The daring challenges of politicians are more a source of mirth than taken seriously.
JUST got back from another trip from Jakarta and despite the harrowing traffic and hectic schedule, it has also been an amusing one, thanks to its “promising” politicians.
At a time when election fever is rife in Sarawak with politicians from both sides of the divide making promises ranging from more autonomy, rises in oil and gas royalty to the protection of native customary rights, intense campaigning is also going on in the Indonesian capital.
The race, though, is for the gubernatorial elections for the Special Capital Region of Jakarta.
In Indonesia, the land of acronyms, the race is for the control of Jabodetabek – short for the areas of Jakarta, Bogor, Depok, Tangerang and Bekasi.
This sprawling metropolis of classy condominiums and modern malls interspersed with inner-city slums of the abject poor has a population of more than 12 million.
The election will only be held in July 2017 but the campaign has been going on since last year.
Much of the emphasis is on the likely challenger against the man of the moment – incumbent Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, more popularly known by his Chinese nickname of “Ahok”.
The feisty but highly popular politician used to be a Great Indonesia Movement Party (Gerindra) MP but he quit the party on a matter of principle and has announced that he will stand as an Independent this time around.
His running mate is Heru Budi Hartono, head of Jakarta’s Regional Financial and Asset Management Board, a bureaucrat untainted by any scandals and a man who is said to have the trust of Indonesian president Joko “Jokowi” Widodo.
Jokowi, a member of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), who was Surakarta mayor then, won the gubernatorial election in 2012 with Ahok as his running mate.
When Jokowi moved on to contest and win the presidential elections, Ahok took over as Governor.
He has since literally shaken up the capital and made it a cleaner and greener city.
His administration, however, is now faced with a slew of legal problems for evicting the stubborn squatters and creating 17 reclaimed islands for relocated housing.
In spite of this, several surveys have still predicted a big win for Ahok’s second five-year term in office, although some expect his likely rival, law professor Yusril Ihza Mahendra of the Crescent Star Party (PBB) to benefit from the controversies.
When Ahok hinted that he might contest as an Independent in February, many doubted if he would be able to secure the signatures of at least 532,000 of Jakarta residents by May, as required by the country’s election commission.
Among them were Habiburokhman, a top Gerindra party leader, who declared in a tweet: “I will jump from the top of Monas (Indonesia’s 137m National Monument tower) if the ID cards collected in support of Ahok are really enough for him to run for re-election.”
But a newly established organisation of young volunteers called “Teman Ahok”, who are supporting the Governor, have already collected 733, 832 copies of signed identity cards and well on their way to getting one million by July.
When the minimum of 532,000 was reached in April, barely a month after the drive began, people started demanding for Habiburokhman to fulfil his promise to plunge from the tower.
On his part, Ahok responded cheekily by saying that he will get an ambulance on stand-by.
At first, Habiburokhman insisted that he will still keep his promise to jump from Monas, adding that he did not believe Teman Ahok’s claim of having achieved the numbers.
“I admit that the Twitter account (@Habiburokhman) was mine and it was me who wrote that tweet and I meant what I said,” he posted.
Since then, a video showing a very angry Habiburokhman reacting to a question about his tweet during a televised talk show has gone viral.
But he is not the only politician to be caught backing out from a dare involving Monas.
Anas Urbaningrum, the ex-leader of former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s Democratic Party, for example, challenged Indonesians to hang him from the tower if he was proven guilty of corruption in the Rp 2.5 trillion Hambalang sports complex project.
The project in Bogor, West Java, remains abandoned since 2012.
“If I am corrupted even by just one Rupiah in the Hambalang case, hang me from Monas,” Anas declared then.
The politician was later convicted and sentenced to eight years’ jail and a Rp 300mil fine.
The term was reduced to seven years but he appealed again to the Supreme Court which declared that the reduction was a mistake and doubled the punishment to 14 years and raised the fine to Rp 5bil.
But there have been more outrageous promises than jumping off the tower, like in the case of musician Ahmad Dhani, the frontman of popular rock group Dewa 19.
In the 2014 presidential elections, the rocker vowed to slice off his private parts if Joko Widodo could beat Gerindra candidate, retired general Prabowo Subianto.
Joko won handsomely but Ahmad Dhani, who is also a judge for Indonesian Idol, claimed that he did not make the statement and that the screenshot of his viral tweet was photoshopped.
The latest “slicing” dare involved Ahok’s arch-nemesis, Jakarta city councillor Abraham Lunggana, more popularly known as “Haji Lulung”.
Two weeks ago, Lulung bet that he would cut off an ear if Ahok dared to sue Indonesia’s Audit Board (BPK) over the corruption allegations involving a land deal for a hospital.
BPK had claimed irregularities in the land purchase but the Corruption Eradication Commission declared that it had yet to find any wrongdoing.
As expected, Ahok welcomed the challenge.
“As for Lulung, you have to ask him first about how far is he going to cut his ear? All of it or just a slice? So many have lied about bets before, like promising to jump off from Monas,” he quipped.
Media consultant M. Veera Pandiyan likes this line from Athenian tragic dramatist Euripides: When one with honeyed words but evil mind persuades the mob, great woes befall the state.