Damsels of democracy seduce your vote Duncan Graham
Returning after a few months abroad certainly sharpens appreciation of the community-order shifts underway in modern Indonesia.
They’re minor and marginal, tremors rather than shakes, just quivers on the societal seismograph. No tsunami will follow but it seems the tide is surely, slowly and imperceptibly rising, unnoticed by stay put locals.
The first indicator was a giant poster at the end of our block promoting a hopeful for the upcoming election. So what? The streets have become tunnels flanked, topped and tailed by billowing silk-screened cotton advertising scores of candidates on the principle that quantity beats quality.
At previous elections the protocols were clear; candidates had to be male, ageing, plump and wear a peci, the Javanese rimless black cap. A black moustache was also de rigueur, indicating masculine vigor plus a finger thrust skyward, a la the Republic’s first president.
All academic qualifications, whether bought, borrowed or MM (Mickey Mouse) had to be listed, while the title Haji, indicating a visit to Mecca, was another important vote-catcher.
The few women who dared put their names forward as supporting acts were grizzled grannies cocooned like Egyptian mummies in mourning black or virgin white.
Slightly out of focus, and hovering like Banquo’s ghost over the candidate’s shoulder, must be a more recognisable face, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono or a previous holder of the nation’s top job, like Gus Dur or Megawati Soekarnoputri – though never Habibie.
During her time as the most powerful woman leader in the world I watched her age under the burdens of office. Then she was dethroned and vanished for the next half decade.
Now she’s back and .. what a miracle! The former First Lady is younger, slimmer and more graceful, at least on the posters. If this is what five years in political limbo can do to a woman, then forget Omega 3 – just keep out of the public eye.
But there’s no phantom endorsing the candidature of Nanik, the lady whose portrait graces our suburb gateway for she’s a real stand-alone, a flawless knock-em-down beauty who should be pushing perfume, not politics.
She probably spent a week in a cream-bath before the photo was taken and another week getting each eyelash to turn heavenwards. She’s a Christian – surprising because followers of the Nazarene in this area are rare as honest cops.
For every surreptitious prayer meeting above a motorcycle workshop there are 20 magnificent Saudi-funded mosques, so the result will probably be No, No, Nanik.
It would be impolite and sexist to comment on this candidate’s other robust attributes. Enough to note that her jewel-encrusted crucifix doesn’t dangle vertically but nestles horizontally.
Not 200 metres further on Nanik is seriously challenged by auburn-tinted Siti whose chandelier earrings sparkle through tumbling locks. Siti dares show her glistening teeth. One is clearly a fang – so she’ll do well in politics.
Across the road is Golkar’s favorite, Endang who has apparently been to Mecca where she must have mislaid her headscarf. She seems a thoroughly modern matron, even backing the local football team, though unlike Nanik and Sita she keeps her blouse well buttoned.
Nearby is Tineka who forgot to visit a salon before the photo shoot so has had to rely on Photoshop. She has so few face lines her nose has almost vanished; the effect is like Sailor Moon having a bad-hair day. This must be for the teenage vote.
Only hot Farida thought a headscarf necessary to advertise her piety as a substitute for policy. She chose flame red and matched it with her lipstick, a far more volatile effect than some of her rivals.
In the long-standing and allegedly mature liberal Western democracy where I retreat from Java’s smog and noise, defacing, chain-sawing and even burning the posters of rival political parties is a pastime for inarticulate youth who think the ballot a bore.
Here in Indonesia, where hard-won democracy is still fumbling her way towards the light, the billboards remain intact.
Though only Neanderthals would vandalise pioneering Nanik and her courageous pioneering sisters, selflessly offering their splendid talents to the electorate. If they don’t get into parliament at least they’ll be able to sell skin-whiteners and wrinkle-removers.
Good luck to them all. I just wish I could vote.
(First published in The Sunday Post 22 February 09)