Prior to 2009, politics were mainly about personal preference. Figure head was part of the conversation, but policy and ideology, the exchange of views, the battle between progressivism and conservatism has always become the main driver for most countries with democracy in the world.
Sure we have somebody like Al Gore or Bush being a poster boy for both of the extremes, but at the very end, the battle was between the left and the right.
There were arguably no bigger media darling than Obama once were. His rise to power and fame, was a unique and inceptive social phenomenon, that brings about changes in the political landscape not just in terms of policy, but more importantly on how politics will change its course over the years.
His Yes we can campaign is, for me, a turning point on how a political figure would be seen and regarded from 2008 on. His prominence and huge presence in social media, has shifted the way politics would work in the future [present].
Obama’s success proved that an individual as a brand can become stronger than the party. Arguably, his presence has lifted the Democrats more so than the other way around.
All that, apart from his charm and intelligence, was possible thanks to social media platforms. Through strong social media campaign, his public image skyrocketed not only in the US, but all around the world.
That trend catches on relatively quickly. In less than 2 years, Indonesian mayor turned governor turned president Joko Widodo has taken advantage of the same momentum and medium, to rise into power and fame.
On one end, this is a really good preposition. Thanks to social media, the pathway to power that was exclusively controlled by the “political elite” has since been demolished, and is now pretty much open to anyone. I mean if a dark skinned candidate can take the throne away from a clinton [granted that it is not a male one] and rednecks twice, then anything can basically happen from then on.
Somebody as “ordinary” as Joko Widodo was able to appeal to a much larger audience, because the stage that was exclusively owned by parties is now forced to be shared with independent (and yet collective) movements in the social media.
From then on, we have Trudeau and Macron and (unfortunately) Trump in an international political stages, and the likes of Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, Susi Pudjiastuti and Ridwan Kamil in our national political landscape. The type of individuals that can basically win any election with any party if he puts enough calculated efforts into it.
This arguably new scape in politics though, does not come without consequences.
Whilst the pro of giving access to practically anyone to become a politician with the help of social media is quite desirable. Its cons can also be equally, or even more damaging.
And no, I’m not even going to talk about the fake news and hoaxes.
The overwhelming supports that a candidate, or a figure receive through social media has often driven by admiration of certain personality or individual characteristics. Obama was liked because he is reasonable and seems approachable as a person. Jokowi was adored for being modest, humble and honest. Basuki, Susi and Ridwan are loved for being smart and firm.
All that, were also followed by success implementation of policies or good decisions that in the end also elevate their profile.
Those things, however, has unfortunately created unrealistic idolization of the figure. Which leads to blind supports and fanaticism. The sort of support that were enjoyed by sports player and mega artist like Justin Bieber, is now equally enjoyed by politicians.
This is obviously not really good, because a football player or Justin Bieber don’t get to decide how much benefits your uncle should get from his medicare. Arsenal can keep Arsene and Justin can keep making cheesy catchy song that annoys you all day without necessarily making any significant impact in your life.
But a politician could.
In fact, those are what they’re paid and elected for.
We can always choose not to watch Arsenal play or listen to Despacito all day by turning them off. But we cannot turn our back on our country and politicians, because where else would we go?
So we cannot adore a politician the same way we adore Justin Bieber and Arsene (who am i kidding). We need to reserve some sort of criticism towards any politician, because as any politician naturally do, they will make mistakes.
Unfortunately, lately (in Indonesia at least) we have seen less criticism and more blind defense towards a politician for a certain policy. Take the latest executive order issued by president Jokowi on organisations for instance (Perppu no. 2 Tahun 2017). That decision, as sweet as his administration are trying to put it as, is still a very insulting backstab into our very idea of democracy. An authoritarian-esque move that we feel comfortable criticising when Erdogan or Putin does it, and yet defend to the dying breath when Jokowi issued it.
Sadly this is not the first time that he shows his willingness to be flexible with the idea of democracy and his willingness to flirt with power. Rizieq Shihab’s case (as much as I want him to be locked up) is suspiciously very comfortable in terms of both timing and circulation of evidence for the police to be just a coincidence. Not to mention the locking up of some figures (again who had it coming frankly) for supposedly treason without a proper trial.
Those things we would’ve enraged by, if done by Soeharto towards somebody like Goenawan Mohamad.
Yet, somehow we (and by we, I mean Jokowi’s supporter) feel comfortable with it now. Again, maybe because he is hiding behind “pancasila” and “extremism”. But is putting those people behind bars worth our democracy? The very idea that we accuse those people against at the first place. Because the way it is done right now, is very undemocratic at the very least.
Same goes to cases against Susi when it comes to cantrang, or Basuki when it comes to evictions. Yes some bad people may have used their good intentions and bad implementations into their benefits to keep their dirty money going, but it does not take away the fact that Susi’s decision on Cantrang provides no solution for lower class fishermans, and Basuki’s evictions provides no solution for people who has become accustomed to a certain way of living.
All this shouldn’t take away the good things that these figures has done for the society. All and all, I still do believe that these people are good leaders. But, we need to realize, that as politicians, they should be hold responsible for any actions that they took, be it good or bad. Appreciations are due for good decisions and criticism should be imminent for bad decisions.
We shouldn’t get trapped by our preference and become a part of a sided wave by constantly engaging in argument with somebody in the internet and criticizing those individuals. Instead, we should criticize and pay more attention towards the policy and the decision makers.
Our best and most important part to play in a democratic society, is to be in the middle, or at least in our own side to hold people up to their promises. To tell them which policy you think is good for you and the society around you. Our leader should not come in a package like a macas meal. We should be able to point to them what to do policy by policy, not just follow and agree to anything that they say.
You’re not supposed to be so blind with patriotism that you can’t face reality. Wrong is wrong, no matter who says it – MX