Where I stand, or Let’s Take Off This Cloak of (so called) Neutrality

  How’s that for a title?

And why post in English, if  a)  I am an Indonesian and b) this about the Indonesian presidential election?

Well, one of the candidates has this “I stand on the right side” campaign, so let’s do this in English. I’ll try to do a Bahasa Indonesia post later, time permitting.

The year 2014 is a year of change for Indonesia. The presidential elections are coming up in July, after the legislative elections in April. As many people have voiced before, this election year has been really exciting in terms of the increased awareness of people about the importance of a strong, clean government. The current government, led by President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, has left a bad taste in many people’s mouths. Fortunately, the new law limits the presidential term to only two terms, so Indonesian will have a new president in 2014.

Imagine that. Democracy, as crazy as it is in Indonesia, is really taking off, 16 years after the 1998 reform movement that toppled the 32-years-old  New Order (orde baru) regime of Suharto. No more long term presidents, no dominant political party controlling the government. We’ve already seen two democratic presidential elections (2004, 2009), three if you count 1999 (though it was a different system) and now we’re facing our fourth presidential elections.

Which brings us to 2014.

Being a civil servant, I am supposed to take the “neutral” position, meaning, I am not allowed to be a member (or affiliated with) political parties. I am not allowed to openly campaign for one candidate. BUT, I am expected to vote in the election as it is my civil right and at the same time, a duty.

Well then, what the hey, that’s not really neutral. I mean, if I vote, that means I have a preference for a candidate, right? So, after checking the law carefully, I write this post. Because, I have a right to vote, and I have a right to explain why I voted for a candidate.

I’m going to vote for no.2.

There, I said it.

I think those who follow me on facebook or twitter already have an idea of my voting preference.

I admit, I am not well-versed in the intricacies of Indonesian politics. Fortunately, I know people who know people who are in the inner circle of Indonesian politicians. OK, that was a sarcastic joke, but I have trusted colleagues and friends who are up to speed than I am and from them I get (and filter) the necessary information. Also, amid the many writings about the election, these two essays: Indonesia on the knife’s edge by Edward Aspinall  and  Sukarno’s two bodies by John Roosa are worth reading to get a sense on how the outside world views this election (People, seriously, don’t be xenophobic and label everything foreign as bad).   I try to sharpen the analytical part of my brain to get the sense of the candidates, because admittedly, with only 2 candidates, this election is really polarizing people.

For me, the deal breaker is the human rights violation issue. Yes, I know that behind candidate no 2 are an array of generals who have the same issues as no.1. No, not happy about it. Also not happy about the chosen VP candidate. Not to mention the backing party, who say “he’s just an officer of the party” giving a strong hint that he will be nothing but a bobble-head president running the party’s agenda. Yeah, not really comforting.

BUT… the guy managed to hold two governing jobs as mayor and governor, and for whatever time he spent, he started making changes. In other words, he tried to deliver what he promised. He worked. The ongoing debate of him leaving a city in a mess, well, who’s the one who won’t leave him alone? Yeah, that party again. And it is probably a sad statement of the lack of leadership in this country that needs to rely on a person currently trying to fix the mess that is the big city of Jakarta. Also a sad statement that there are actually more people qualified to run for President but didn’t get the chance (or avoiding it) because of the stupid politics.

With all that said, why vote for him? I will vote for no 2 because the question hanging over HIS head is not the question of human rights violation. Deal breaker, remember? With no 2, you still have hope that he has the capacity to steer through the murky waters of Indonesian democracy, trying to clear it up and build a better nation.

If you tell me “You can get that with no 1. also, and he’s better in leading people,” I will say “No, not better. Different perhaps, but not better.” Much has been said about no 1’s firm hand and his tight grip on controlling his party. No 1’s party is new and full of young professionals (who actually should know better and maybe form their own political party instead of being under the leadership of a retired general with a lot of baggage). Arguments have been made for this candidate, downplaying the human rights issue by saying “It’s an old issue, let’s move on”, “It only comes up every five years during election year, move on.”

Whoa, stop right there. Human rights will never be “an old issue” for me. Don’t insult my intelligence.  We see human rights violation everywhere in the world and I’ll be damned if another Indonesian president has a questionable human rights record after Suharto. Indonesia still has a lot to answer for in terms of human rights violation, starting from communist related killings, Timor, DOM, May 1998, and also, the death of human rights activist Munir in 2004. Take your pick. Of course not all were/are related to no 1 alone, and that’s also the issue I want to see. Can Indonesia’s next president clear up the dark parts of our past? Will he have the political will to start answering the questions and providing an environment that will not allow any more human rights violations?

Is that the only thing I’m concerned about? Well, no, but again, that’s the deal breaker for me. I am not naive to think that with no 2 as president all of the issues and problems, such as the rampant corruption, will be solved by the sweep of a magic wand in five years. No definitely not. But still, being an Indonesian, living in this beautiful country, I will not stay neutral. I can’t. This country deserves better than “neutral” people who won’t vote. 

So come July 9, you will see me at the voting booth, with another purple pinky finger. Because I’m going to vote for the next president of Indonesia. Just because I can.

This is where I stand.


What is Love?


I’m one of those lucky people who had the fortune to visit the Taj Mahal not once, but twice. The first was in 1991 with my parents, and most recently, last month as part of my participation in a seminar-workshop about Biodiversity. Both times, the beauty of structure and the emotions involved in the story of building took my breath away.

However there was something different this time. The visit to Taj Mahal incited a lively discussion about (what else?).. love, thanks to a senior Indian colleague who provoked us on the bus during the return trip to New Delhi.

See, while the majority of us were all still doe-eyed and immediately thought about the Taj Mahal being the ultimate symbol of eternal love, he refuted that the Taj Mahal was making a mockery of love because, really, how can you define  love by, to put it bluntly, a huge building?

And you know,  you couldn’t really say that Mumtaz Mahal was Shah Jahan’s soul mate, she was merely one wife among a dozen other wives. He made her pregnant 14 times, which ultimately resulted in her death (maternal health care was not a priority program during the Mughal times, sigh).

Of course, the hapless romantic in me immediately offered the other side of discussion, namely that, “wasn’t it romantic that he left the battlefield just to be with her”, and, and, “didn’t he make the promise every woman wanted to hear:  I will never marry again for the rest of my life.”

But then the rational part of my  travel weary brain creeped in and asked “Yeah, what’s the big deal about a humongous marble tomb? You call THAT love?” which led me to look up my phone for a small book from, of all people, Charles Schulz. Yes, the Peanuts gang, way back in 1965, gave their definitions of love. On the website http://www.brainpickings.org, the writers there brought up the book “Love is walking hand in hand” and each page defined love through simple, day-to-day things. It’s a simple book, classic Peanuts. So I read out some of the more relevant passages to the bus and we concluded that, yeah, you don’t need the Taj Mahal to show your love. But … I believe you need to do something to indicate that you love the person you’re with. Otherwise, you might lose the best thing that ever happened to you.

So tell me, what have you done to show your love?

My horoscope today: good advice!

Just because you have a strong opinion about how to do something at work, your certainty doesn’t make your idea the best way. Being open to learning from others requires you to let go of your attachment to being right. Forget about proving your superiority; instead, acknowledge that everyone has something special to offer. Respectfully asking your co-workers to share their knowledge and expertise is a sign of your own intelligence.

Let’s not take life for granted, part 3: when death hits close to home…

This time, it’s personal 😦

My Department is mourning the loss of our dear colleague and friend, Mr. Ellyzar IM Adil.

He taught Animal Physiology. Always maintained a close relationship with all students, rarely see him down.

I am sad because I know that he had to deal with a lot of difficult things during these past few years, and I couldn’t really help him.

The various status updates on Facebook are a testimony to his kind heart and gentle manner.

You will be missed Pak Ellyzar. May Allah SWT have mercy on you and your family (ibu Ena, Dika & Dita) be strong to get through this difficult time.

(Al Fatihah untuk Alm. Pak Ellyzar)