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Duck and Cover


Here is a primer on Indonesian politics as seen from a bule’s eyes. A bule is a foreigner or more specifically, a white person, but I’m assured there is no discriminatory connotation.  It is just what we are.


Presidential elections are held every 5 years.  The elections were held July 9th and certified on July 22nd.  There are two main candidates.  Jokowi and Prabowo.  They have longer names but around here most people mash up and shorten their names.  Many people just have one name


Jokowi comes from a rural community. He was mayor of a small town and then grew up from there. He was later the mayor of Jakarta and has been praised for trying to what is best for Indonesians.  Trying to tackle traffic and pollution.  One day a week, he took a walk around town for a few hours and listened to average people’s problems.  When he could, he’d try to fix them. According to some locals he was offered personal money if he used Chinese buses as part of his transport plan.  But, the buses belch dirty exhaust and he didn’t want them and this is seen as proof of his incorruptibility.


Prabowo is a former general from way back when when long time president, Suharto, was in power.  He actually was married to the former president’s daughter. Way back when, he was suspected of ordering the killings of a number of students who were protesting. This was never proven.  He is a shrewd financial wizard and has amassed a fortune of hundreds of millions on a military salary.  Businesses  and developers love him.


So, the election was held in July and Jokowi won and he was certified as the new president. Prabowo, though contested this and filed suit citing ballot stuffing and other massive voting irregularities.  


Tensions have been rising around the city since the election. Over the last few days there have been protests here and there. Prabowo and his supporters have been making rather violent threats that if the decision doesn’t go his way they will torch the courthouse and make all sorts of trouble.


The police have daily been caravaning around the town with sirens blaring  Buses and buses of them. Curiously, no one parts for the police. The police stand in the same traffic as the rest of us. Half my commute the other day was spent next to the same police truck with it’s siren just futilely wailing away while we puttered along at 5 miles an hour. .


They have a contraption that unspools razor wire from the back of a trailer creating an instant barricade around a building or group of people.  I imaging it looks a lot like Ferguson, MS.


Thursday was tense as the court decision was to be announced.  This was not an easy task. They started to read the decision around 1 pm.  Apparently they are required to read the entire thing or at least all the main parts.  I read later that the entire decision was some 4300 pages long.  They only read several hundred pages though. All the judges take turns reading.  It went on for hours and hours.  


Even before the final decision, the crowd got restive and they pushed on a police barricade trying to get into the courthouse.  Tear gas grenades were fired and people spread out. Streets were closed.  Veteran workers who’ve been here awhile seemed largely unfazed. A man I was meeting with looked out the window and shrugged. “Hmmm. Tear gas. So, anyway…..”  

Miles away, Z was able to watch the whole thing on TV in the school library. I am a bit concerned about this. What if something bad had happened and all these diplokids are watching their parents under threat. IT could have been an emotional disaster.

For a few moments we were put on alert and there was chatter about how this was going to affect our commute and the best way to counteract tear gas.  But, everyone left safely and though traffic was diverted it was not the massive hassle I was expecting.


Prabowo supporters all wear white shirts and red bandanas.  And we could watch little clots of them moving around town getting orders from their superiors.  I’m told they’re all paid the equivalent of a ramen noodle lunch for their protesting.  Who knows, maybe they get a clean white shirt, too.


The police were quite well prepared.  Some 30-50,000 officers and military were on alert.  I saw several formations of police and troops on my ride into work. The were expecting the worst.  All told though, only 4000 or so showed up.  They did yell and chant and thrash their chest.  All the while, the judges kept reading.  The reading didn’t end until well after dark.


Finally, they finished and threw out the case.  There was some minor skirmishing.  The Prabowo people called a press conference, but Prabowo himself went into seclusion.  His staff was left to voice their disappointment.  They held hands in unity and then walked off the stage.  They were pretty hollow in their defeat.

Then next day the sun came up and it was all back to normal.  The barbed wire was gone. The police were less evident and traffic was back to normal.  Every Indonesian I spoke with seemed greatly relieved at the result and spoke rather mockingly of Prabowo. They all seem really hopeful for some meaningful change.  I guess we’ll see how it goes.

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