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

Friday, May 23, 2014


The Sorcerer’s Apprentice Doomed   

Jokowi among mates in Malang,  But the scene will be different in Jakarta.
On 9 July an estimated 187 million Indonesians will have the chance to directly elect their next president.  Current front runner is former Jakarta governor Joko Widodo (Jokowi), pursued by military man Prabowo Subianto. Jokowi has Jusuf Kalla, a former vice president (2004-2009) as running mate in a pairing billed as youth and experience. But as Duncan Graham in East Java argues, this could be a dysfunctional partnership.
Drum roll and trumpet blast.  “Ladies and gentlemen, please be upstanding for the next President of the Republic of Indonesia, Haji Doktor Muhammad Jusuf Kalla, exemplary businessman, outstanding political leader and internationally renowned peace-maker, the man who will take this great nation forward to its natural destiny.
“Some of you may have heard he’s the Vice Presidential candidate; technically that’s right. But we all know who’ll be the Big Man around here.” (Applause and laughter.)
Indonesians defer to seniors. Kalla is 72, an age where ambitions have flatlined and a man no longer cares what others think.  Should he still be standing when his term ends in 2019 (life expectancy for Indonesian men is 68) he’ll be more concerned at juggling his great grand children than jostling for sinecures in academia or the UN.
After a career just a heartbeat from the top, the moment has come to stop being an also-ran. For the past five years he’s sat as chairman of the Red Cross in its Jakarta office.
From there he’s watched his former boss Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (SBY), the man who dumped him in the 2009 election campaign because he was too threatening, let the people’s mandate slip from his grasp and become President Bland.
This is Kalla’s final chance to make his mark, to achieve greatness, to be remembered as a Sulawesi hero who trounced the Javanese. He’s got nothing to lose.
Who’s going to roadblock?  Jokowi, a furniture businessman from a provincial town, briefly the Governor of Jakarta? He’s a candidate with no qualifications for national leadership other than being what the others are not – an unpretentious man of the people who seems to want a better Indonesia, not personal power and limitless wealth.
Wearing a plain shirt, walking to work and eating bakso (meatball soup) on the sidewalk is great media but it’s not statesman stuff. Indonesians expect leaders to strut.
If Jokowi has a philosophy it’s that we should all be nice to one another.  Another mild guy preached that 2,000 years ago and look what happened to him. 
In the chilling documentary The Act of Killing about the 1965 massacre of communists, Kalla promotes violence at a rally of paramilitary thugs called Pancasila Youth: (Pancasila – five principles – is the State ideology).
“The spirit of Pancasila Youth, that some people accuse of being gangsters. Gangsters are people who work outside of the system, not for the government. The word gangster (‘preman’ in Bahasa Indonesia) comes from ‘free men’. This nation needs ‘free men’.
“If everyone worked for the government we’d be a nation of bureaucrats. We’d get nothing done. We need gangsters to get things done. Free, private men, who get things done. We need gangsters, who are willing to take risks in business. Use your muscles! Muscles aren’t for beating up people. Although beating people up is sometimes needed.”
Yet at another time and place he was deservedly applauded for cutting peace deals after prolonged fighting in Aceh and the Moluccas, resolutions that had escaped SBY and his predecessors. There was talk of a Nobel nomination.
Kalla is equally at ease in the departments, the mandarins are his mates. He knows where the skeletons lie, and the living know he knows.
Jokowi may be the little people’s hope for change, but he’s an outsider in Jakarta’s intertwined incestuous, elite and corrupt political establishment.
He has no organised personal powerbase. He doesn’t have a daughter married to a minister or a son who runs a pesantren (Islamic boarding school). His wife has no brothers who are generals or sisters married to megatycoons.
He’s never  communed with Javanese spirits in a mountain cave or featured in a mystic’s prediction. Neither has he ever ordered a battalion to load live ammunition or shaken world leaders’ hands.
Kalla once drove Golkar, former president Soeharto’s political vehicle now rebadged as a democratic people mover. He’s old enough to be 52-year old Jokowi’s Dad and even claims to have persuaded the former Solo (Central Java) mayor to move to the Big Durian and stand as Governor.
When Kalla was manipulating the nation with Soeharto the lanky forester was in Yogyakarta  studying timber.
Kalla won’t need to remind his protégé about the differences; why state the obvious? He’ll let the youngster make speeches and look important when visitors come.  He’ll show him around the traps if he has time, introduce him to a few mates from the old days, point out the toilets, correct his English – that sort of thing.
Unless Jokowi can assert himself from the moment the Koran is raised above his head as he takes the presidential oath, his term is doomed. He’ll be cipherman, not superman, Indonesia’s Jimmy Carter – nice guy, no mongrel.
Kalla won’t be his only problem.  A popular cartoon doing the smartphone rounds shows a baby Jokowi nursed by mother Megawati Soekarnoputri (daughter of Soekarno) a former inept President and the she-who-must-be-obeyed head of the misnamed Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDIP) that nominated Jokowi.
She’s in the game to keep her founding president Dad’s name alive when this generation, with 67 million first-time voters, has already moved on. Daughter Puan Maharani wanted to be Jokowi’s running mate till someone chanced upon a remnant grain of reality. The party continues to be riven by sinetron (soap opera) plotlines, not magisterial policies to inspire great deeds.
Then there’s Indonesia’s Macbeth bewitched for greatness – even named after a revolutionary martyr hero and son of a famous economist.  At 62 former general Prabowo Subianto, once Soeharto’s son-in-law, still bristles with military authority. Self doubt is not his suit. If he hadn’t been so ruthless and arrogant when in uniform and been discharged from the Army he’d be checking the presidential garage right now to see if its big enough to take both his Mercedes and helicopter.
Jokowi doesn’t need to worry – his bike will fit anywhere.
Prabowo has already mustered a coalition that will control more than 50 per cent of the Parliament, ready to wage political guerrilla war on the former Jakarta governor’s shortcomings, as Tony Abbott did on Julia Gillard.  If Jokowi doesn’t fight back furiously he could get impeached, like fourth president and equally decent man Gus Dur, and retire hurt.
In this bleak scenario the stability of our nearest neighbour, the region’s biggest economy and the world’s most populous Islamic nation could be under serious threat.

(First published in On Line Opinion, 23 May 2014    )


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