Saturday, July 11, 2009

Political Space and Images of Representation

By: Shazwan Mustafa Kamal

10 July 2009

Within five minutes past the 2 billion Rupiah gates of Universiti Gadjah Mada (UGM), the first thought that immediately crossed my mind was the vastness of the institution. That thought was quickly reinforced as we went deeper into the university’s huge compounds with faculties known as ‘gedung’ literally meaning warehouses in the Malay language.” Indeed, sounds of awe and amazement were shared by all of us as we entered Indonesia’s oldest University.

And my word, it was certainly a sight to behold. UGM seemed to stretch on for miles and miles. Students could be seen walking to and fro to buildings and little motorcycles buzzing in and out of campus despite it being the semester holidays.

There are a few interesting things to note about UGM. First of all, UGM is open to the public at all times. One does not need to flash a student card of any sorts to enter the grounds of the university. Secondly, UGM is pronounced ‘u-u-K-m’, with the G pronounced as K, in congruence with the local Indonesian way of enunciation. Most of our students guides were current students of UGM, so showing us around the campus and getting to our destination was a smooth and enjoyable process.

We were here to visit one of the many faculties of UGM which is the Centre for South East Asian Social Studies (CESASS), also known as Pusat Studi Sosial Asia Tenggara. This centre specifically deals with issues pertaining to human rights, democracy and politics, with a direct focus on Indonesian politics. We had a chance to visit the library for the centre before the talk, one which boasted a variety of books about politics and nationalism, ranging from international publications as well as local publications. International books were translated into the local Javanese language or Bahasa Indonesia, and theses from post-graduate students were also compiled and made accessible.

Visiting CESASS's Library

After a good ten minutes of exploring the library, we proceeded to enter the designated room where the discussion would be taking place. The speaker for the discussion introduced himself to us as Dr. Aris Arif Mundayat, Director of CESASS. A pleasant fellow with a voice that evoked immediate thoughts of wisdom, Dr. Aris wasted no time in launching the lecture-cum-discussion.
It started off with a summary of the recent Indonesian general elections. I was personally quite surprised upon finding out that the three candidates who ran for the president’s post all had or still have active military history and influences, with the most notable amongst the three being Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono commonly referred to by his initials SBY in the newspaper reports. According to Dr. Aris, further empirical research into the previous general elections showed that out of the country’s entire populace, only 60% exercised their rights to vote. Quite a number of us were shocked by the statistics, and were curious about the situation

Inked fingers mark the voters of the presidential election

Dr. Aris, with a subtle hint of a grin, replied by saying that there is no compulsion to vote in Indonesia. People have the right to either practice their voting rights or otherwise. No legal actions would be taken against those who do not vote. He also added that there are a number of reasons why people voted for SBY given his vast experience in politics alongside several others. He is considered a great leader by many, given his capability in the handling of the nation’s affairs in times of turmoil. He has also been successful to an extent in reducing corruption rates in Indonesia as claimed by the speaker.

However, politics in Indonesia do not necessarily work in binaries. People do not vote for a candidate simply because he or she represents a party with a convincing manifesto. Rather, the people in Indonesia base their votes on a more personal preference. It seems to be a battle of portrayed ‘images’, as even SBY has been known to utilize a variety of advertisements. The question that came to my mind at this point was whether presidential candidates are then used more as a form of commodity, a product to be sold to the pseudo-buyer also known as the voter. The media apparently also plays a prominent role in the image profiling of political aspirants. For example, middle class people voted for SBY while lower class citizens voted for Jusuf Kalla.

Dr. Aris Arif Mundayat & Budi Irwanto, MA

Some of us found the talk to be really thought-provoking. Rashaad Ali, a fellow traveler at the session felt that the talk provided an interesting insight into the political site in Indonesia, particularly the participation of demographics into the Indonesia populace. On a final note, one major difference between Malaysian and Indonesian politics could be theorized here. I think that there is definitely a better dissemination of information in Indonesia with a deeper level of participation in political discourse on a grassroots level. A Friday morning well- spent indeed.

*View more pictures of the day from our photo album

WRITER'S PROFILE: Shazwan is a Malaysian student at Monash University Malaysia originally from Penang.He has hopefully made it through his final semester with a Bachelor of Arts, majoring in Communications and minoring in Writing. He tries to study social sciences when he can, but in truth he thinks life is a big lesson itself. Usually mistaken for an Arab, Indian or Chindian, Shazwan has grown comfortable with the androgyny of his identity.

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