Mon, 30 Oct 2000

In search of a person who can lead

This is the first of two articles on leadership by Dr. Ignas Kleden, a sociologist and executive director of The Go-East Institute (Institute for East-Indonesian Affairs), Jakarta.

JAKARTA (JP): A leader in a stable society can work from behind. His leadership is successful if things are running well and people are not necessarily aware of his presence and interference. The existing norms and values are sufficient guidelines to orientate his followers as to how to behave.

By contrast in a crisis situation, a leader becomes a necessity. He must show his presence, appearing in front of his people to restore the confidence among his followers and to assure them that though they are deeply embedded in disorientation, everything will be alright again because they can put everything under control.

A leader becomes the personification of norms and values which in a time of crisis are very liable to become shaky and indefinite. The loosening of values and norms would not lead to increasing confusion if people still have somebody to look up to, somebody who represents in his personality and behavior -- steadiness, firmness in conviction, sovereignty over problems and pressures, and moral courage to face up to even the worst possible situation. To put it philosophically, a leader is by definition a man for others and never a man for himself.

This is clear in theoretical terms but becomes blurred in real practice. A leader might be undaunted in the face of troubles and even threats and yet this could become sheer obstinacy if what he tries to defend is not for the benefit of his followers but for his own self-interest.

In the same vein, a man can remain cool and stable in the midst of pressing problems and uncertainties, yet this could be far away from real composure and firmness and instead be mere indifference if he has no empathy with the concern of the many who are suffering.

A leader seems to be a man (or a woman for that matter) who not only can think for the people but also can feel with them.

Sometimes it is difficult to understand whether a leader is really doing his best to render his people to be seriously aware of their troubles; or perhaps he is trying to explain away the troubles by making fun of them or even just ridiculing looming issues that are burdensome and troublesome.

There is usually only a hair's breadth difference between bringing people to optimism and hope and leading them to quasi- ignorance or illusion. Needless to say, there are problems which by nature can never be glossed over by means of trivializing their urgency.

Whatever politicians would say about the rising unemployment and the reduction of subsidies for fuel, people can never be made forgetful, let alone ignorant, of the additional economic burden they might not be able to shoulder.

Also, we cannot simply say "don't worry" or "why bother" to those who have lost two or three members of their family in the killings and violent conflicts in Ambon, Papua, and Aceh. At the same time more than 100 East Timorese who chose to join the Republic during the last referendum in East Timor are still waiting desperately for resettlement.

From a national point of view, it is somewhat embarrassing that the issue of humanitarianism has become actual and important just after the killing of three United Nations workers.

Likewise, the situation of political refugees and the solution to the problem of prointegration militias were given more attention after the United States threatened to lay an economic embargo on Indonesia if the militias were not disarmed entirely.

There is no denying the fact that killing in whatever form is a terrible thing. But what has been said so far about the death of political refugees both because of miserable protection and poor accommodation as well as violent treatment? Was any mention ever made of this loss of lives as a humanitarian problem? Double standards in moral judgment and political stance are still the order of the day in Atambua or in other parts of the globe.

Indonesia has no doubt been heavily hit by a multifaceted crisis. The demand for economic recovery, for example, is still aggravated by the requirement of economic reform. Recovery in economic activities should necessarily be accompanied by a reform in the economic structure.

The government and people are unfortunately faced with this double task. Reform without recovery is very likely to lead to a total paralysis of the economy, whereas recovery without reform would bring the national economy back to square one, with all the requisites for another crisis.

This condition is made worse by the political crisis originating in at least two sorts of development. Political openness has provided the opportunity for much more exercise of political freedom and democratic rights without much consideration of their costs and benefits.

Continuous demonstrations and protests for whatever reasons have brought about political hullabaloos which exceed the available political carrying capacity. Meanwhile regions which were neglected and whose populations fell victim to political violence during the New Order, are now standing up to demand the return of their economic and political rights, amounting to unexpected regional insurrections.

Past economic losses and political harassments should be taken into account by the present government in order to come to terms with regional disappointments satisfactorily.

In Aceh such disappointment takes the form of regional revolt, in Papua a separatist movement, whereas in Ambon it is manipulated by external forces to become a quasi inter-religious conflict. If we keep lingering at the face value of these insurrections, we would easily come to misleading analytical conclusions and consequently to wrong political decisions.