Opinion: Indonesia’s political Theatre of the Absurd

puppet

Picture by Edward Ricardo Sianturi. View more of his artwork in his link.

 

In something that looks like a plot for an absurdist fiction play, President Joko Widodo declared Commissioner General Budi Gunawan, already named a suspect by Indonesia’s anti-graft agency Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK), as the sole nominee for chairmanship in the country’s national police forces.

Things become even more surreal as the country’s national parliament, notoriously known for resembling more like a whole vaudeville set of plays, insisted to conduct ‘fit-and-proper test’ towards Mr.Budi, under a legally acceptable but logically imperceptible rationale: this person shall maintain his presumption of innocence until the high court declares him ‘the defendant’. And, in a somewhat tragic act, almost the whole parliament, opposition and pro-government alike, gave the police official a high-marked approval.

Imagine if a little child, anyone you can imagine, watches the recent television news, what will he or she respond? What will he or she tell their parents? What will the dialogue look like?

“Mom! Dad! A bad guy will become police chief sooner or later!”

Could it be a Murakamian reply that his parents instead say:

“Isn’t it the fact that cops are nothing more than state-controlled malefactors?”

“So who’s a cop, my parents?”

“Rat-eating cats, these are the cops, my child!”

We all knew President Joko Widodo was the reason why nearly 71 million voters across the country, including its global diaspora numbered at millions strong, gave their full support during last year’s most intense presidential election. Across social media, there has never been such strong sense of enthusiasm, particularly among the youth and first-time voters. Skepticism among adult generation aside, who has been living under decades of authoritarian rule, the youth gave Indonesia a new flagrant voice of what ‘democracy’ truly means. Yes, we saw spats occurring between supporters of both candidates, but we saw even more humane faces endorsing their candidates, for something they truly believe in. In any election, to garner victory, it’s always crucial to buy voters’ faith, something that leverages their legitimacy to ascend the leadership seat of a nation.

And we all knew there were out there millions of volunteers, driven by their own hearts, sacrificing anything they could to support Joko Widodo. They saw in him a changemaker. He’s transformed his hometown, Surakarta, into a regional tourism hub, and spruced up Indonesia’s national capital, Jakarta, in both urban planning and budget management. Despite the huge amount of black campaign being directed towards him and his supporters, excluding massive funding to mass media to divert people away from endorsing his agenda, he eventually won the election, thus becoming the country’s first democratic-era civilian president.

But in what appeared like French philosopher Jean Baudrillard’s ‘precession of the simulacra’ theory, things will eventually run out of their original notion and meanings, bound by Icarian limits of this profane world. The president-elect eventually conceded to political pressure by his inner circle to provide some ministerial seats in his cabinet; personally I would still tolerate that. Human rights abusers were awarded and pardoned; again, sometimes, in this world where many questions will never have true answers, we all must understand our own Icarian limits. To and fro, out of an existential reason that some portions of this nation were built under the blood of millions shed in internal power struggles, the President had not initiated some measures to restart special courts for crimes against humanity taking place decades before. We all know the reason why: many of the parties involved still possess powerful political patronage, in both incumbent government and opposition, and not to be hypocritical myself, including several elites within the President’s inner circle.

And here comes the most logic-defying moment in the first three months of the President’s tenure: a graft suspect will (if President approves) become the country’s highest police officer. Parliament members continued to ask public leniency of Budi’s appointment as national police chief, with all possible mind-bending reasons they could offer. Where will this country go, pardon my dramatic question? What will the children, little toddlers everywhere, respond? Who will be their role models when even a top official himself is tainted with cases? How will the public be expected to conform to the laws when even the upholders of justice themselves can’t control themselves? Say, from the simplest thing to do, obeying the traffic laws, one that even looks a make-believe fantasy for millions of riders across this country. Some people remain blinded to the notion that ‘the smallest rip can induce a huge wave of repercussions’.

This scenario apparently looks more and more like a plot for any Theatre of the Absurd play: the main character eventually becomes a puppet under shadowy, invisible, formidable forces, doing all the tragedies while the forces above are laughing, and the surrounding people are lashing at him with uncontrolled anguish. Will the President eventually fall under the black-hole of his surrounding circle? There are four years and nine more months for him to go, and this certainly will be a heavy sojourn. We’ll have to see, and we’ll have to carefully observe.

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Increasing competitiveness: a challenge in Hong Kong’s tertiary education

hong kong

 

 

Yesterday, someone in our Facebook group for international students posted an article, as titled ‘give the opportunity back to local students‘. Penned by a Legislative Council member, this piece uncomfortably raised the issue about ‘reducing quota for non-local students’ per 2016/2017 academic year.

Or, just in brief, I’ll sum up some important points mentioned:

1. Among 15,000 university seats reserved each year for all institutions in Hong Kong, 20% (or 3,000 among them) are solely reserved for non-local students (notably students from China and overseas).

2. This rate of 20%, implemented since 2008, was a drastic increase compared to 4% back in 1996. Among the 3,000 seats for non-locals, one-fifth will be enrolled in courses fully endorsed and funded by government under a stipulation known as ‘university grants committee (UGC)’.

3. There has been notable concern among local students in regard to the diminishing opportunities for them to reserve places in universities, aside of the fact they have to undergo rigorous high-school curriculum (something very common in Asia’s developed countries).

4. What’s the government’s response? Sounds like a ‘fairly simple’ solution: they are considering to eliminate all UGC-funded options for non-local students, which, if passed in legislation, will be implemented as rapidly as 2016/2017 academic year.

While there is no denying that increasing local competitiveness is essential for long-term economic viability of a country/region, doing such measure towards non-local students does sound like, my prior apologies, some kind of jingoist campaign done in any Third World country. Such reality is ironic when it comes to facing globalization, particularly in the beginning of 21st century. With international mobility accelerating everywhere, as well as economic challenges that are becoming increasingly multifaceted and intricate, there is no doubt we need outside talent for some sectors. No matter how unpopular it may sound for local populace, if we rethink about it from a pragmatic point of view, we still need international resources.

But this is Hong Kong, a metropolis its own government so proudly labels as ‘Asia’s world city’.

Talking from a perspective as an international student, there are some concerns in my mind I think I need to express here.

The real roots of the ongoing education problem in Hong Kong lie in the diminishing competitiveness of the city and the funding problem. Just take the education budget as one example. According to annual statistics by Hong Kong government, in 2013/2014 academic year, total education expenditure equals 76.9 billion HK$, approximately 17.6 percent of total expenditure. That is a pretty high percentage compared to South Korea (15.5%), Japan (10.5%), or even China (12.1%). Afterwards, consider the 2013/2014 UGC budget allocated by the government. In 2012/2013 academic year, the amount provided was 15.8 billion HK$, but in 2013/2014 year, instead, the figure slightly dropped to 15 billion HK$. Why the drop occurred? I’m no expert on education expenditure in Hong Kong, but as what I skim and assume from the paper, this possibly suggests there’s substantial reduction in funding towards public institutions. And we all must consider that ONLY 4% of the UGC goes to non-local students, or approximately, as of last year, 600 million HK$. Does eliminating that option completely can increase local intakes in years to come? The answer is yes, but in the long term, Hong Kong’s vision of being ‘an international education hub’ will face further erosion.

Or go for another particular illustration: Hong Kong’s research and development (R&D) budget. In order to positioning oneself as an education hub, it is inevitable that research activities must be intensified. While Hong Kong is always well known to have competed with its Southeast Asian ‘twin’, Singapore (by which the former succeeds in financial services sector), the latter seems to excel much better in education. Just compare how the two city-states spend their money in research: while Singapore has invested over 9 billion US$ to strengthen its quality research in 2014 (source: Battelle), a figure that approaches 2.7% of GDP, Hong Kong’s gross expenditure on R&D remains a mere 15.6 billion HK$ (app. 2 billion US$), a disproportionately low 0.7% of the metropolis’ total GDP. This figure is even three times lower if compared with Mainland China’s investment in R&D, which now goes at 2% of its GDP (refer again to Battelle). With now average research expenditure required to be at least 2% of GDP to boost economic productivity, and for an ideal education hub expected to exceed such percentage, this is an ironic understatement that this Chinese autonomous region still has a very long way to go in achieving so.

Last year’s QS World University Rankings report has also mentioned that Singapore and South Korea were the winners in Asia’s race towards becoming education giants. Both countries have very successfully invested much of the budget to drastically improve their research quality, something that Hong Kong, despite its short-term drop because of major overhaul into four-year curriculum system, has yet to achieve. Internationalization rate among both countries above is rapidly increasing, successfully utilizing all the opportunities globalization can offer, while in Hong Kong, the increase remains largely gradual. In addition, the number of university seats has, sadly, remained unchanged for the last two decades since 1994: at a rate of 15,000 places. While over 28,000 students were actually qualified for higher education opportunities, a dismal 13,000 of them were turned down. Even if the government were to end up eliminating UGC-funded degrees for non-local students starting from 2016 onward, there will remain tens of thousands of ‘lost chances’ for much of Hong Kong’s young generation to attend tertiary education in their own soil (whose university attendance rate is among the lowest in developed world, at a chronically low rate of 18% only).

I’m very afraid the government will take another misplaced decision in the battle for this city’s future.

Comeback: rethinking myself as a blogger

Calvin and Hobbes

 

It’s been three-and-a-half uneasy years managing this blog. Not about finding the right vocabulary itself makes blogging sometimes a formidable task (well, at some aspect finding the right expression ain’t an easy job); neither it is about being lackadaisical of topics – I have a lot, and to some extent, just too much, to cover in this blog; nor is it about authoring a lengthy post, which many friends of mine used to complain about.

I’ve just been too strict towards myself in doing the blog, while stat view remains infinitesimal. For many times I have contemplated to end this blog, citing its lack of coverage, that make-a-post-once-in-two-days disciplinary conundrum, and (sigh) its seemingly too-idiosyncratic-to-know content. Well, after a breath, sometimes you just think you can’t always win the fight with this world. People mostly do bother to know the real truth, and will pretty much get themselves entertained with ‘partial truth’. Again, somewhat, we can’t always win. My 3.5-year-old blog is infinitely smaller than most Youtube videos about cats, babies, webcam-singing brouhaha and conspiracy theories. But surrendering it will not sound wiser, though. Something inside me reminds me of an ideal blog – focus on people, not the number of people viewing this blog. Whenever I look at some fellow friends of mine, having posted on their blogs for years – regardless of its small stat views – they just don’t stop. We blog (ideally) because we don’t crave for people’s attention; we want people to think, of what we express, in another perspective. I think that’s where we shouldn’t stop reminding ourselves as bloggers.

We can’t always win. If someone is destined for divine intervention, let them be.