The shape of the world a generation from now will be influenced far more by how we communicate the values of our society to others than by military or diplomatic superiority. William Fulbright, 1964

Thursday, March 27, 2014


Out, damned spot!    

It’s almost Macbeth:  The ghosts of three past presidents haunting a campaign to elect a new top man. Soekarno, Soeharto and Gus Dur (left) smile spookily on banners above the faces of candidates in the Indonesian election, hinting of a return to glories past should electors pick those claiming to have been endorsed by the dead.
Yet around a third of the 186 million strong electorate never lived as adults under the rule of these men. About 22 million are ballot box virgins.
Most electioneering consists of rent-a-crowd rallies, and convoys of motorbike hoons gunning their engines and blocking streets. If you haven’t collected a few goodie bags with a T-shirt, blob of rice and a chilli, then you haven’t been near a town square or sports stadium.
Some TV programmes are doing fine work with talk shows and robust interviewing.  The problem is that their stations belong to candidates whose code of ethics does not include separating news from partisan propaganda.

Another phantom also lurks, though more poltergeist than wraith, detected only though shifting images: Camouflage gear, flag ceremonies, berets and heavy boots, jeeps and thrusting fists,  ‘strength’ and ‘power’ snarled into microphones.
The military (TNI) has always had a role in Indonesian politics.  Its golden years started in 1965 with the ousting of first president Soekarno and the installation of General Soeharto who controlled the world’s biggest Islamic nation with an iron grip for 32 years.
Every five years the kleptocrat ran the marvellously Orwellian ‘Festival of Democracy’ with results as predictable as elections for Kim Jong-un.  Some approved opposition was allowed, but public servants and their families had no choice. Ballot boxes were in government offices.
Soeharto was swept away in 1998 by a wave of demos for democracy and a drowning economy.  Rash commentators proclaimed the death of Orde Baru (New Order), the general’s authoritarian administration.

Wrong.  The old gang whipped off their fatigues, dashed to 24-hour turnaround tailors for Western suits, Islamic sarongs and nationalistic peci (the rimless black cap), then claimed to have been closet democrats all along.
Prabowo Subianto, 62, leader of the Gerindra Party plans to nationalise foreign firms if he wins power.  This has investors trembling but crowds delighted.  Let’s bore it up the West – who cares about the fallout?
Prabowo was once Soeharto’s son in law and chief of the army’s special forces, Kopassus.   He’s on a US visa black list for alleged abuses of human rights during the chaos surrounding the fall of Soeharto.
Wiranto, 67, commander of the Indonesian military at the time, also has a murky past. He’s seeking high office as head of the Gerindra Party, his second tilt at being boss. The TV ads of both men feature kindly souls helping the wee folk, but special effects can’t hide their raw rule-by-fear agendas.
Current president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, constitutionally barred from seeking a third five-year term, was also a general.  It’s a fact conveniently ignored by Western Nelsons, praising his handling of the economy while failing to see his failures to stem religious conflict.
Golkar, the political vehicle of Soeharto, has put up business tycoon Aburizal Bakrie, 68, as its presidential candidate. The Bakrie companies made their wealth during the Soeharto era.
The parties are colour coded which made sense when the electorate was politically illiterate.  That’s no longer true; the masses are now better educated and the press the most free in Asia.  The old days when people talked about voting merah (red, the PDI-P color) or kuning (yellow) for Golkar seem to have gone.
Parliamentary elections will be on 9 April, the direct election of the president on 9 July.  Voting is not compulsory
As other journalists have noted, there are multiple reasons not to vote for Joko Widodo, 52, better known as Jokowi, and currently the man most likely. 
The governor of Jakarta was handpicked by PDI-P chairwoman, Megawati Soekarnoputri, Indonesia’s fifth president (2001-4) and the daughter of first president Soekarno.  She wanted to try her hand again to keep the dynasty alive, but was persuaded otherwise by pragmatists who know the Bob Dylan lyrics: The times, they are a’changin.
Jokowi (below) has no experience outside local government politics and no record in high finance, though he became a millionaire through exporting furniture. He’s an unknown in international affairs, but in this campaign, so what?

 He’s a humble, quietly spoken Javanese, a mainstream Muslim who seeks to avoid conflict, and a graduate in forestry. So far he hasn’t featured in any corruption scandals, a rare achievement in a nation where too many believe that graft is good.
Like the other candidates he has no clear policies and will pull votes on the strength of his good guy personality and record as a can-do governor.  However this is more myth than fact as the man has only held office for 18 months.
The one standout reason to vote for him is that he’s not one of them.  He has no military or Soeharto crony stains.  He seems genuinely at ease with the poor, who are many, without being paternalistic.
His older mega-rich opponents shout and strut – Prabowo rode a horse around a stadium rally in a Putin-like stunt – and shamelessly display their wealth and born-to-rule arrogance.
These are early days.  There’s been violence in Aceh and crude attempts in Java to disrupt a PDI-P rally.  Indonesians now have a fearless sense of political cynicism.  Malicious manipulation worked in the past. Not now.
Dark talk hints of ensuring Jokowi is emasculated by imposing a general as his running mate, or an older figure who’d dominate because Javanese respect age. Megawati is likely to remain influential.
If Jokowi gets up and stays his own man it will truly be a break with the past. Whether he can energise the slothful bureaucracy, quell sectarian strife, repair the clanking infrastructure and lift the economy are other questions.


Friday, March 21, 2014


 The unmet needs of heaven’s flowers     
Today (21 March) is World Down Syndrome Day, recognizing ‘the value, acceptance and inclusion’ of people with the genetic disorder.  But as Duncan Graham found, there’s little to cheer about in Indonesia other than the resilience of brave families.

Let’s celebrate heroes without uniforms, people like Aning Nurul, 39, and her husband Romadhan, 41. Eleven years ago the East Java couple’s comfortable world was suddenly grabbed, roughly shaken and tossed back, never to be the same again.
Ihsan Faiz, their darling second son, had been diagnosed as one in a thousand - a Down Syndrome child.
“When he was born all seemed OK,” said Aning. “There were no signs of anything unusual.  Our first son Ardiansyah had been born two years earlier and he was quite normal.
“Slowly we noticed Ihsan wasn’t developing as fast as his brother.  We saw four doctors who weren’t interested.  The fifth understood.”
Down Syndrome, named after a 19th century British doctor who first identified the incurable condition, develops when the body has an extra chromosome.  The causes are complex and still little understood. Only one per cent are linked to the child’s hereditary.
Precise figures are elusive, but using World Health Organization statistics an estimated 4,500 DS children are born every year in Indonesia, the majority boys. Although official figures aren’t kept, a parents’ support group believes around 300,000 Indonesians have DS.
Typically DS kids have stunted growth, flattened facial features and speech problems. Given proper health care they can often live into their 50s, though in the past many died young. In the West a few DS people have graduated from university and achieved in the arts.
They are prone to other health problems, particularly heart disease, and usually have low intelligence, though Ihsan is in the less severe group.  He can speak a little, play computer games and use the toilet.  He radiates joy.
After hearing the news the family unblinkingly confronted their new reality.  Lesser folk and those genuinely unable to cope because Indonesia is not a welfare state, would have dumped the boy in a home for the disabled. Aning and Romadhan chose to give love, unqualified and abundant.
“This is part of God’s plan, and whatever He gives us is the best,” said Romadhan. “Who are we to understand why? There is a reason.”
Many couples split under the pressure of caring for a handicapped child. Blaming is hard to resist.  Others move closer. “We no longer quarrel over silly things,” laughed Aning.  “We’ve grown to be more patient with each other.”
Though not with the way they’ve been treated, by the medical profession, teachers and the community of Sidoarjo, near Surabaya, where they once lived.
To have a disabled child was proof of parental sin to cruel neighbors, whose mutterings, stares and snubs scratched the couple’s pain, particularly as Romadhan was often away in Jakarta working as an airline aviation inspector.
“We tried to ignore the gossip but it was everywhere,” he said. “We were judged through ignorance. The situation became worse when we tried to enrol Ihsan at school.   No-one would accept him.
“The education and welfare of children is part of our Constitution.  But the law is not being upheld and no one seems to care.  We want Ihsan to grow into an independent man, to reach his full potential.
“We’re an educated professional couple and I have a good job.  We know how to get things done and where to protest, yet we still get little more than embarrassed nods.  So imagine how difficult it must be for poor villagers.”
Four years ago the family moved to Lawang, Aning’s home town.  Here the smaller community was more accepting. The couple got to know others with handicapped kids, to share experiences and provide mutual support.
As a bonus a local school was happy to take on the responsibility. (See sidebar)
Pre-natal screening can diagnose genetic defects and offer the mother termination, a choice frequently taken in the West. “I would never have had an abortion,” said Aning. “Whatever God has given me is the best.”
Ihsan is close to his father and occasionally accompanies him on aircraft inspections to crew members’ amazement and the boy’s delight.
“So many families try to shut away their handicapped kids for shame,” Romadhan said.  “Don’t hide your children. They are the stars of every family, the flowers of heaven.
Father and son rubbed noses and cuddled, the tough engineer whose signature can ground an Airbus, and the chuckling, vulnerable boy who gently strokes the family cat.
“This is Ihsan,” said Romadhan facing his visitors with pride. “This is my special son.”

Caring schools

Ar-Roihan is a private Islamic school in Lawang with 365 students, 19 of them disabled. The principal, Lailil Qomariyah (in photo, left), follows the reasoning of a 2010 Australian report advocating inclusive education in Indonesia for children with special needs.
“Why not? she asked. “All handicapped kids are God’s children and have a right to education. I want to run a caring school, whatever the condition of the students.”
Lailil has trained Khukmi, one of her teacher aides, to specialise in caring for DS students. The school has submitted a proposal to the education department for resources, training programs and a proper curriculum, hoping for a response mid-year.
Lailil said officials’ responses have concentrated on the difficulties rather than the benefits
“An inclusive school doesn’t just help those with special needs,”  she said. “They mix with the other children who accept them as they are.”
In Malang YPAC, a private rehabilitation center and school, cares for 70 handicapped students, including eight with DS. Some live in permanently.  Principal Endang Haryani, a former engineer who volunteers her services, said most of the children came from poor families and had been rejected by mainstream schools.
“We just ask them to pay what they can,” she said. “The law says they should be accepted by schools, but the law’s not being applied.”
YPAC is not associated with any religious group.  It costs Rp 1.5 billion (US$ 140,000) a year to run.  The shortfall comes from donors, mainly individuals.  Endang said she’d rejected funds from a tobacco company.
“We can’t do that,” she said.  “We’re promoting good health.”
(Breakout two)
I am, I can
Persatuan Orang Tua Anak Dengan Down Syndrome (POTADS), the Association of Parents with DS children, started late last century to empower parents to cope, share information and ensure their kids have the same rights as others.
POTADS has around 1000 members. It’s based in Tangerang and has five regional branches. Its motto is: I am, I can.
Director Noni Fadhilah, who has an independent adult daughter with DS working in an office, said public ignorance made parenting unnecessarily harder, and judging caused great stress. 
“A future program will help religious leaders understand DS is not a curse so they can  inform their congregations,” she said.  “This is an issue we’ll confront when a new law is passed requiring companies to employ disabled people.
“At the moment we’re focussing on getting parents to therapists  and helping DS children become self-sufficient so they are not helpless when the parents eventually die.
(Breakout three)
Easy to love
Children with DS tend to be more gentle and caring than those without the condition, according to clinical psychologist Diantini Ida Viatrie.
“In my studies over seven years I’ve noticed that they naturally help others without wondering whether that’s right,” she said. “I’ve never seen any angry.  They are easy to love and please. They have special abilities.”
Diantini, who lectures at two universities in Malang, also assesses the IQ of children with DS and advises teachers and parents on issues like sibling rivalry when normal children feel neglected.
“Families need to make changes so their children don’t hurt themselves and they need to be patient. The children have the right to live a normal life.”
“Relatives and friends should not shower pity on a family with a DS child. Such emotions are unhelpful”.
She acknowledged that in the future there’s likely to be proportionately more DS kids in Indonesia than Western countries where pre-natal testing and abortion are options.
“I have a positive view of my society,” she said. “Indonesians will help and support their neighbors with a handicapped child – that’s our culture. However, sadly, there’s still much ignorance about DS.”
(First published in The Jakarta Post 21 March 2014)

Wednesday, March 19, 2014


Dian Handayani
Beware the silent killer                                        

Supermarkets are designed to seduce.  There’s nothing left to chance in the layouts, with cheaper products on the lower shelves while dearer items are stacked at eye level.
Price drives choice, along with brand name, though discerning shoppers are also starting to select on labelling – the result of growing awareness of nutrition and the need to be careful in kitchen and selective in the market.
Ahead in this movement has been Brawijaya University lecturer Dr Dian Handayani, 40, a pioneer in the struggle to sell the idea that the food we eat today determines our health tomorrow.
“Indonesia ranks high in the world for the incidence of diabetes,” she said on the university’s campus in Malang, East Java. “That’s serious and a major public health problem, but the disease can be controlled.  It doesn’t need to be a death sentence.”
The World Diabetes Foundation estimates about 7.6 million Indonesians have diabetes, but half are unaware because they don’t seek medical advice or get misdiagnosed.  Hence its ‘silent killer’ title.
Diabetes is a complex disorder affecting the body’s ability to process some foods. Genetic predisposition is a factor,.  It’s also closely linked to lifestyles and obesity.
Dr Handayani got to see the awful effects of the debilitating disease when her grandmother was diagnosed with high blood sugar, typically late in life.
Although still studying and raising a family Dr Handayani took the elderly lady into her home. She gave insulin injections and prepared the right foods.  But at a wedding party the grandmother over-indulged on a fruit cocktail, went into a coma and died a few days later.
The shocking experience helped convince the granddaughter that she was on the right track, laid down by her prescient schoolteacher father, Mohammad Amin Karim.
“I was still a teenager in Malang when he suggested I should study nutrition,” she said. “He’d done the research and predicted that rising overseas concern with healthy living and fresh foods would come to Indonesia.
“I wasn’t too keen because the only courses available were two-year diplomas. I thought the subject was more about cooking and I didn’t believe this was real science.
“Then I discovered that studying nutrition meant I could learn to prevent and manage disease.”
The problem was academic credibility. Dian and her colleagues pushed to get nutrition recognized as a legitimate health science worthy to be taught in prestigious institutions. That meant persuading Jakarta bureaucrats, a tough task for a campus that didn’t have the independence and clout of Yogyakarta’s Universitas Gadjah Mada, another contender.
About ten years ago they succeeded and Brawijaya became the first State university to offer a bachelor degree. Now 40 diploma, 26 degree and six post-graduate courses are available around the Republic – though no doctorates.
With the help of an Indonesian government scholarship, Dr Handayani became the first person in East Java with a PhD in nutrition.
She gained the qualification after four years at Wollongong University on Australia’s east coast studying the effects of oats and shiitake (also known as Black Forest) mushrooms on rats.
Could these foods separate fats so they’re excreted rather than stored? If so they’d benefit humanity everywhere, from the malnourished to the obese.
The high-energy, low fat mushrooms originated in East Asia.  They’re widely used in cooking and alternative medicines, particularly for cancer treatment.  However Dr Handayani’s study showed they also have a downside. If consumed in big quantities they can cause liver damage.
Bad news for the 130 rodents Dr Handayani fed, but another piece of valuable information in the diet jigsaw.
Unlike some nutritionists Dr Handayani isn’t a sergeant in the food police, haranguing indulgers, spreading guilt.  She eats rice and even lets her children (parents may want to black out these next three words) eat fast food.
However these indulgences are rare (“once a month, maybe”) because her message is moderation, and that includes rice, the carbohydrate that fuels the nation – but also creates blood sugar problems.
“Diets are changing in Indonesia and becoming more westernized,” she said. “Milk and bread are popular along with foods like pizzas and chips. 
“The problem is that we enjoy big quantities of traditional foods, while Western meals need to be consumed in small serves.  That’s not always well understood.”
Also unclear are the benefits and hazards that go with foods.  In Indonesia not all products are labelled with the ingredients and their nutritional value.
That fizzy drink you crave may contain ten teaspoons of sugar.  The chicken fried in recycled oil could coat your arteries and send you into cardiac arrest.
Researching food faults is not a task for the fearful, for almost everything has a good and dark side – though the latter is usually revealed when taken in excess.
“I’ve been told by health authorities that food labelling in Indonesia will be compulsory within three years,” she said.  “That’s my dream.”
 But it’s only part of the solution, for decoding much information requires a reasonable level of education, patience, discipline and determination. Australia is considering health star ratings. Consumers like the idea but there’s opposition from manufacturers who claim buyers will be further confused.
Dr Handayani is no remote academic, pushing theory but not a shopping trolley. She studied on a tiny stipend in Australia with her family so knows about trundling through overbearing supermarket aisles armed only with a thin wallet.
She’s also skilled at wheeling the kids away from child-high shelves stacked with tooth-rotters. “I persuade them with logic, and they’re good with that,” she said.
For many homemakers, price pips quality.  At the end of a harrowing day it’s the fast fried rather than the slow wash, peel, chop and steam for high-fiber fruits and vegetables. 
Work pressures, easy availability and minimal preparation trumps wholemeal bread, olive oil and fat-free yoghurt.  Exercise? Absolutely essential. But where’s the time?
“Changing people’s habits can be extremely difficult,” she said.  “However if we choose wisely we can reduce the risk, stay fit and even prevent disease.  Isn’t that worthwhile?”

(First published in The Jakarta Post, 19 March 2014)


Monday, March 17, 2014


By the Way

Reply me now, you are inheritance wilting

Is it only journalists who regularly receive sad news?  Anon keeps texting me that Dad’s had an accident, is in hospital and wants me to call.  Unfortunately he can’t get a new phone card, so can I help?

Absolutely.  I’ll pay anything for a chat as the Old Man has been dead more than a decade and there’s some unfinished business we both need to fix.

Don’t cry for me, Indonesia. Although Dadless there’s no call for tears because I have many fine friends, including Cecelia Rosaline-Lum, Stanley Prince and Tunner Waters. Then there’s Turcan Napley, Rucas Omego and Ban Luwis.

As befits folk with redoubtable names they are legal executors, investors overstocked with wealth or dethroned royals seeking hideaways to hold their gold. 

They like me so much they’re keen to share their good fortune with an orphan writer rather than a deserving child, Oxfam or even a home for stray dogs. 

All I need to do is pay the fees to release the funds. Only Western Union, thanks.

By now you’ll have logged on that these philanthropists live in Nigeria, a country I’ve never visited, and where the scammer is probably better known as Jones Goodluck Ogunfowora.

Imagine how his day evolves.  After a breakfast of egusi soup, hugging his kids and kissing his wife, he heads to the factory of fraud. He clicks on, wipes flyspots off the flatscreen and hits qwerty.

Today Jones has to knock up another hundred names that hint of wealth and substance.  These he adds to plausible letters and e-mails to millions of stolen addresses, trawling for the gullible.

If not fortunes, threats. The FBI, Microsoft, Immigration, Taxation and a queue of banks I’ve never used keep warning of a fiscal firestorm unless I update my account  password.

Then there are the competitions.  The good news is there’s no need to enter to win, or chase the results.  The organizers will track you through cyberspace to present the prize, though local taxes have to be paid first, including to the ‘UN Police Report Fund Clearance.’

What an authoritative title, clearly legal and trustworthy.  Good one, Goodluck.

His trouble is that the prey are waking up.  Anyone who’s been owed money knows it’s easier to open a zealot’s closed mind than a debtor’s wallet.

Life experience makes us doubt that strangers might be so generous.  Though maybe, just maybe, could it be possible, just this once? There are exceptions to every rule, aren’t there? Stranger things have happened. Right? 

The donor could be an eccentric with money to gift and by chance has selected my e-mail.   Hooking just one innocent might make it all worthwhile. And it’s not always the avaricious who get hauled to the surface.

Sister Enhambre Maribel Guso, a trusting nun in Flores has reportedly been relieved of Rp 820 million (US $ 68,000). She believed the people who wanted to donate to her charity first had to be paid to open accounts.

My mother-in-law, a normally cautious lady, got snared by a scheme to win kitchenware through buying cellphone top ups.  She had to call through the receipt numbers to see if she’d won.

She hadn’t, but the deceiver had by harvesting the digits needed to keep his own phone in credit.

The e-mail scammers are smarter than sunburn – except for one critical area.  They may have passed computer science with straight A grades, but they sure flunked English correspondence. 

Potential victims might be impressed by the standout logo and page layout, but no sober person has ever called me ‘Most Honored Sir’ or ‘Respected Gentleman’. 

I might have bitten had Dingo Smith written: ‘G’day mate – your e mail has won $500 K. Flick us your bank account number and password and we’ll do the rest.  Have a good one.’

How sad that people like Jones and his Indonesian counterpart Djoni Gagal, so creative and technically smart, labor on the dark side.  Like drone pilots they never see close up the damage they can inflict.

If they applied their significant skills to good works how much happier we’d all be – even without a windfall million dollars in our accounts.   

(First published in The Jakarta Post 16 March 2014)


The Year of Testing Democracy

Next month (April) the world’s third largest democracy and our nearest Asian neighbour goes to the polls. Duncan Graham reports from Malang, East Java:

It doesn’t look right.

There’s just 20 metres of posters when the banners and billboards previously stretched almost to the Bromo-Semeru Massif backdrop.  They flutter along a small bridge over a trash-choked drain, and can be seen only from one lane of the four-way intersection.

Other travellers might be unaware elections in the world’s third largest democracy are just around the corner, though they’d be bumped up to date once they turned on TV. 

Here the ads are more overpowering, though only three of the 19 free-to-air stations in my area are focussing seriously on the contest. Two of the three are owned by contenders.

In previous elections the streetscape was curtained and spanned by gaudy banners, the roads blocked by paid paramilitary-style motorcycle gangs roaring support for candidates. 

This time local authorities are curbing excesses, though things may change when the campaign gets underway for the presidential election on 9 July. That’s the big one – the parliamentary seats are a sideshow.

Outsiders often assume religion drives Indonesian politics and society. Faith is a powerful force, but it runs far behind nationalism. Proof is in the ballot box.

The principal Islamic movement Partai Keadilan Sejahtera scored under eight per cent at the 2009 election.  The name translates as justice and prosperity, but its elected members have since proved to be as sleazy and graft-ridden as the rest in a country ranked 114 on Transparency International’s corruption perception index.  (Australia is in ninth place, NZ at the top.)

Politicians using Islamic props like the Ka’aba and headscarf just bump along the bottom when compared to those draped in the secular red and white national flag. 

After proclaiming independence in 1945 Indonesians led by first president Soekarno fought a brutal four-year guerrilla war against the stubborn colonial Dutch. The revolutionaries’ success still stiffens spines.

Those who knew Soekarno (he was deposed in 1965, the ‘year of living dangerously’) recall a charismatic leader mesmerising millions with soaring oratory, but a flawed economist, toppled by the army that hated his dalliance with communism.

His vanquisher, General Soeharto maintained ruthless control of the nation through his army-backed Orde Baru (New Order) administration, till a popular uprising in 1998 when the economy crashed.

By getting into democracy first Indonesia has avoided the violent dissent now flaring in the Middle East.

Megawati Soekarnoputri, 67, Soekarno’s daughter by the third of his nine wives, apparently believes she’s destined to lead the nation of 240 million as head of the Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P).

The party came third in the 2009 legislative elections but the people, not the politicians, choose the president.  In a largely policy-free campaign electors will back personalities they recognise.

The polls are clear; if Megawati stands she’ll lose.  She was president between 2001 2004, but her term was a yawn and she was widely seen as a puppet of the military.

Since then she has been defeated twice by former general Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (SBY). He’ll stand down this year as required by the constitution after ten years marked by economic stability and a growing middle class, but rising religious intolerance. 

Indonesian elections are colourful events.  Literally.  Each party has its own hue. Voters poke a hole through a party symbol on the ballot paper. If no clear winner there’ll be run offs. Overall the system is fair.

Megawati dithers on who’ll carry the red bullhead flag of the PDI-P into the  presidential ballot.  She says she won’t decide till after the 560-seat People’s Representative Council results are clear.

Party pragmatists are urging her to anoint Joko Widodo, 52, the popular Mettalica-loving mayor of Jakarta with polls predicting he’d be a shoe-in for the top job.

Jokowi, as he’s known, represents a clean break from the military-dominated past. In a nation where voting is not compulsory (71 per cent turned out in 2009) only an exciting candidate is likely to stir the disillusioned young and an electorate fed up with money politics.

Indonesia is youth dominated. One third of the nation’s 187 million eligible voters are under 24, meaning few have any real knowledge of the repressive Soeharto era.

The press is now the freest and most robust in Asia, though Indonesians are not great readers and prefer electronic media for their information.

About 64 million people are wired, mainly through Facebook, meaning candidates who can’t relate to this demographic are handicapped. However most users live in the big cities, not the highly populated regions where folk are less tech-smart.

Twelve parties are eligible but only four have a chance.  Apart from the PDI-P they are Golkar, Soeharto’s old outfit fronted by mining and media tycoon Aburizal Bakrie, SBY’s Democrats, now riven by industrial scale graft and no candidate of note, and the Great Indonesia Movement (Gerindra).

This is headed by former general Prabowo Subianto, 63, once Soeharto’s son-in-law and still on a US visa black list for his alleged involvement in human rights abuses.

Till now candidates have needed to be dollar mega-millionaires, own media outlets and have close links to the military to be taken seriously.

Jokowi, once a furniture exporter, meets none of these criteria.  Paradoxically that rules him in to an electorate weary of the uniform sameness of the autocratic Soeharto-era elites awkwardly trying to fit into democracy dress.  

Instead he wears casual plaid shirts and is prone to blusukan, taking walkabouts to hear the people’s gripes and check on the city’s infamously lax public servants’ work habits.

Jokowi has been governor of Jakarta only since October 2012.  Southeast Asia’s most dysfunctional city is again suffering under the annual floods that have so far killed 23 and displaced 20,000.

A survey by Indonesia’s Centre for Strategic and International Studies shows Jokowi has such overwhelming support he’s likely to win on the first round. This despite no form in national politics, or skills in foreign affairs.

Endy Bayuni, senior editor with The Jakarta Post has no doubt this election is critical,
writing that ‘Indonesia’s oligarchs (are) trying to steal democracy from the people.

‘The election may mark the end of democracy and the beginning of an oligarchic political system commonly found throughout Asia. Or it could give Indonesia a new five-year lease to strengthen the democratic government and culture’.    

(First published in On Line Opinion 13 March 2013. A day later it was announcede that Jokowi would be a presidential candidate)