I read an opinion article published recently in Jakarta Globe and was compelled to write this blog in response to the survey that showed only 19 percent of respondents believed the nation’s president should be of Javanese descent, while 73 percent of respondents believed that hereditary was not very important.
That is true, and I am a believer that it is not the ethnic background of a president that counts but their capability in leading the country toward social justice and welfare for the people. In fact, Indonesia recognizes unity in diversity through the ideology of Pancasila. The dichotomy of Javanese or non-Javanese is only a game the elite and the politicians play to serve their interests.
Indonesians, especially those of Javanese descent, have a culture that applies a high degree of tolerance, whether they are highly educated or not. What’s important for them is social justice and welfare, and they have the wisdom to choose whether the president should be Javanese or not. They, too, judge a person by their deeds, not by their pedigree.
That has not changed. The myth that presidents have to be Javanese is only talk, not a reality. For example, former President B.J. Habibie came from South Sulawesi. And to be sure, former presidential candidate Jusuf Kalla, a Bugis (one of the ethnic groups from South Sulawesi), would have been a better president than the incumbent during the 2009 elections.
President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s wins in the last two elections were not determined by his Javanese roots, but his posture, credibility, campaign strategy, charisma and effective communication style. He got a relatively even distribution of votes from around the country, a fact that indicates it was not because he was Javanese.
But after more than seven years in power, his popularity has declined to an incredible low. Why? Because of his unpopular policies. Although his macroeconomic policies fared well and economic growth increased due to Indonesia’s bountiful natural resources and domestic consumption, the majority of the people’s welfare is declining sharply. Popularity doesn’t always make a good president.
On paper, we have presidential aspirants for the next election who are not Javanese. They are Aburizal Bakrie (Lampung), Hatta Rajasa (Palembang) and Surya Paloh (Aceh). They all have political credibility, but we should not be skeptical if the next president happens to have Javanese heritage and a name that ends in “o.” Even in the United States, most presidential ancestors came from 18th century British immigrants in which the few names ending in vowels were mostly of Scottish or Irish origin.
There has never been an Italian, Hungarian, Lithuanian, Russian, Greek, Spaniard or Hispanic elected to the White House. Nor has anyone of Swedish, Danish, or Norwegian descent ever been elected. But the undeniable fact is Barack Obama, who is the epitome of diverse heritage, is now the president of the United States.
What if Indonesia’s next president is of ethnic Chinese or Papuan descent? We actually boast Rear Admiral Jahja Daniel Dharma, a national hero of ethnic Chinese descent. Who knows if we will have a Bugis president, just the way Abraham Samad was elected as the new chairman of the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK)? Perhaps another Indonesian of Javanese descent will emerge as the most qualified candidate. It’s the person that counts.
Whomever we vote for, the Javanese or non-Javanese dichotomy should not be an issue. The door is wide open in Indonesian democracy for all our people to gain the nation’s highest office.