INDONESIA - In Indonesia, the former minister for Religious Affairs is being urged to resign after being accused of misusing funds that were meant to be used to fund pilgrimages to the holy city of Mecca. In Malaysia, a parliamentary candidate has found herself the target of a smear campaign in which images of a foreign actress in a bikini were distributed, purporting to be her in a state of undress. In Thailand, the army has stepped in to prevent what appeared to be an escalating state of tension between opposing political factions that has brought the country to the brink of civil war.
All across South-east Asia, we see ample evidence of politics being waged in earnest, but with almost no ideological moorings to give these spectacles any real meaning. Why is this so?
A cursory glance at the goings-on across our region would suggest that we, contemporary South-east Asians, have grown accustomed to the tools and trappings of Modernity but have not internalised any of its values or ideas.
Over the past four months, I have been following the Indonesian election campaign - first for the legislative elections, and now for the presidential elections. My general observations are dismal, to say the least: Indonesian survey agencies have noted that more than 50 per cent of Indonesians no longer believe in politicians or political parties, while more than 50 per cent think that it is perfectly all right to accept a bribe to vote for a particular party.
This low level of public trust accounts for the lacklustre campaign we have seen thus far, and the poor showing of all the major parties in the legislative election. Even more worrisome is the fact that the proportion of eligible voters choosing not to vote has risen to over 30 per cent. Yet we maintain some semblance of normality in the political process, with elections being held on a regular basis. That elections have become precisely that - a spectacle - should set alarm bells ringing. Indonesia's election campaign was not without its share of fanfare and "celebrity candidates". In Thailand, an election that was practically forced upon the incumbent government was later rendered null and void.