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By The Way: It was fun while it lasted

Duncan Graham

The Jakarta Post

Jakarta  /  Fri, April 19, 2019  /  04:35 pm
By The Way:  It was fun while it lasted

Incumbent President Joko (Shutterstock/zombiu26)

All good things come to an end, so do all bad things. Which one was the election campaign?

In the spirit of balance we could say both. But as this column allows a little leaning I reckon overall it was a fun show.

Though not in the way intended. The splendid General Elections Commission (KPU), which has shown the world that not all Indonesian state bureaucracies are inept, was so determined to keep the TV debates clean that the resulting events were sterile.

In the last session the candidates did not start talking until 25 minutes of formalities were completed. These included a list of no-nos which made buttoned-down Singapore look as loose as Las Vegas.

Observing presenters unlock boxes and fumble with sealed envelopes made watching trees grow a thrill. But it gave viewers the chance to interpret body language. 

The restless Prabowo Subianto kept awake by fidgeting and wondering why all the palaver was necessary and how quickly it could be neutered. Back in his former father-in-law’s days there was no annoying uncertainty; Golkar always won even before the votes were cast.

Last year when Prabowo was reluctantly nominated many wondered; are there no altruists out there, no-one younger and unconnected with the military and oligarchs of last century?

Ironically Prabowo’s decision to join the elective government process stopped Indonesia reverting back into the autocracy that once drove him forward.

Journalist Endy Bayuni recognized this with a surprising thank-you in The Jakarta Post:

“Hats off to the former general for deciding to run when the odds are heavily stacked against him […] Lose or win, Prabowo is keeping Indonesia’s democracy running into 2019 and beyond,”

Now holding the title of Born Loser when his spear-carriers assured him he was Born Ruler is a terrible tumble for a strutting authoritarian with an ego bigger than his stable of Portuguese Lusitano horses. Particularly when defeated by a commoner who probably thinks an AK-47 is a new model of motorbike.

That he has rejected the quick count results shows Prabowo has learned nothing from 2014 when he wasted three months challenging the KPU’s figures. In the sport-crazy Anglosphere losers are expected to take defeat on the chin, and with a grin.  That’s a quality worth importing.

Sadly former academic, Amien Rais, should have studied Shakespeare’s Macbeth and his “vaulting ambition, which o'erleaps itself, and falls on th'other.”

In 1998 Amien joined students in a successful rebellion against dictator Soeharto. Then he tried to play the game of thrones. After failing it was time to settle down as an eminence grise

Instead he betrayed the rule of law by calling for lawlessness, rejecting the Constitutional Court’s role as adjudicator in disputed voting returns, for what he called “people power” – a synonym for street violence. 

Waiting for the debate to start, Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, exhausted after grinning through a million selfies in 34 provinces, kept incanting; “Stay open eyelids; this is a Presidential order.”

Lab stress tests on rats are more humane than campaigning in the world’s largest archipelago.

The KPU sought the middle of the road for its polite parleys, but that is the crash zone.  So it cleared the street of threatening verbal traffic, which might have livened up the shows.

No interjections, personal slanders, and other bumper benders and sideswipes, allowing voters to glimpse candidates losing control and turning on road rage. No wonder teens facing their first opportunity to participate preferred playing PUBG on their smartphones.

Indonesia wisely gives its governments five-year terms. 

In Australia it is three, which means the electoral cycle never stops pedaling and politicians are more focused on staying in the saddle than steering the nation.

It is a pity Jokowi is a poor orator with limited English – although he has got time to repair these flaws. 

Then in 2024 he could join Barack Obama on the world speaker circuit and explain how Indonesia has made representative government work.

The ordinary folk in ASEAN countries and beyond would welcome his wisdom, even if the juntas, royals, generals and dictators would find his message threatening. They would prefer a Prabowo advising how to keep dangerous democracy at bay. (hdt)