Fri, 11 Jun 2004

Visions of consistency over 'crazy rice'

Kornelius Purba, Jakarta

Father and son were dining on nasi gila (crazy rice, as it is literally translated) by the Taman Lembang Fountain, in Menteng, Central Jakarta, when the father seized the moment to demonstrate his knowledge of politics. He talked as though he were better than any politician in the country. He told his son that the five presidential candidates had no vision, and were surrounded by incompetent people.

Bored with the constant preaching of his father on what a candidate should ideally offer voters, the son interrupted, "Look at this food," to the surprise of his father.

"It comprises only baso (meat balls), cheap sausages, kerupuk, rice, and a slice of boiled egg. But, so many people are crazy about it. You know why? Because it is affordable yet filling."

The son continued, "Perhaps, bapak will say that lunch at a hotel is much more delicious. But remember, it is very expensive, and for many ordinary Indonesians, such luxurious food is too rich."

The university student then noticed the office of the campaign team for Gen. (ret) Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and Jusuf Kalla, located just in front of the park.

He said Kalla actually also deserved the presidential seat, because he was perceived to be the most consistent, along with incumbent Vice President Hamzah Haz. Kalla is famous for his pencil-thin mustache, which apparently requires immaculate trimming.

"The mustache looks funny to many, but I hear that he styled it like that in his youth -- that's consistency for you." exclaimed the son.

And how about Hamzah, the United Development Party's (PPP) presidential candidate? His strong point, according to the son was that he was "no hypocrite". He has several wives (although recently he seemed to forgot the exact number...) and is not ashamed. But, the father avoided his son's gaze.

The moral of this conversation is that the last thing people want are superfluous promises. They prefer simple programs that are consistently implemented. People understand that one person cannot completely eradicate corruption in this country in a short time. In the words of a senior government official in Aceh on the implementation of sharia in the province, "If sharia were to be fully implemented in Aceh, very few officials would have their hands here." A reference no doubt to one of the harsher forms of Islamic law that calls for the cutting off of thieve's hands.

Perhaps it would be more convincing if the candidates promised that, "our ranking as the world's third most corrupt nation will be improved to the fifth within two years."

The next president would only destroy their own future if they took drastic measures to punish corruptors, because the corruptors would work together to oust such a leader. What is needed now is the creation of hot spots through some "shock therapy". Incarcerate some of the big-time corruptors within the first year to send a strong message to others, at least to refrain from stealing state money during the leader's tenure.

People will feel grateful when their next president succeeds in fulfilling their promise to prohibit their family or relatives from entering business.

People will not believe the promise of a candidate to create 12 million jobs within five years. The country's economic policies had been almost entirely determined by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) from 1997 to 2003. The current Cabinet's economic team also comprises well-respected economists. People are still impatiently awaiting, however, for concrete evidence that their living conditions are improving under President Megawati Soekarnoputri's leadership.

They want their leader to restore the country's tarnished image and restore it as serious player in the world, not just in terms of population and geography, but also a country which can contribute to peace in the world. But first this country must fix the problems here. They want Indonesia to be a real home for all of its citizens, not just a house where they have to stay because they have no other place to go.

They fully realize that they probably have to endure many of the problems for another five years before their leader can eventually deliver on the promises. What they demand is that the leaders work hard, intelligently and honestly for the citizens. They can accept when the leader makes a mistake, as long as it is an honest mistake, not one because of his or her inability to maintain control of his or her subordinates.

Nasi gila is simple and affordable and, for ordinary folk, it always hits the spot. A consistent leader -- the son cites Kalla's mustache as an example -- who is ready to make public his real situation -- like Hamzah and his wives -- is necessary.

Will the next president deliver strange, but "real", food to the people, rather than empty promises, or expensive and delicious fare, which the hungry will not even come close to tasting?

Kornelius Purba ( is a staff writer with The Jakarta Post.