Friday is considered a blessed day in Islam, to the extent that it has a name; 'the feast for Muslims'. On this important day, Muslims are recommended to bathe, put on perfume, wear their best garments, and gather at the mosque to perform Friday prayers in congregation.
Friday 6 May 2016 was made even more special. On this day, it was not only Muslims who celebrated the festivity, but all residents of London. The reason for this, is that last Friday, Sadiq Khan was elected Mayor of London; the first Muslim to hold the position. Undoubtedly, millions of Londoners rejoiced at the coronation of Khan as the individual in charge of the British capital.
Khan brings four main initiatives to the capital; namely, cleaner London, greener London, preserving the environment, and making London a low-carbon city. This piece does not analyse Khan's government or the implications of his accession for London and its inhabitants; however, we would like to take a unique approach by asking the following question. If Khan ran for Governor, Mayor, or Member of Parliament in Indonesia with his four main programs, would the son of a former bus driver be elected?
It cannot be denied that democracy in Indonesia is still laden with the flow of illicit money; known as money politics. So when a person aims to instigate change through politics, he or she should have a large flow of cash to support him or her. Sadly, holding political office in Indonesia is expensive.
Being a Member of Parliament, for instance, requires hundreds of millions to billions of Rupiah in order to become 'the people's representatives'. The Vice-Chairman of the People's Consultative Assembly (MPR) for the period 2009-2014, Hajriyanto Y. Thohari, agrees with this. Meanwhile, Pramono Agung, the Vice-Chairman of the House of Representatives (DPR) between 2000 and 2014, explains in his doctoral dissertation that the average cost incurred by a candidate of the House of Representatives in the 2009 election was about 1.5 to 2 billion rupiah (more than 100,000 British Pounds).
For the 2014 election, the number was almost the same. Teguh Dartanto, a researcher from the University of Indonesia, calculated the total amount needed for the prospective Member of Parliament to stand for election. Employing classical investment theory, Dartanto reveals that a candidate's average spending ranged from 787 million (£40,814) to 1.18 billion (£93,866) for the national Parliament, and up to 481 million rupiah (£24,944) for the House District.
The numbers are even higher for regents' or governors' elections. Home Affairs Minister, Tjahjo Kumolo, reveals that the minimum funds required are as much as 75 billion Rupiah (3,889,491 pounds) for a regent candidate if he or she wishes to be elected. That amount of money is only for areas with approximately 120,000 constituents. For areas with more than 120,000 voters, the amount is obviously higher. To be a Governor, for instance, it is estimated that the funds need reach 100 billion rupiah (£5,185,988), and 50 billion rupiah (£964,137) to be elected Mayor.
The huge cost of occupying political seats is attributed to nothing more than the high costs of socialisations and campaigns. Liked or not, a candidate must dredge deep pockets if he or she wishes to be known, and later elected, by the people. The more socialisations and campaigns, the higher the likelihood of being elected.
Another factor of equal importance is the number of requests for assistance ahead of the election. During this period, many people make proposals to the candidates for a variety of activities and development undertakings. These range from sports tournaments to the construction of bridges or places of worship. The candidates would find it difficult to refuse as they would be branded as cheapskates or not pro-people. Consequently, it is highly likely that they would lose votes. Negative implications
Undeniably, the high cost of becoming a political official in Indonesia has several negative implications. The worst of these is corruption. Data provided by the Ministry of Home Affairs reveals that until January 2014, around 318 of a total of 524 local politicians have been entangled in corruption cases. Even former Deputy Minister of Justice and Human Rights, Denny Indrayana, claimed that 70% of heads of region are involved in corruption affairs. The House of Representatives has been named as the most corrupt institution in the country for five consecutive years. Looking at the massiveness of corruption cases, it is not surprising that Indonesia ranks 88 out of 168 countries in a list of the world's most corrupt nations.
Besides corruption, the consequence of costly official seats is the relatively low quality of elected officials. Elections are no longer the platform from which truly qualified and committed individuals can fight for people's rights. It has now become a venue to showcase who has the most money and even looks. So it makes sense if now people who participate in the election are businessmen and celebrities. It can be said that these two professions are fairly quick to grab people's attentions. Candidates who are businessmen must have capital that is much larger than normal candidates. Meanwhile, celebrities not only have large funds, but also familiar faces. In the eyes of many political parties, the quality of the candidate is no longer important, as long as he or she can raise the electability of the party.
Another important implication is the lack of effectiveness of these politicians. Instead of working to ensure the well-being of the people, those selected politicians will almost certainly be busy counting the political costs incurred. Of course, these individuals wish to recoup their money or even make a profit. The potential impact is that many of them no longer work to truly serve the people. Public interest is frequently disregarded in favour of pursuing their personal interests to get the money back, regardless of how they do it.
While we may dislike Khan, his election is based undoubtedly on the desire of the people of London to see new winds of change offered by their new mayor. A healthy system without politics tainted by money or a 'dawn raid' like this should be a lesson for Indonesia. Because if Indonesia does not want to learn, even Sadiq Khan would find it difficult to win an election in the third largest democratic country in the world.
This piece is co-authored with Muhammad Beni Saputra, a postgraduate student at the University of Manchester.