Thu, 25 Mar 1999

Mentally ill nation

A mentally ill person may go insane or become a mad man if he runs amok. Following ethnic clashes and interreligious conflicts which have turned many parts of the nation aflame and is tearing it apart, as it were, there is no denial that we are, mentally, a sick nation. How could we land back in a situation of "tribal clashes" after 50 years of independence? There seems to have never been any real attempt at unifying the people, or not seriously enough. In fact, it is true to say now that we lost leaders who could unify this nation. What was carried out by the former administration in terms of nation building during three decades of power perhaps only the devil knows.

The people who associated themselves with the Functional Group during the New Order period are partly to blame for this national tragedy. There could be no worse time to organize a general election than when stability has vanished almost everywhere.

Yet, how "wonderfully composed" the leaders debating their candidates for presidency while half the country's people are running for their lives. Look at Aceh, Ambon, Timor and now Sambas.

Having left such a bad legacy in nation-building, and being mostly responsible for the country's economic chaos, while some of them are piling up wealth, the ministers feel no guilt at all and are waiting to campaign for better times more for themselves rather than with their mind on the suffering masses.

Today's leaders are full of ambition on how to get elected as president or a minister. Fortunately, from the old school (Soeharto's era), I suppose one man stands high above the others, simply because he listens to his conscience and has the courage to suggest that cabinet ministers refrain from campaigning for their parties. His name is Gen. (ret.) Rudini, chairman of General Election Commission. How slow others are to realize that campaigning for this class of people -- cabinet ministers and party chairman in incumbent administration who had not been elected -- entails abuse of power that was common during the New Order era. The reform ship will never reach the new democratic port. Instead, the old (or should I say decaying) mentality will return. These people have had their turn and it is time for them to watch from the sidelines.

Those ministers turned politicians actually have an early start. Their visits to outlying areas and their activities in distributing food and financial assistance to those in need may be classified as covert campaigning. The message is that "if you do not vote for us, do not expect to get more aid or keep your jobs." There must have been abuse of foreign assistance within the social safety net -- unintentionally, of course.

Hopefully, Rudini will continue to uphold the true reform spirit until the end of the general election.

A mentally sick nation with such vast plurality as ours will take a long and arduous time to heal, while we lack leaders with vision and courage to sacrifice self-interests.

Whether cabinet ministers should be allowed to go on the campaign trail is purely an ethical issue stemming from morality, not so much from political rights.