And so it’s election day in Indonesia today. Actually it’s the first of two. Today, hopefully, sees the legislature, elected and it’s structure, in a particularly irrational Indonesian way, decides who can run for president in a couple of months.
As in all things here, it’s thoroughly disorganised and you scratch your head at the chaos of it all, but when all is said and done, it’s truly a mighty thing and something that this nation, spread across so many islands, each of which is increasingly self-serving (it’s a problem that any future leader is going to have to deal with – just jailing folk for talk of independence or raising flags doesn’t make it go away) as it tries to find a way past the endemic corruption that plagues the nation at every level, rightly takes great pride in.
The fact that Indonesia, not too far in the past the home of one of the 20th Century’s worst dictators, is now on to it’s third, largely fair and unrestricted embrace of universal suffrage, would’ve seemed a bizarre fantasy to much of the world just 15 years back. And the credit for that goes to the people here who’ve done this almost without outside help (lets not forget that, until he looked like falling, Suharto was, despite his, as bad as Saddam, murderous excesses, backed by most Western powers – and even after the students overthrew him – hailed by John Howard) or much more than vague moral support.
No, this is particularly an Indonesian revolution and it now proudly sits as the 4th largest functioning democracy in the world.
I’m watching this process with some fascination. There are all the trappings of democracy found globally, from the self-serving nutters you find on the periphery of power – in NZ it’s Rodney Hide’s ACT, here, rather more dangerously, it’s the PKS, a party targeting the establishment of a Caliphate, who are currently polling near the margin of error despite doing rather better last time – most Indonesians simply don’t want the sort of Saudi-funded medievalism that these folks want, to the huge promises from candidates across the board which will likely be quickly forgotten after today. (The PKS recently nominated Suharto to be elevated to Hero Of Indonesia status, a small elite that mostly consists of Independence War heroes. The nomination was ignored by the government who, prior to their recent disastrous polling paid rather more attention to these guys.)
So, allowing for the aforesaid chaos (down the road from us is a polling station – in the rather filthy forecourt of a garbage processing plant – why not use one of the many schools in the area?) we should have a result in a day or two, followed closely by an intense period where any result is scrutinised for the inevitable questions about an out of the ordinary result here or there.
In Bali there are many stories of villages being told by the Banjar (the male only organisation which controls all life at a local level) which way to vote, and I think privacy in the booth may be an alien concept – rural life in Indonesia often lives under its own rules regardless of what central government may or may not say. One would be naïve to assume that it’s not the case. But such is also widely accepted and any such direction would only come after a rather intense banjar discussion. You have to be very wary of applying western styled scrutiny to democratic processes in Indonesia.
However, the most important part of this whole process, for the long term survival of Indonesia as a functioning nation, comes in a couple of months when the next president is elected. Common wisdom is that the current incumbent, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, will romp in again – and there could be a worse result. He’s overseen a moderate attack on the corruption here and the economy has grown steadily, if unspectacularly. And moderate is the key word: he’s moderate in just about everything and seems to be a firm democrat – and the west loves him.
That said, like the growth, he too is rather unspectacular and few actually know what he really stands for. He smiles and signs things and has a big motorcade. He’s failed to date to take on the most corrupt institutions in the nation: the police and the courts – rule of law remains a very vague concept in Indonesia – and his funding for that most crucial of all things, education, still sits at the lowest percentage of GDP outside Africa. Environmental issues too, are largely ignored as are public health and wellbeing.
All of which has led to many wanting a return to someone stronger – perhaps the rather suspect Prabowo Subianto, a Suharto relative and a former General from the bad old days.
We will see.