Thu, 17 Jul 2003

Yogyakarta's spirit could be model for the nation

Kornelius Purba, Staff Writer, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta,

Visitors to Yogyakarta will soon sense election fever in the province. Along the famed Jl. Malioboro you will see innumerous street banners put up by various groups, including placards from the Community of Parking Attendants in Yogyakarta and one group called Yogyakarta Native Residents.

The placards express the demand that the provincial legislative council (DPRD) appoint, not elect, Sultan Hamengkubuwono X and Paku Alam IX as governor and vice governor for the 2003-2008 term. Although all factions have vowed to elect the pair in October, there are still many people who want their rulers to be appointed directly for another term.

The 57-year-old sultan has been in his post since October 1998, or 10 years after death of his father, the venerable Sultan Hamengkubowono IX. Then president B.J. Habibie approved his appointment, after the DPRD had unanimously voted the sultan into office as governor but the government's perceived reluctance to approve his appointment had upset people.

Prior to Habibie's approval of the appointment, about 100,000 locals gathered to install the sultan -- whom they often refer to as Ngarso Dalem -- as governor.

The purpose of this article is not to debate the issue of the sultan's appointment or to discuss Javanese feudalism, but to describe the respect the people of Yogyakarta have for their leader, a very rare phenomenon in Indonesia today.

While Yogyakartans are focused on the gubernatorial issue, at the national level political parties are busily searching for, or pretending to find, the best candidates for next year's direct presidential election. Major political parties, and even parties that are still unregistered, have announced their possible candidates.

The Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI Perjuangan) is firm in nominating its boss, Megawati Soekarnoputri. The United Development Party (PPP) is very likely to tap party chief and Vice President Hamzah Haz, and the National Awakening Party (PAN) realizes this will likely be the last chance for party chairman Amien Rais to grab the presidential seat.

Golkar executives have kicked around several names, including former Soeharto's adjutant Gen. (ret) Wiranto, Muslim scholar Nurcholish Madjid and chief security minister Gen. (ret) Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. Many believe, however, that deep in his heart Golkar chairman Akbar Tandjung believes he is the only person who deserves the nomination, despite the fact that he has been convicted on corruption charges and is only walking around free while awaiting a decision on his appeal.

Many people can only chuckle at the determination of the National Awakening Party (PKB) to nominate former president Abdurrahman Wahid, given that he already had his chance.

But do any of these people have the sultan's charisma on a national level? I am sorry to say, but none of these potential presidential candidates have such magnetism.

How about Megawati? In the 1999 general election, the main reason her party won the election was because she appeared to be the perfect symbol for the innocent victims of the Soeharto regime. Next year she will no longer be able to benefit from such perceptions, or from the name of her father, founding president Sukarno. Her younger sister Rachmawati Soekarnoputri is also eying a slice of the power cake.

Megawati must defend to voters her three-year presidency and everything she has done and failed to do during this time. She must explain, among other things, why she supported the reelection of Lt. Gen. (ret) Sutiyoso as Jakarta governor, even though she knows very well that Sutiyoso is also allegedly responsible to the July 27, 1996, incident in which dozens of her supporters either died or disappeared.

She will also have to face questions about how the administration has handled large corruption cases and gross human rights violations, while the people responsible for the country's economic downfall continue to walk around freely. Legislators from PDI Perjuangan are among those alleged to have enriched themselves.

How about Amien Rais? No one doubts his clean image and the major role he played during the process of Soeharto's downfall in 1998. He is a highly respected politician and he is also supported by the Muslim organization Muhammadiyah. But others may say he is clean only because he has yet to enjoy any real power.

People need a figure whom they can trust as a true protector, but unfortunately we have yet to find such a person. Most of the candidates only criticize the current government, but have yet to convince people that they are better than Megawati.

People are now busier gossiping about the businesspeople or conglomerates behind the potential presidential candidates, about their family's business interests and about the possibility of their continuing the tradition of corruption among high officials.

Residents of Yogyakarta are lucky to have a charismatic and proven leader. We hope that millions of people -- because of their conscience and not because of dirty political practices -- will get the chance to vote for a person they believe has the ability to lead Indonesia and redeem it in the eyes of the world community. But again, this is likely just a dream.