Sunday, April 19, 2009

The World’s 2nd-Oldest Profession

Like many of you also did I'm sure, I went and had a good nose about my local polling station on Election Day. All the characters from my local neighborhood were out in force to wrestle with huge voting papers like campers erecting tents. There was my local fruit seller with the goiter on his neck, the cackling Ibu-ibu, the B-list soap star from the posh house around the corner and the Laurel and Hardy-esque satpams.

All were clowning around merrily and celebrating the fact that Indonesia has now held three pretty fair and free elections with barely a whisper of rape and pillage to spoil things. My local couple of Keystone Cops had five polling stations to monitor, although there was little to bother them, save for a slight bit of shoving between PD and PKS supporters at one point. My maid told me that she had cast her vote for the PKS. She hadn't previously struck me as someone who would plump for the five times daily brigade but maybe my own reprehensible behavior around the house has driven her into the arms of religious politics.

I pottered off for a spot of lunch around midday and tried to engage the proprietor of my local Padang eatery in some political discourse when she came to clear my plates away.
"Finish mister?"
"No I'm Swedish actually. So then, which party did you vote for dear?"
"Wow! General Wiranto ay? You like a strong-armed leader do you?"
"Strong, yes Mr."

Wiranto's Hanura Party and Prabowo Subianto's Gerindra seem to have accumulated about 5% of the collective vote each. Not spectacular tallies certainly but perhaps not too bad considering the dreadful human rights abuses that both of these ex-generals stand accused of perpetrating during old man Suharto's regime. In fact, both Wiranto and Prabowo were seen palling up to each other this week, all smiles and backslapping as they attacked SBY's "Political oligarchy". Pots? Kettles? In fact, Prabowo's Gerindra campaign ads seemed to verge on disseminating a quasi-socialist platform; quite bizarre considering the man's past but there you go.

At least someone was smiling apart from the president himself though. Other candidates haven’t been able to take defeat on the chin quite so easily. Doctors have warned in recent months that failed election candidates could face mental breakdowns as they gaze into the gaping jaws of political oblivion, depleted of both cash and face. Perhaps a range of straitjackets in the various party colors await at secure facilities around the country.

One story of post-electoral angst particularly tickled me this week. Over in Sulawesi, a candidate for the Democracy Upholders Party (who?) was disappointed when local residents of Biloro village didn't vote for him. He then decided to blockade a busy road much used by said villagers, claiming that the road ran through his grandfather's land and that he would scrape off the asphalt and turn it back into paddy fields. Rarely have post-election grapes been sourer. Democracy Upholders Party? Physician heal thyself... and step into this padded cell whilst you’re at it.

Back at my local election station, the counting began in earnest. Voters were this year required to tick their ballot papers (contreng) rather than the more traditional hole punching (coblos) of yore, thus obviating any hanging or pregnant chads scenario a la Florida 2000. The huge size of the ballot papers meant that things were taking quite a while however and my local election officials at times looked as if they were trying to construct some kind of origami dinosaur as they removed the papers from the shiny metal KPU boxes before unfolding and scrutinizing them.

The KPU themselves have been under fire in recent days for the many logistical problems that were encountered on voting day. Mind you, with over a million candidates spread over Indonesia's 6000 inhabited islands, the whole election must have been horrendous to organize.

I drove past my local polling station once again when I came back from the pub at midnight and the poor blighters were still wrestling with the voluminous papers by floodlight. They told me that they had nearly finished. I continued home to a fitful sleep and nightmares of myself being pursued across a marshy battlefield by a gun toting General Wiranto wearing nothing but a pair of Hanura Y-fronts and shouting, " Simon, come back, you haven't voted yet!"

And so the election is finally over and we can all take a breather. Alas, the whole shebang is set to be repeated in July when the presidential runoff occurs. In the meantime, we’ll have to endure politicians of every stripe attempting to form viable coalitions by making unctuous overtures to rivals that they would normally be reluctant to pee on if they were on fire. Oh joy of joys.

Politics, don’t you just love it? If politics is the second oldest profession in the world then it bears a more than passing resemblance to the first. As the great H.L.Mencken once said, “Under democracy one party always devotes its chief energies to trying to prove that the other party is unfit to rule - and both commonly succeed, and are right.”