Sunday, January 18, 2009

Spot the Loony

As one can hardly have failed to notice, Indonesia will be holding another jolly national election on April 9th. If old SBY isn't a shoe in for reelection I'll eat my Peci but time will tell. On the positive side, no longer will parties be able to install whichever bumptious, moustachioed carpetbaggers they want to into parliament as politicians will now be elected directly for the first time.

On the minus side, only winning candidates from parties receiving over 2.5% of the national vote will be allowed to take their seats. This means that independent candidates are not going to get a look in, even if they win in their constituency.

38 parties are perhaps plenty to be going on with though and looking down the list now I can see a veritable Scrabble board of acronyms and portmanteau words. PAN, PKB, PDI-P as well as unfamiliar names such as Partai Pelopor (The Vanguard Party), PPR-Partai Peduli Rakyat (National People’s Concern Party) and even PNR-Partai Nurani Rakyat (People’s Conscience Party). It's enough to make me want to set up my own party called WTF, I haven't quite worked out what the initials mean in Indonesian but I'm working on it.

A lot of other parties didn't make the cut and Indonesia is now unlikely to establish that noble democratic tradition (one present in my British home anyway) of the silly party. The most famous mentally challenged UK party has traditionally been the Monster Raving Loony Party, run by a man called Screaming Lord Sutch. I also remember a party called the Rainbow Alliance whose best policy idea, in my opinion, was a plan to turn the English city of Birmingham into an intergalactic space port. These nutters paid their deposit and they stood for office, that's democracy.

Perhaps even having a few loons around serves to put the entire electoral process into perspective. If we take Shakespeare as a guide, the lunatics and madmen who enter stage left in his plays are often the source of profound wisdom and truth. Who are the real mad men? Could they be the politicians who hide their power mad, kleptomaniacal tendencies behind the sober facade of the dull technocrat in the anonymous black official car and the western suit?

What I really wanted to check out this week though were the candidates’ techno credentials. Mr. Obama has just been elected on the back of a groundbreaking Internet campaign that saw the President-elect whip up votes and funds via his Facebook, My Space and Twitter accounts. Just how many of Indonesia's electoral candidates are as techno-savvy as Mr. O? Are we witnessing the birth of a new generation of politicians here or is this year's campaign still stuck at the level of slapdash posters and stickers haphazardly plastered onto every available square inch of lamppost?

I made a note of some of my local candidates from said posters and then headed home for a good browse. The first name that I punched in was that of Abdul Muttalib, my local PAN party candidate who looks every bit the robotic social democrat in his campaign poster; something like the illegitimate offspring of Amien Rais and Angela Merkel (try not to think about it). 10 minutes of heavy Google action turned up nothing save for an article on page 33 of the Batam Pos newspaper. I'm sure this is a fine publication but I felt slightly let down.

Other local candidate searches proved fruitless and so I decided it was time to move up the political ladder to see if the party organ grinders themselves were capable of uploading a JPEG or two. I tried the iconic name of former President Megawati Sukarnoputri and quickly located her Facebook profile which turned out to have a not exactly Obama-esque 213 members. The uploaded photos of her presidential days were good fun though. In most of them she looks about as regal as the woman down at my local Warung, and all the better for it.

As for the incumbent himself, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has a not unimpressive 16,537 supporters on his Facebook page. Our man doesn't seem to have updated his profile of late however, so alas there was no, "SBY is... writing some more schmaltzy ballads on his acoustic guitar" written in his status bar. There is plenty of information on the Indonesian President to be had though, including a professed love of music and volleyball. There are messages of support, mostly from school kids, and someone's even posted a motivational poem on his page whose words are every bit as greetings-card-banal as the prez’s own song lyrics.

As for the Vice President, I initially stumbled upon a list of Kalla related blogs on WordPress, however upon closer inspection, most of these didn't seem to cast the Golkar party supremo in a very favorable light.

These days it's hard to do anything without someone taking a photo of you and tagging it on Facebook. Hopefully this will soon apply to Indonesia’s entire brown envelope exchanging parliament too. That would really give the Anti Corruption Commission something to chew on.