And all the crowd comes in day by day / No one stop it in anyway

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.

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