21 September 2004

Indonesian Presidential Election Run-off

The Swanker at Macam-Macam is back from hiatus with a post on the Indonesian presidential elections.
You can add the name Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to the pantheon of misfits, megalomaniacs and kleptocrats that have taken residence in Merdeka ['Freedom'] Palace as President of the Unitary Republic of Indonesia, following:

- Megawati Sukarnoputri,
- Abdurrahman Wahid,
- BJ Habibie,
- Suharto,
- Sukarno.
The Christian Science Monitor strikes a more positive note.
With 155 million eligible voters, Indonesia directly chose its president for the first time on Monday, as well as electing local, regional, and national legislators. The voting was largely peaceful and, despite many complexities, conducted on one day (although official results are two weeks away).

Civic activism has taken root in Indonesia since the ouster of former dictator Suharto in 1998, despite attempts by Islamic political parties to gain power. Voters feel so independent in fact that it's likely the current president, Megawati Sukarnoputri, may have been defeated in this election, according to early estimates. The candidate expected to win, former Gen. Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, is popular for his secular leadership and record on fighting terrorism.
But even more positive coverage is at Agam's Gecko, which I can't resist quoting at length.
It was a fabulous day yesterday for Indonesians, and for their growing and strengthening democracy. The entire procedure -- one of the largest scale exercises in democracy in the world -- came off very smoothly. So much so, that it seemed to excite many of the mid-day commentators as the results came in. The fact that they could, in an election taking place across tens of thousands of islands spanning three time zones, be in a position to confidently declare the next president only hours after the polls closed in the western time zone, was taken as a point of pride in the efficiency and use of modern election techniques which have been implimented. It seems like they've had quite a lot of practice this year -- parliamentary elections in March, first round presidential election in July, and yesterday's presidential run-off between Megawati Sukarnoputri and Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono....

Megawati just seems tired, I think she's known for a while now that her term would be ending here. People are grateful for the measure of stability that she was able to maintain, and for moving some of the reforms along (such as these first direct presidential elections), but they are looking for a more energetic leader.

Best of all, this is a very fine answer to all those in other parts of the world who nervously wonder whether Islam is compatible with democracy. Indeed, if all those pundits and opinion-shapers of the mainstream media world would take time out from listening to their own voices, they might have noticed that a very important example was taking shape right under their noses. It still amazes me how little attention this country gets these days, considering that it is the most populous Muslim country in the world. And we can have any number of Agams of Tapaktuan telling anyone who would listen, that Indonesian Muslims are practically the most generous, tolerant and good natured people one is likely to find on this earth -- it will never have the impact of just having our information gate-keepers giving it the attention it warrants.

In fact, and you won't find this in any of the MSM [the universally reviled MainStream Media] coverage, there were some positively inspiring demonstrations of how to work the democratic process into the local cultural milieu. In many polling places, some in Bali and East Java that I saw on tv, every voter came dressed in the traditional clothing of the area -- and in several examples that were covered by local media, the polling station officials and workers went all out to make it a special day, with ballot checkers and counters done up as traditional characters from mythological stories. One polling station in Yogyakarta was absolutely fantastic, with everyone in full costume from the wayang stories. When Arjuna hands you your ballot paper, and Gatokaca offers the ink pot to dip your pinky in while the gamelan chimes gently in the background, that's pretty damn cool in my book. These were excellent examples of the Indonesian people saying, "This is democracy, this is what we struggled for, this is what reformasi was all about, and we want it. This is democracy, and this is our way of doing it."

And they make it look like so much darn fun. All this in the wake of the horrendous terrorist attack in the heart of the capital less than two weeks ago. I think part of the giddiness that I noticed toward the end of the day, was sheer relief that none of the terrible possibilities that one could not help worrying about, actually took place. There had apparently been bomb warnings and phoned threats, those had been happening ever since the embassy blast on the 9th. There were definite worries on most minds, yet they turned out (early, most of them) to vote for their head of state, for the first time ever. They did it joyfully, and they made it their own. Yes, democracy is definitely compatible with Islam, no question about it....

AFTERTHOUGHT: So like, the next thing is trying to get our journalistic profession to actually learn how to say the name of the next president of the biggest Muslim nation. Would that be too much to ask? I mean, watching CNN the past few days, in addition to the BBC's Rachel Harvey and her stupid persistent use of "Bang-Bang", I've heard everything from "Yuhodio" to "Yuhohohodo". It's ridiculous! OK newsreaders, so it looks a bit intimidating with that one seemingly superfluous h. Don't let it get to you, and just take five seconds to look at it. Take it slow: YUDHOYONO. You. Dough. Yo. No. Is that so hard? Or if you want to be a perfectionist: Yude. Hoe. Yo. No. Say it fast. Faster. Just like it's spelled. You got it.

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