promises that he made.

Which basically ended the interview there and then. Three years down the line, those campaign promises remained exactly what they were. Promises.

Now, after days of being barraged by promises noisily conveyed by Jakarta’s gubernatorial candidates, one cannot help wonder why so much time, money and efforts are being spent on trying to convince the voting public that we should choose our leader based on the quality of their promises. Wishes they say, are horses beggars would ride. In the same way, promises are truths that politicians would speak. They have no place in real life other than in the fantasies of the dreamers.

Ten years into democracy the average Jakartans know this already. Even the prospect of a direct election is no longer appealing to them. Most will likely exercise their voting rights by staying away from the polling booth. Which is not a good thing either. Only democratic countries with perfect transportation system and a good health care can afford the luxury of apathy. We still need a leader to get things done and problems solved. The question is, can we get someone who, once elected, does not spend the entire term finding excuses why things cannot be done and why the problems won’t go away? The problem with democracy and directly elected leaders is that we end up having to deal with politicians and political parties. Even having an independent candidate will not really solve the problem. On the contrary (as we see with the present president) it will just hobble the CEO. All that road map, blue print, vision and mission paper and social contract come to nothing as the role of the executive is reduced to that of a narrow minded politician dragged down in incessant quarrelling and petty nitpicking. In the world of politics after all, there are no such things as the big picture and national interests. There are only vested interests and a what’s-in-it-for me attitude.

Perhaps it’s not such a bad thing there are only two candidates in the gubernatorial race. As it is, one finds it hard to distinguish one candidate’s platform from the other. In any case, most Jakartans already know the type of problems that the city needs to solve and have some idea on how they should be fixed. All they need is an executive to implement the blue print that has been smoldering for too long in the ‘pending issues’ tray. A leader who can go above and beyond party politics to actually focus on making decisions that benefit the city and not the party coffers.

Looking at the two candidates there really is not much to choose from. Both promise to tackle public transportation, flooding, unemployment, drugs, education, health, services etc. Both profess multiculturalism, tolerance and pluralism. It is true that they are backed by different party groups but then when it comes to a direct election it really is very much up to the mood of the voter as s/he enters the privacy of the polling booth. The only visible difference is that one has a moustache and the other does not – a product differentiation that some clever campaign marketing guys are picking up on and using to create awareness and attract voters!

Political parties can and will always carry out cynical maneuverings, concoct sophisticated conspiracies in order to sideline other parties and gain footing for future elections. That is their role and their raison d’etre as parasites that feed off taxpayers money and peddlers of influence. They exist and shall continue to exist although we hope for better than for worse. And they will persist in making empty promises and feed lies to the public.

So why put up with empty promises? And more importantly, why bother to vote at all? Because in a democracy we are responsible for choosing our leaders and we deserve the leaders that we get. Because if we continue to remind our leaders of the promises they’ve made and penalize them by not voting for them if they fail, sooner or later they might just remember that their responsibility is towards the voting public and not the political parties that put them where they are. Sooner or later they might just align their political parties to the real needs of the society.