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

Monday, July 21, 2014


The count’s not over                                                        

As foreshadowed in On Line Opinion earlier this month, Indonesians are facing a potentially explosive situation with no clear winner from the 9 July direct vote for a new president.
But thank God for Ramadhan.  Literally.  The Islamic fasting month is the principal reason volcanic chaos hasn’t erupted following the keenly contested result.
It’s not easy seething over statistics when hunger gnaws and the mind is supposed to be concentrating on matters pious, not political.
The liberal - progressive’s poster boy, mellow Joko Widodo (Jokowi) remains in front by about five percentage points according to exit polls labelled ‘credible’ by Western observers. Not so says his rival, former three-star general and tungsten-tough Prabowo Subianto.  He stoutly asserts his polling reverses Jokowi’s reported lead.
The disputed figures are the result of the so-called ‘quick counts’, not the official result which should be released on 22 July.  Whatever the determination, appeals to the Constitutional Court are expected - so no winner declared till late August.
Even then a settle down is unlikely should Prabowo lose. Few believe that the alleged human rights abuser discharged from the army for exceeding his authority will shake the winner’s hand, then gracefully retire to breed Portuguese Lusitano warmbloods.
Prabowo, 62, campaigned with foam-flecked intensity for a nostalgic return to the simple and certain era of his former father-in-law, the kleptocrat dictator Soeharto who ruled Indonesia for 32 years till toppled in 1998 by pro-democracy students.
Prabowo’s grandstanding campaign style, which included reviews of his uniformed ‘troops’ from the saddle of a high-stepping stallion, reminded historians of Il Duce, the Italian fascist dictator Mussolini. One French journalist cleverly dubbed him Putin van Jawa.
Admitting defeat won’t come easy for a patrician who believes only he was born to rule the world’s fourth largest nation, not some provincial pleb.  Jokowi, a former furniture salesman and small town mayor turned Jakarta Governor, campaigned on a ‘mental revolution’ platform. This included reforming the bureaucracy, embracing modern business practices, eliminating nepotism and responding to the voices of ordinary Indonesians.
He appealed because he was seen as a clean break from the corrupt and incestuous Jakarta oligarchy that’s long controlled an archipelago of 250 million people, most of them Muslim.
Prabowo has already formed a coalition that dominates the Legislative Assembly (DPR).  It includes the hard-right Islamic parties and could frustrate a Jokowi-led attempt to advance reform policies even if he’s given the people’s mandate to do just that.
So far the protests have been verbal because voters are more concerned with their religious and cultural duties. These include mudik, visiting families in distant villages, journeys that are already constipating the highways.
The painful movements will peak during the Idul Fitri holiday at the end of July. Though scheduled for just two days the celebrations can extend to two weeks as workers overstay with relatives.
In this environment it’s hard for even the most intense supporter to muster enough enthusiasm for a good demo.  This is despite ample evidence that there’s reason to worry, as foreign commentators have noted.
Ed Aspinall and Marcus Mietzner from the Australian National University have been in Indonesia monitoring the election and writing scathingly about Prabowo.  Example:
“During the election campaign, Prabowo Subianto posed as a democrat. In fact, he protested regularly against being portrayed as a ‘dictator’—even in his last Facebook message to supporters before the election, he complained about the non-democratic image given to him by unspecified forces.
“Now, however, he delivers the final piece of evidence that he truly is a would-be autocrat who has no respect for the will of the people and would stop at nothing to win power, even if he has to lie and cheat his way to the presidency.”
According to the academics that evidence of Prabowo planning to “steal the presidential result” includes supporters bribing electoral officials, sowing confusion and stirring the possum with fake survey results.
There are widespread claims of malpractice, including attempts at vote buying and intimidation of electors.  In some booths not one vote was recorded for Jokowi in what are supposed to be secret ballots. In others officials reportedly defaced votes for Jokowi making them ineligible.
The police, who are supposed to be guarding the process, are notoriously corrupt.  So are many bureaucrats; after the general election in April around 100 electoral staff were sacked for illegal practices.
Jokowi was a late entrant into the presidential race. In local government he became famous for his Javanese consensus-style problem solving. He was handpicked by Megawati Soekarnoputri, the head of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) when it became clear the daughter of first president Soekarno would lose if she stood as planned.
The campaign, run by her daughter Puan Maharani, was reported to be underfunded and clumsy, kept in play only through the smartness of volunteers. It was little contest for the professional show staged by Prabowo’s battalions.  They were backed by his Croesus-rich brother Hashim Djojohadikusumo and the major commercial television stations, the source of most information for Indonesians.
Next came the dishing of dirt that found acceptance in an electorate that prefers gossip to researched and verifiable news. Jokowi was labelled a communist, a Chinese and a secret Christian with an agenda to convert the nation.
He was slow to respond, preferring to stay out of a gutter fight.  Morally-right, politically wrong. Three days before the election he flew to Mecca to pray for success – and prove his Islamic credentials.
There are daily demands from supporters for their opponents to concede defeat, and occasional pleas for the current president and former general Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to intervene. 
This won’t happen – the General Elections Commission (KPU) has to make the call; Yudhoyono, who has run the nation for the past ten years and is constitutionally barred from continuing in office, has already poisoned his impartiality.  His Democratic Party backed Prabowo.
Indonesia’s seventh president will be sworn in for what should be a five year term on 20 October.  The weeks till then will be a time of living dangerously.  So could the months beyond.

(First published in On Line Opinion, 21 July 2014: )



Friday, July 18, 2014


In praise of puppets        

It’s easy to spot the besotted.  They lavish their progeny with praise. They dress them in the finest clothes and want to show them off, desperate to garner praise. It’s all about one-eyed love.
This is true of parents and puppeteers; apart from the means of reproduction there seems to be little difference. It’s a point proved by the work of Ardian Purwoseputro, the author and principal photographer of a splendidly illustrated text on the subject - Wayang Potehi of Java.   
 More scholarly research on the glove puppets of Java may eventuate. This year the author won a Nippon Foundation Asian Public Intellectual collaborative grant for further study.
Whatever follows, this book will be the primary source so all credit to the pioneer.  As Purwoseputro discovered, there’s been a dearth of information in Indonesia; the best source to date has been in Taiwan. 
The author describes himself as an independent researcher and film maker.  His interest in a little-known art started with “childhood dissatisfaction … which suddenly resurfaced when I watched a Potehi puppet show in early 2012.”
The location was a luxury Surabaya hotel, not the back streets of Blitar where the young author-to-be loved the snacks and other treats that accompanied performances.  His mother gave him a Potehi doll, but it was a cheap puppet, a little devil, not up to the standards of those bought by his friends’ richer parents.
Nonetheless it excited his imagination and the spark remained.
Future PhD students will have to be content with analysing the symbols because Purwoseputro has almost sucked the topic dry of facts, adding a fine glossary, biography and a four-page list of Potehi characters. 

Wayang Potehi (also known as wayang thithi in East Java where the art remains strongest) is believed to have come from Southern China, particularly Fujian Province. There’s a quaint myth to explain its origins:  Four prisoners condemned to death tried to lift their depression by performing with improvised hand puppets, using a jangle of pots and pans to make music.
They created such a racket that warders investigated.  They were astonished by the men’s spirit so took them to the king who, of course, offered pardons with conditions: They had to spread the art and make it popular. Variations of this story also appear in other cultures.
Fujian is the homeland of the ancestors of the Peranakan Chinese of Indonesia and the Malay Peninsula, according to Professor Leo Suryadinata.
In his foreword the former director of Chinese heritage at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University writes that Chinese law prohibited the migration of women so the men who went overseas married locally.  Their descendants (including the author) became the Peranakan, a distinct ethnic group with its own foods and lively hybrid culture.
Potehi based on classical Chinese stories entered Indonesia with the migrants.  It spread through parts of the archipelago getting indigenised along the way. The earliest record comes from Batavia (now Jakarta) in the 17th century.
Around the same time another finger-puppet show was appearing in Britain. Punch and Judy originated in Italian culture and was popular entertainment till recently.  Critics have condemned the violence in the stories as incompatible with modern values.
In 1967 the Orde Baru (New Order) government introduced Presidential Instruction 14 banning all expressions of Chinese language and culture. This was not because the Potehi dolls were politically incorrect by whacking each other with cudgels as in Europe, but because the Chinese were equated with communism.  To the paranoid it mattered not that Potehi predated Mao Tse-tung by several centuries. Even the lotus flower, a symbol of eternity, was banned.
This wasn’t the first time authorities had interfered in the common people’s fun.  In the 1750s the colonial Dutch started taxing performances because the shows were often associated with gambling.
Fortunately folk art rooted in the community is not so easily eradicated by authoritarianism. Potehi didn’t perish; it hibernated.
Potehi were previously seen only in   temple courtyards, locations where they still perform. (The book includes details.)  But once Soeharto had quit the stage the puppets came out of their boxes and into shopping malls and hotels, inspiring Purwoseputro to discover more. The audiences and the dalang (puppet masters) were no longer exclusively Chinese; performances had evolved and ownership had now become shared with the Javanese.
The three-dimensional puppets are still being made and exhibited. Purwoseputro set about finding collections and sometimes the artists (who he calls “sculptors”), getting their stories and photographing their creations.  He also found puppets brought from China early last century that stayed hidden from the culture cops.
Inevitably there are demons and royalty, wise men and knockabout comics, fantasy figures all. The stories contain “heroism, romance and tragedy, strategies and intrigues, loyalty and betrayal, as well as humor.”  Each story title is selected after a ritual asking permission from the temple deities.
Performances are accompanied by a small orchestra that includes string, wind and percussion instruments.  The box stages are also splendid works of art.
This is an easy book to view, though sadly not to read.  The text is tiny and sometimes set against absorbing colors, a serious design error.  Try reading blue on white or vice versa and stay sane.
Described by publisher Afterhours Books as ‘a premium coffee-table book’, it retails a shade under a million rupiah (US $84).
Indonesians may blanch at the cost, but it’s a fraction of prices charged for books in Europe, so good value.
For example, art historian Lydia Kieven’s inadequately-illustrated Following the Cap Figure in Majapahit Temple Reliefs (reviewed 19 August 2013), is half the size and almost entirely monochrome.  It was originally listed at US $142 (Rp 1.7 million).

(First published in The Jakarta Post 14 July 2014)


Hearing the voice of God                                          

If Indonesians had the freedom to choose a religion beyond the six approved by the nation’s politicians, then composer Slamet Abdul Sjukur would have ‘music’ stamped on his ID card.
“I live music, I dream music,” he said.  “When I wake I must not get up quickly but take time to remember the notes.  I don’t want to write them down.  I tell my students to avoid notation. That can come later.  Instead feel the emotion, the truth.  That’s what’s important. 
“There must be a sense of balance and discipline in composition. This must come from within. After we play, we understand. Music can be the voice of God.”
The lively musician has just turned 79 and to commemorate the event his friends and admirers have been staging a four-day series of concerts and seminars in Surabaya.  They’ve also published a 334-page festschrift to the man they call ‘the father of Indonesian contemporary music’.
Inevitably he was accompanied by an attractive young woman musician indifferent to the stares and half-century difference in their ages. For Slamet also has a reputation for being a great lover, though he’s far from a George Clooney lookalike.
He is short and crippled. He cannot use his left leg following a childhood illness and carries a crutch.  He has bad eyesight and worse teeth. His hair is falling out. Offsetting all this is a sparkling personality, a nimble mind and humble nature.
“I respect women, I treat them as equals,” he said. “I’m honest with them. But they must be intelligent. We must communicate.”
Although he doesn’t wear a bowler hat he looks more like the 19th century French theater artist Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, an image preserved in his birthday logo.
Slamet spent 14 years in Paris starting at the Conservatoire with a French government grant. He only returned to Indonesia when invited to lecture at the Jakarta Institute of the Arts.
However in 1983 he was awarded Hungary’s Zoltán Kodály Commemorative Medal for his musicianship. That should have brought him fame – instead he got the sack.  For Hungary was still under Russian control, and the Indonesian authorities in Soeharto’s Orde Baru administration reckoned that someone praised by a communist state must be out to infect Indonesian students.
Since then he’s been recognized by his own country and is now a life member of the Akademi Jakarta, following numerous European awards, including Officier de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres from the French government.
Slamet says he doesn’t know the source of his talent, but attributes much of his outlook to his Eskimo grandmother Astikea who married a Turk called Arsjad. How two people from such diverse countries happened to encounter each other in Indonesia is another great mystery.
Their daughter Canna married a Javanese pharmacist Abdul Sjukur.  Their son Soekandar, was born on the last day of June in 1935, but because he was sick he was renamed Slamet (meaning ‘safe’ in Javanese).

“My grandfather was an eccentric, something of a mystic,” Slamet said.  “He taught me numerology, which is significant in my music.  My grandmother taught me that I must have no secrets and do everything with love because that’s the most important thing in life.”
As a child he studied the piano privately for four years before entering Yogyakarta’s Sekolah Musik Indonesia (the Indonesian music academy).  Later he went to France.
On his return to the East Java capital he helped establish the Alliance Francaise (which is still active) and the Pertemuan Musik Surabaya (Friends of Music) which ran monthly concerts, lectures and workshops.
His work is demanding.  If a commercial television jingle is your idea of music than you may struggle to appreciate Slamet’s work, though he has composed for single instruments through to the gamelan, for stage, theater and even a film score.
Some of his more esoteric pieces include periods of silence, occasionally punctuated by a single note and not always on a conventional instrument. A tinkle, a click, a sigh, a tumbling pebble, the swish of a woman’s skirt; if it can make a sound then it’s at risk of being conscripted into a composition.
Perhaps it was serendipity: While gamelan players tuned up to record a Slamet composition at his birthday bash, with the audience urged to hush, a kaki lima (mobile food cart) cruised up and down the road blaring an over-amplified set of discordant notes.
“I still meditate,” Slamet said. “If I desire something I light a candle and get three papaya seeds.  I put these in the flame – if they pop then my wish will be fulfilled. Yes, it works.
“When I look back on my early work I’m not ashamed. Even here (at the celebration) they’re featuring piano pieces I composed in 1960 and 1961, and I’m playing.
“I’m now composing a work for a solo cello because I love its singing tone.  For me creating music is a necessity, it is something that must be done. Perhaps I am a magician.
“Music is the gift of life, but it must be treated with intelligence. I chose to follow a quiet road that’s far from the normal
“I’m not afraid of death – I’m too silly to think about it, though I might like a requiem, and I’m too busy. (He spends two weeks a month teaching in Jakarta.)  Why worry about age?
“The only problem I have is not having a problem. My advice to the young is to seek the new, to live and enjoy the moment, to maintain the spirit of togetherness.
“I don’t know if there is music beyond the grave.  I only know it is here and now. This celebration of my life and work is beyond my expectations.
 “What do I want on my gravestone?  Here’s something said to me many years ago by one of my students: ‘Here lies an artist.  When we spoke, he listened and understood.”

(First published in The Jakarta Post 11 July 2014)


Sunday, July 06, 2014


 Marketing  Heritage  
When Australian Graeme Steel (left) first arrived in Surabaya to work at an international school he wasn’t about to do handstands.
Back in 1988 the sprawling East Java capital was smokestack central, far from being a bigger version of rice-terraced Bali. Road signs proclaimed the port’s green and clean status, but if the words hadn’t been corroded by acid rain they’d be obscured by smog.
“I kept comparing Surabaya to Morocco, a country I loved and where I’d been for almost eight years,” he said. “I left only because (US President) Ronald Reagan had bombed Tripoli in 1986 and anti-Western feelings had got too much.” The Sydney University graduate had also worked as a researcher in Britain and continental Europe for prominent historians.
“After a brief stay in Sydney I got a post in Surabaya.  Not much fun for about a year – until I bought a car.”
No matter that it was an almost retired Renault, it took the young teacher out of the city and into worlds that few other Westerners had visited.
He circumnavigated Madura the oblong island off Surabaya ignoring warnings of knifemen for the Madurese have a fearsome stab-first, chat-later reputation.  Instead he discovered rough roads offset by warm welcomes and knockout scenery.
He first-geared into East Java’s mountain villages where Indonesian is an alien tongue; so he learnt Javanese to communicate beyond smiles and handshakes.  Fortunately he has the necessary language learning gifts - and writing skills.
Graeme’s accounts started appearing in the Rough Guides travel series published by Penguin and pitched to the adventurous at a level above student backpackers. The Renault has long gone but his four-wheel drive has clocked 900,000 kilometers exploring what he calls “the real Java.”
“I didn’t just find marvellous beaches, wonderful scenery and a wealth of historical and cultural sites, I also learned about the warmth and friendship of Indonesians,” he said. “I started to realize what an exciting place this is.
“I don’t know anywhere else in the world – and I’ve travelled a lot – where people respond so well to your good intentions.  Indonesians are a lot friendlier than your average Australian.”
Now Graeme want to share his discoveries with other foreigners. He’s quit teaching and set up a Sydney-based company to promote heritage tours of East Java.
Although Authentic Java Tours is pitched towards Australians it takes visitors from anywhere, with the Dutch being particularly keen to see their former colony.
These are not trips for bogans trying to sober up after a week in Kuta, but travellers with a genuine interest in the world west of Gilimanuk; most are middle-aged to elderly, are international travellers alert for rip-offs yet hungry for fresh experiences.
It’s a market little understood by government tourist bureaux, which still believe Westerners are happiest in five star pools with swim-up bars.
His other clients are local expats who “work here but don’t live here.”  That includes diplomats.  He’s even encountered some planning to spend their holidays visiting Cambodia’s ancient Angkor Wat before getting to know Borobudur and East Java’s fabled Majapahit Kingdom, for the province bristles with temple sites dating back centuries.

Visitors who book get sent fact sheets outlining the differences they’re likely to encounter. Even then some find it hard to believe that CNN is not available in remote area hotels. Then there are the deeply embedded myths that make some nervous.
“The view is that Java is unsafe, poor and chaotic,” he said. “Few seem to know much about Indonesia and how things have changed.
“Although the company is based in Sydney with a branch in Surabaya we employ local providers and ensure we’re contributing to the community. We don’t use retailers or middle men, and we don’t pay commissions. I insist they have travel insurance.
“We put together tours to suit interests.  For example we take people beyond the temple sites to see cottage industries that still thrive in the villages, often using techniques that are centuries old.
“The tourists that we cater for prefer to see batik, jewellery or bronzeware being made and to deal directly with the craftsperson rather than buy in a shop. Others are interested in social development projects. They want to get up close and personal.”
His particular beef is with robotic tour guides who memorize facts and figures, then deliver these without sense or feeling, never building a relationship with the folk who are paying for the experience.
Costs vary according to time taken and distance travelled, but an example indicates prices.  A three-day tour of Madura for a couple in a hire car with Graeme as guide and staying in hotels will cost a total of around Rp 5 million (US$ 420).
There’s no significant competition, though a cigarette company in Surabaya puts on free heritage bus tours around the city.  Graeme does a walking tour that includes sites important to Indonesia’s recent history.
That includes the Internatio building occupied by the British in late October 1945. In the street outside Brigadier Aubertin Mallaby was shot and killed, the incident which triggered the Battle of Surabaya.
For those interested in culture and religion, and prepared to don a headscarf there’s the Kampong Arab specializing in perfumes, clothing and Middle Eastern foods. This leads to the 15th century Sunan Ampel Mosque alongside the cemetery holding the graves of Walisongo Sunan (one of the nine mystics who introduced Islam to Java) and his followers.
This is a sacred place that attracts tens of thousands daily – though few outsiders. (When this non-Muslim foreign writer visited there was no hostility, only friendliness.)
“We try to make the individual tours right for the client,” said Graeme. “We check everything – including toilets to ensure they flush. I don’t want anyone to ever say: ‘This is not what I expected’.”

Banking on tourism
For decades historians and travel promoters have pleaded with governments for Surabaya’s rich past to be preserved.  At last that’s starting to happen, though the lead is often taken by corporations.
The key area is around the Jembatan Merah (Red Bridge), once the central business district. Just behind the Internatio building is the De Javasche Bank (above), built by the colonialists in 1829 and enlarged 80 years later.
The bank was nationalised in 1951. For many years the place was left unoccupied, its thick-walled vaults flooded. However Bank Indonesia has recently renovated the building and opened it to the public.
The main banking chamber with its splendid stained-glass roof light is now used for art shows, concerts and exhibitions.

Tour guide Angkita Kirana (Kiki)  (left) said there was strong interest in the building from overseas visitors, though less by locals.
“Europeans love the architecture, the history and the stories of the bank,” she said. “I’m continuing to research its past and trying to discover whether it’s true that there was a robbery to finance the Revolution.
“If correct it must have been clever because the systems in place to protect the money were extremely strong.
“The interest in heritage has come about since Tri Rismaharini became mayor of Surabaya and started promoting tourism.  Opposite the bank is the old prison – and that’s also set to be renovated as a tourist destination. ”

(First published in The Jakarta Post 6 July 2014)

Tuesday, July 01, 2014


The death of democracy?
There are two scenarios following the 9 July direct election for Indonesia’s next president.  Both are frightening.
In the first Prabowo Subianto, a former Kopassus (Special Forces) commander with a questionable human rights record wins.  He then takes the nation of 240 million people back to the authoritarian army-backed era of his former father-in-law, second president Soeharto, who ruled Indonesia for 32 years before being ousted by democratic reformers in 1998.
In the second Prabowo loses to his rival, Jakarta Governor Joko Widodo (Jokowi), but refuses to accept the result.  Prabowo has already formed a powerful political coalition that includes Islamic parties and Golkar, Soeharto’s old party.  He holds a clear majority in the Dewan Perwakilan Rakyat (DPR, the People’s Legislative Assembly, so has the numbers to get his way.
Most likely are appeals to the courts, which are notoriously corrupt. Finding irregularities in the poll to justify a legal challenge or recount, or seizing power in the interim would not be difficult.  In the DPR election in April allegations of vote buying and other illegalities were widespread.
Although there’d be protests, the most popular media outlets are in the hands of moguls who openly side with Prabowo; the reformers are generally too respectful of democracy to promote mayhem.
The military are experts in creating chaos as they did in 1999 when the East Timor referendum resulted in massive support for independence. This could precipitate armed intervention and the suspension of democracy as in Fiji and Thailand “for community safety”.   However an immediate collapse is discounted by observers, largely because the World Cup and the holy fasting month of Ramadhan are underway.
Once the election is over the 175 million potential voters in the world’s most populous Islamic nation will return to the real business of performing their religious rites leading to Idul Fitri at the end of July.  The country won’t get back to work until the second week of August, so by then the urgency for action will have to be rekindled.
The son of an economist and minister in the Soeharto government, the fearsomely ambitious Prabowo was educated overseas and taught to be a soldier in the US.  He was later stationed in East Timor. Although he now professes to be a true believer, democracy doesn’t feature in his record.
His campaigning has been simple – to project an image of tegas (being resolute) and exercising authority, using military props, mass rallies that smack of 1930s fascism and Soekarno era uniforms. 
In a country where perception is reality the electorate appears to be swinging his way, convinced that the nation needs a soldier – even one discharged for exceeding his authority and then seeking exile in Jordan - to handle the sprawling archipelago’s complex problems.
Using the Big Lie propaganda technique, and backed by the enormous wealth of his brother Hashim Djojohadikusumo, Prabowo hammers the message that Indonesia’s problems are caused by bocor (leaking) of money and resources to undefined overseas interests. His opponent says change needs to come from within, calling for a Mental Revolution – but this idea is too amorphous to grasp easily.
Two months ago Jokowi, a furniture factory owner, appeared to have an unassailable lead.  The mild-mannered former provincial mayor had become a media darling through his blusukan policy of listening to the ordinary folk on their turf. For Indonesians this was revolutionary stuff – they’d only ever known politicians to be arrogant and contemptuous.
But since then Jokowi’s lead has been eroded by his poor TV performances, a hesitant delivery and claims that he’s really Megawati’s puppet.  Most telling is that his style of resolving problems through dialogue – the qualities that so endeared him to the Jakarta reformers - are, ironically, counting against him in the villages.
Presidents are supposed to strut and give orders, then roar away in limos flanked by armed police, not sip coffee at roadside cafes asking workers for their ideas.  Ergo – Jokowi doesn’t look like the man for the job.
A relentless smear campaign also seems to be impacting. Like the Barack Obama birther movement it’s been claimed that Jokowi is the son of a Chinese, born in Singapore and (shock, horror) really a secret Christian.  At first he ignored these charges, a tactical error. Instead of settling the mud has got more turbulent.
Should Prabowo become president the progressives have only themselves to blame. Instead of starting afresh with new faces and a genuine reform party after the 2009 election that reinforced SBY’s position, they clustered in a loose fashion around Megawati’s Partai Demokrasi Indonesia - Perjuangan (PDI-P – the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle). 
Despite its grand title this is another fiefdom.  It’s run by the daughter of founding president Soekarno to keep the family name alive, a throwback to the old dark days and far from clean.
Megawati selected Jokowi only when it became clear she’d lose if she stood again. Other names were touted, mainly academics like former anti-Soeharto student leader Professor Anies Baswedan, 46, who has been trying to reform Indonesian education. But he’s not a household name.
 Jokowi was the only person outside the sleazy, incestuous corruption-ridden Jakarta military / political scene who was known from Aceh to Papua.  He may not be the smartest card in the pack, but his face was familiar.
And in Indonesian politics, personalities trump policies.

(Firswt published in On Line Opinion, 1 July 2014:  See


The Right Stuff for Captain Indonesia?                                        
Indonesia’s electoral system differs from Australia’s. Presidential hopefuls didn’t seek Legislative Assembly (DPR) seats at the 9 April election - they’ll be facing the people in a direct vote on 9 July. However their parties’ performances are a useful weather vane. Duncan Graham writes from East Java:
There was something unsettling about presidential aspirant Joko ‘Jokowi’ Widodo’s performance on Metro TV last week.
The Jakarta Governor looked tired but good naturedly deflected questions about a vice presidential partner following the DPR elections.  The unofficial ‘quick count’ results have given his Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), prime position at just under 19 per cent, though way below predictions.
Also on the talk show were former vice president and business tycoon Jusuf Kalla, Minister for State Owned Enterprises and major newspaper chain owner Dahlan Iskan, and Jakarta deputy governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama (Ahok), a political rival.
Earlier there’d been a one-sided embrace between Surya Paloh, the owner of Metro TV and head of the National Democratic Party (NasDem), and a squirming Jokowi; it looked like a white pointer nuzzling a seal.
Powerful men all and keen to ride pillion on Jokowi’s bike, but this was a sideshow.  Absent were the two giants who want the top job.  (The current incumbent, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, known as SBY, has served two five-year terms and is constitutionally barred from standing.)
Apart from Jokowi the major contestants are Aburizal Bakrie, corporate tsar and head of Golkar, which ran second with 14.4 per cent, and former general Prabowo Subianto, who heads Gerindra. This came third with 11.9 per cent.  
Both men are zillionaires, relics of the 32-year Soeharto era of crony capitalism and authoritarian control, desperate to get into the Presidential palace.   
In the next three months Jokowi, who owned a small-town furniture factory, not a media conglomerate in the capital, will be going head-to-head with candidates who don’t have ‘lose’ in their lexicons.
These men radiate power at Strontium 90 levels. Should either win the move would be horizontal, just stepping out of one grand office into another. The new uniform would fit their stout forms without tailoring.
When slim Jokowi left Metro’s studio for another function, he walked alone through the audience; just an ordinary bloke, not an Alpha male who expects quaking respect as his right.
All fine and egalitarian. But absent was the gravitas, any hint he has the Right Stuff.
Being the battlers’ mate with his meet-the-people blusukan walkabouts as Governor of the nation’s capital for the past 18 months has given Jokowi profile, but those days are surely over.   Despite having ‘democracy’ in its title the PDI-P is the fiefdom of first president Soekarno’s daughter Megawati. Now Jokowi must break free from her matronage, to move on. That means up and away.
In 2006 Bakrie was faced with overwhelming expert evidence that his company’s East Java gas well had caused the world’s biggest mud volcano, displacing 40,000 citizens.
Then other geologists arrived who blamed natural causes. And the courts agreed. 
When outraged victims marched to Jakarta demanding compensation their outspoken leader suddenly appeared on a Bakrie TV station, tearfully withdrawing his statements and apologising for insulting the big man’s family.
In 2010 the Bakrie Group went into a coal deal with prominent London financier Nat Rothschild. The partnership soured, both sides lost but the Bakries appear to have bested the British financial establishment.
Prabowo, once Soeharto’s son-in-law has an impeccable born-to-rule pedigree; his grandfather played a key role in establishing the nation, and his father was a leading economist.
As a Kopassus commander Prabowo fought in East Timor and later led a hostage rescue operation in Papua. If his vaulting ambition hadn’t over-leaped during the 1998 fall of Soeharto he’d probably be considered a national hero.
After being discharged from the military for ‘misinterpreting orders’ regarding the alleged kidnapping and torture of activists he fled to exile in Jordan.
 He returned later and got into business – then politics.  He was Megawati’s running partner in the 2009 election. When that bid failed he started Gerindra (Great Indonesia Movement) which he runs in the style of Russia’s Vladimir Putin.
Prabowo has been blacklisted by the US for alleged human rights abuses, but who cares?  Not the Gerindra voters in the DPR election who reckon the nation of 240 million needs Captain Indonesia to keep control.
Though few articulate their concerns out loud, the concern is that Jokowi won’t last the distance, that his campaign could falter in a real or contrived crisis requiring a tough guy to ‘rescue’ democracy.
The 9 April election went brilliantly, though the Golput (no show) response was worryingly high at an estimated 34 per cent abstainers. The campaign was mainly benign, more often marked by humour than venom. But that wasn’t the grand event.
Security has been boosted at Megawati’s insistence, but Jokowi still seems reluctant to abandon the accessibility that’s taken him so far.
First president Soekarno survived assassination attempts. He was also hugely popular with the people, but lost power when a failed coup d’état let the army take over.  
During the 1999 East Timor crisis the military used its standard blacks-ops tactic of arming ‘ninja’ militias to sow discord when third president Habibie had already agreed to a referendum.
Fourth president Gus Dur was ignored when he ordered Islamic militants to be stopped from sailing to the Moluccas where sectarian violence took the lives of 5,000. These three presidents were civilians.  Second president Soeharto and current president SBY were generals.
The Australian Defence Forces may not like its government’s asylum seeker turn-back policies, but no-one expects Tony Abbott’s orders to be disobeyed or his position slandered.
But this is Indonesia where the army has always seen its role differently, the protector of the nation’s sacred Unitary State principle from internal threats. That trumps the people’s will every time.
What authority could Jokowi, who has literally and metaphorically never worn camouflage, exercise over an army that does things its way?  Goodness, the man’s religious credentials are also in question: He’s reputed to be an abangan (nominal Muslim), and a pluralist.
Even if no-one primes a bomb or engineers sectarian strife, Jokowi can be neutered by relentless attacks highlighting his deficiencies while promoting his opponents’ proven merits There’ll be no lack of money – or will.
Many Indonesians, including SBY, openly believe in black magic. Expect a dark campaign with battalions of phantoms.

(First published 23 April 2014 in Our Indonesia Today.  I forget to include it on this blog at the time - but it's sadly looking a mite prophetic.)


Taking the sustainable road                                     Duncan Graham / Malang
Dr Suriptono (left) and Professor Newman
Like ‘democracy’ and ‘justice’, the word ‘sustainable’ sits comfortably on the tongue.  It sounds warm and positive, something an educated person should use to display their progressive credentials.
But what does it really mean?
“Sustainability is helping communities reduce their ecological footprint, where the environment is preserved and urban living is enjoyable,” said Western Australian academic Peter Newman. 
“Issues include traffic management, waste disposal, town planning, effective government and land use. Getting rid of dependence on the car is critical and a key to recovery.  We are all pedestrians at some time, but when we get behind the wheel we tend to do crazy things.
“In this country that also means getting on top of the motorbikes, but I’m not here to tell Indonesians what needs to be done.
“All I’m doing is inviting local people to determine their own solutions and showing what’s happening in other parts of the world, like the impressive zero waste management program at Yogyakarta’s Gadjah Mada University.
“Inevitably some argue that outside ideas can’t be imported because of differences in culture, climate and wealth. These are all excuses.  There’s no correlation between these factors and sustainability. It’s just a question of political and community will.”

Professor Newman (right), director of the Sustainability Policy Institute at Perth’s Curtin University has been in Java revisiting cities he first encountered as a backpacker forty years ago. 
“I remember having a small note, just a few rupiah, less than a dollar. yet enough to buy rice for a week,” he said. “I didn’t know such poverty existed, yet these people were our neighbors.”
In Malang this month (June) he ran a short course on sustainable development at Merdeka University for a select group of academics, non-government organization heads, senior public servants and three religious leaders keen to explore the spiritual and moral aspects of going green.
Decades ago Professor Newman steered the term ‘automobile dependency’, with its connotations of addiction, sickness and lack of control into the academic lexicon.  Since then he’s been pushing for better public transport rather than “the American model for using cars that doesn’t work.” 
This hasn’t made him universally popular, and the hostility hasn’t just been from what Australians dismissively call ‘petrolheads’.  In his home town of Perth he regularly collided with politicians determined to build freeways and shut down the trains.
After a long battle reason beat ideology; railway lines were re-opened and new ones built.  “In 1992 the trains were carrying seven million passengers a year,” he said.  “Now it’s 70 million.”
Though once demonized for encouraging people to divorce their cars, this year Professor Newman was awarded the Order of Australia for his ‘distinguished service to science education … through urban design and transport sustainability’.
Appropriately enough the road to becoming one of the world’s leading experts on developing public transport started after a bus journey in the Snowy Mountains of New South Wales.
Peter Newman already had a doctorate in inorganic chemistry but was not convinced that life in a lab coat was the right career choice.
“I was more interested in playing (Australian Rules) football with chemistry as a hobby,” he said. “I wanted to be more socially active. I’d already been excited by the idea of an Earth Day (started in the US in 1970 and now an international event).”
A blizzard hit but the driver pushed on. “It was extremely dangerous,” Professor Newman recalled, “the road was twisting and turning.  There was a deep drop. I thought: ‘This is it – we’re going over’. I decided I must just accept what happens.
“When we got to Sydney our hosts insisted we watch a TV interview featuring Paul Ehrlich. (The US ecologist was famous at the time for predicting that population growth would outstrip resources.)
“It was a fascinating program. Then straight after there was a news flash.  The bus following ours had crashed.  I thought:  ‘I’m here for a purpose.’”
In the early 1970s the world’s only course in environmental science was at Delft University of Technology, so that’s where he went.  In the Netherlands he also discovered that it’s possible to live without a car, an almost unbelievable idea for an Australian.
By the time he graduated a job was waiting at Perth’s Murdoch University, a new campus pioneering alternative fields of study and fresh ways to view the world and its problems. ‘Sustainability’ had started moving from an ethic (or, for conservatives, a loopy and threatening idea) to a science.
Professor Newman was elected to local government.  He became a regular media performer and author of several books.  His 2008 text Cities as Sustainable Ecosystems (co-authored with Australian academic Isabella Jennings) has just been translated into Indonesian by Dr Suriptono, one of his former students, who teaches at Merdeka.
The university is considering opening an Institute of Sustainability Studies, which could be a first for Indonesia. Degree courses are now available at campuses around the world, but not all who might benefit have easy access.
“When travelling I’ve often been struck by the amazing knowledge and experience of those working in the development field,” said Professor Newman.
“These people don’t have the opportunities for full time study away from their jobs and countries. So we are putting together an in-situ qualification in association with partner campuses overseas and offering scholarships.
“Sustainability isn’t about the next president.  The issue goes deeper and further.  It’s about the future for our grandchildren.
“The clash between economic development and environmental protection is over. We are into a new way of thinking that’s being recognized with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.
“The green economy agenda is being set in Europe, not the US.  We’ve been living in cities for about 8,000 years and they are all growing. They copy each other to improve their liveability.
“I’m now old enough (he’s 69) to know that’s true. The world is changing, poverty is decreasing and that’s giving me a lot of optimism.”

(first published in The Jakarta Post 1 July 2014)