Sunday, April 12, 2009

A Load of Bull

As you read this, the country’s national elections have already taken place in earnest. Writing this on the Monday before the vote however, I’m assuming that the incumbent president’s Democratic Party gave both PDI-P (the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle) and Golkar a sound trouncing in the polls, but I’ll have to wait and see.

During last weekend’s final days of campaigning, I rather masochistically elected to attend a PDI-P campaign rally at the 100,000 capacity Gelora Bung Karno stadium in Senayan. However, this first entailed negotiating concentric circles of gridlocked PDI-P supporters choking Senayan’s thoroughfares like a giant red tourniquet. Hundreds of buses full of flag-waving Megawati supporters were making a hell of a racket via microphones, electric guitars, megaphones, amplified Yamaha keyboards on the back of flatbed vans — you name it. Clearly noise abatement (or litter reduction for that matter) is not one of PDI-P’s policy priorities.

Inside, the stadium was redder than a Liverpool versus Manchester United match and the assembled throng cheered and waved flags while rabble-rousing speeches boomed around the terraces. The event resembled nothing so much as a tropical Nuremberg rally. Surely such events are a bit anachronistic in these days of Obama’s Internet campaigning and our dull, free-market technocracy?

Party leader Megawati was eventually wheeled out, and clearly still attempting to bathe in the reflected glow of her old man’s iconic status. In fact, the PDI-P rally was probably not so different from Sukarno’s populist stadium speeches of half a century ago. Alas, however, Megawati is no chip off the old block, oratorically at least. Instead, she chose to sing a song entitled, “Tidak Ingin Sendiri” (I Don’t Want to Be Alone). One is never alone in Indonesia, surely she must know that. There are 250 million of us out there, don’t you know Mrs. M.? The number willing to tick the PDI-P box on the voluminous voting paper on April 9th may have decreased from the heady days of 1998’s optimism however.

Ah yes, 1998. I remember well the excitement and anticipation generated by the country’s first free election in a generation. I remember the campaign rallies that joyously zigzagged around the city streets. I also recall the satisfaction I felt after flipping the bird to a truckload of Golkar supporters. Thankfully they didn’t all jump down and kick my head in. I may not have the right to vote here but a middle digit held proudly aloft is my kind of universal suffrage.

Back in present-day Senayan, a papier-mache bull (the party symbol) was borne through the crowd like a votive offering. I thought for a horrible moment the assembled party cadres were going to get Mega to enact some kind of ritual sacrifice but luckily Indonesia’s great matriarch refrained from frenziedly attacking the ersatz beast with an antique Javanese kris.

I turned to an enthusiastic fan beside me.

“You like this party?” I enquired.

“Yes, Mr.”

“Why is that then?” I continued.

“I believe that Mega can help our people.”

“Well, I didn’t see her doing a great deal of that when she was president between 2000 and 2004,” I countered.

“Erm … oh ya.”

That’s what I like to see, someone who’s done their homework.

Mega was indeed crowned president after the country’s pugilistic legislature petulantly kicked out Gus Dur, a man who had previously referred to them, rather aptly I thought, as a kindergarten. After the novelty of having a female president wore off, Indonesia’s great reform era betrayal became apparent. PDI-P, the country’s hope for a brighter future, had become as sleazy as their New Order Golkar predecessors.

In fact, the real rot set in soon after Indonesia’s first democratic election in 1999. The war on corruption seemed to take an almost immediate cease-fire soon after PDI-P entered the House as the largest party. The Megawati crew quickly underwent the same kind of transformation as the pigs did after taking charge in George Orwell’s masterfully allegorical “Animal Farm.”

And so the years rolled by until an anticorruption initiative finally stumbled sleepily into life under the stewardship of a wishy-washy ex-New Order general with a penchant for writing schmaltzy ballads. For shame PDI-P, for shame.

Eventually I left Bung Karno Stadium, past the party’s menacing paramilitary style security goons in their red combat fatigues.

Outside the stadium’s perimeter, I spied a red Toyota Kijang with a large model bull’s head stuck on its front hood. The vehicle had clearly broken down however and its owner had lifted the hood and was tinkering with the engine.

A fitting symbol for the PDI-P bandwagon, wouldn’t you say?