Beware of Those Who Say They’ll Save You the Bother of Voting

By Hector

How Indonesia chooses to govern itself is wholly a matter for Indonesians to decide. Those of us who live here without benefit of citizenship may merely observe the processes, form views about these and their utility or function, or more often the lack thereof; and if we can break through the all but impenetrable thickets of local culture, custom and language to make a point to our friends, and they choose to listen, offer our thoughts.

So it with that caveat in mind that non-national observers should demur at proposals to snatch back from the people a significant democratic advance but lately granted, by removing direct election of provincial governors and returning appointment of these people to the hands of the provincial legislatures.

This is not the way to go, if Indonesia is to construct a genuinely democratic polity (it hasn’t yet). It is the absence of a properly codified and constitutionally enforceable set of rules that is to blame: the simple matter of devising a compact to divide up power and allocate responsibility. It isn’t the governors and the expense they allegedly cause by being directly elected that is the problem. It is the absence of constitutional rules that govern the practice of politics and administration.

It’s clear enough that the present half-baked policy of regionalism isn’t working. But that’s not because it can’t work. It’s because the placemen in the apparatus of central power won’t let it. They want all the money: witness the departure from Bali of all of the visa income this island earns. It’s because provincial legislatures, like their national counterpart, are talking shops whose members aren’t interested in policy, preferring to waste their time bickering about politics and placement. And it’s because the incomplete and imperfect methodology of present regionalism policy has allowed regents (bupatis) – who in reality are merely local council administrators – to run their regencies as if they are fully autonomous states within some loose federation.

The present system isn’t working and needs revision. But the answer to pernicious and rampant national, provincial and district sloth and official theft is to agree on a workable system consistent with the regional differences in culture and ethnicity that so enrich Indonesia. Governors should be the real leaders of their provinces, not the creatures either of the president or their provincial legislatures. To achieve this they must be directly elected and have the constitutional authority to pull lower-level miscreants into line. To save costs all provincial and district elections should be held on the same date nationally, under uniform legislation that sets the electoral rules in concrete and which is rigidly enforced, no exceptions permitted.

How a new deal on regionalism should be achieved is a matter for national debate. It might start from the premise that at present nothing much works as it should. It must define financial and administrative responsibilities (it could start by making regents legally as well as politically responsible for ensuring that national and provincial planning and environment laws are enforced). And it should ensure that regional government is adequately and effectively funded.

Any system of devolved government is complex and will forever create argument over who pays for what. But central control, the only other workable alternative, is in the end vastly more costly in social disadvantage and potential conflict.

Flame Wars

It will surprise no one that Michael Made White Wijaya, MW2 for short, has no time for Hector or his doppelganger, a chap we know well who operates a Facebook from which MW2 long ago withdrew friendship. We think it was the references in The Diary to his formerly phosphorescent status that upset the self-proclaimed Sage of Sanur.

However, there are Facebook pages around where Hec’s mate and MW2 occasionally cross paths, though rarely swords. One instance of the latter variety did occur last weekend, however, when a mutual friend posted a list of countries that had failed to front their ambassadors at this year’s Nobel Peace Prize presentation in Oslo, at which jailed Chinese dissent Liu Xiaobo was honoured in absentia, and commented in passing that a number of African states, those for whom the yuan is a powerful persuader, were on the absentee list.

With his customary back-of-the-bike-sheds humour, MW2 advised in response that Chinese had a significant hair deficiency upon a part of the body about which he is apparently fixated but which diarists would not mention in print and that he therefore preferred Africans. Hec’s friend, having nothing better to do at the time and being in a playful mood, posted back: SCOOP! Made Wijaya HATES Brazilians.

It went downhill from there. The poor (and thoroughly nice) Facebook owner felt it necessary to post a warning that flaming – personal attacks on others – would be deleted. Wijaya nonetheless flamed back: “Do us a favour and unfriend the Heckler: he is a traitor to the cause of hacks without borders.”

Now we know that’s not true. Hec, who has been a hack since well before Wijaya first sprayed himself with Day-Glo, has crossed many borders in his time. It’s just that he finds uncouth and in-your-face blowhards tedious.

Thirsty Work

Rio Helmi, who has spent more than 30 years taking great photographs of Bali, had a big date at the Amandari at Ubud this week. He gave a talk about his latest book, Memories of the Sacred, at the resort’s regular Thirsty Tiger Thursday.

The book is a personal photographic record of Balinese ritual, trance and communal ceremonies; like all Helmi’s work it is a collector’s item. It would have been great to be there for the event but, schedules being what they are, Thursday afternoons just aren’t in the race.

That’s a shame. Amandari’s Thirsty Thursday includes canapés and laid-back tunes. Now there’s a recipe for decadence.
Wikied Ways

Last week’s Diary item on the WikiLeaks saga seems to have stirred the pot. All sorts of people apparently must have believed that The Diary is as taken in as them by the pernicious effects of modern instant celebrity, which creates heroes out of huff-and-puffs and mounts crusades from positions of one-eyed ignorance (that much holds true to historical practice).

So we’ll say it again: the benefits of hacking willy-nilly into national computer systems and spraying confidential information about like confetti are in fact rather less than crystal clear. Broadcasting masses of private conversations doesn’t help make things more transparent – even though transparency is an essential element of democratic government and must be sought and sustained everywhere – because all it does is fill the air with chaff that is then consumed by many who, while convincing themselves they are now informed, are and will remain ignorant of both the context and the full facts.

It also risks unintended consequences that Assange and his growing army of cheerleaders either don’t comprehend, or which they think should now be immaterial because confidentially has been rendered redundant by new technology.

Julian Assange is not a martyr. He is not Our Cyber Saviour. He is a meddlesome – and evidently mendacious – activist. He either doesn’t understand, or chooses to ignore, his responsibility (if he is a high practitioner of the arcane arts of “new journalism,” as he claims) to act responsibly and assess material objectively.

He has an agenda that has been deployed in his own interest. He asserts that this coincides with the public interest. In fact it is very far from clear that this is so.
City Slickers

It’s great to hear that Yemen, which is not exactly a haven of democracy, has committed to advance the cause within its own borders. We hear this from the Yemeni news agency SABA, which reported that the country’s deputy foreign minister, Ali Muthana Hassan, had made an important speech emphasising the importance of strengthening the democratic process by states and its impacts on economic and social development.

Apparently the minister was speaking at a forum on democracy held in the Indonesian city of Bali last week; or so SABA reported.

Going Cheap

Deborah Cassrels, the fun girl-about-town Sydneysider who like so many Aussies, adoptive or otherwise, now calls Bali home, gave Seminyak’s JP’s Warung Club a nice little plug in The Australian newspaper on Monday. She related how a venture into popular classics by its German operator, Diary friend Tom Hufnagel, had gone so well that classical music is now regularly on the repertoire in Jl Dyana Pura.

It all started with former busker and now lyric tenor Tarik Akman – he grew up in Germany but like all the millions of Turks in that country cannot be a German because, well, you have to be a German to be a German – wowing a packed audience from around the globe.

Seats at JP’s for that performance would have sold like hot cakes (or possibly Apfel Knödel) though. The Australian (we’re sure it wasn’t Cassrels, who’s a dab hand at counting the shekels) reported they cost 50 rupiah. Ahem.
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