22 September 2004

Indon's party

In a matter of months Indonesia has gone from a history of rigged and fraudulent elections to a prouder history of free and fair elections. The large reasons are the reformasi movements which drove Suharto from office in 1997 and the failure of the three presidents since to assert any real control over the course of e events or to support the reform measures Indonesia drastically needs. A small reason is Australia's passion for election night parties.

Indonesia's year-long festival of democracy and its hopes for free and fair ballots have been influenced in subtle ways by the Australian style of elections.

For one, the ABC's election polymath Antony Green and his encyclopedic knowledge of the Australian electorate, backed up by the Australian Electoral Commission's and the ABC's computer fire-power, impressed an extraordinary Indonesian political scientist, Chusnul Mar'iyah.

Green's capacity to summon up and analyse statistics from remote and inner-city Australia, then to be trusted by politicians and consumers alike, dazzled Chusnul. This was the model she carried home to Jakarta in 1998, fresh from seven years at the University of Sydney, completing her PhD on Sydney's urban politics.

"Election nights in Australia were so exciting. Antony Green ... he gave so much information. I thought, if I could have this in Indonesia, it would be wonderful, so yes, I learned all these lessons in Australia," she says. "But my country is not just interesting. It is so dramatic. I am happy that I have become one of the dots in the process of democracy in Indonesia. It is my contribution to my beloved country."

The first Indonesian woman to hold a political science doctorate, Chusnul could not have imagined how she would later be invited to apply this model to Indonesia. For the past 12 months in her role as one of nine electoral commissioners, she has been in charge of logistics and information technology for the Indonesian Electoral Commission (KPU). She has had the rare pleasure of seeing theory turned into practice, of devising the mechanics of an emerging democracy.

And just for the record, the KPU count has reached 90 833 246.

  • Megawati 35 465 040 votes, 39.0441%
  • Yudhoyno 55 368 206 votes, 60.9559%

Bali, Maluku and East Nusa Tenggara are the only provinces where Megawati has a lead. Bali rioted in 1999 when dirty dealing in the MPR, the electoral college that used to choose the president, resulted in Gus Dur getting the presidency ahead of Megawati. Maluku has been plagued by sectarian strife for two years, much of it promoted by members of the Jakarta political elite for their own purposes.

The Asia Times has a reasonable view of what's happened. I suspect we are going to get a lot of puns about Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's middle name over the next few years.

Yudhoyono's unofficial victory indicates that voters opted for the hope of change and a stronger leader. "It's time for a change. Maybe things won't get better, but I don't think they'll get worse," another voter said. "Megawati hasn't done enough to deserve another five years." That point highlights one key element of Yudhoyono's appeal: he's not Megawati. Despite his high post in Megawati's administration, Yudhoyono avoided blame for its mistakes, just as he's avoided the taints of corruption, human-rights abuses and authoritarianism common among Suharto-era generals. Yudhoyono seems to have a high Teflon content that the presidency will test severely.

Voters ignored a rash of rumors spread by mobile-phone text messaging that Yudhoyono had a Christian wife and was an agent for the US Central Intelligence Agency. Those charges underscored his potential vulnerability as a foreign tool: Yudhoyono was the favored candidate of Jakarta's diplomatic community and foreign investors; he attended a military college in the United States; and he led a United Nations force in Bosnia-Herzegovina. But those international links didn't produce a nationalist backlash among voters. Yudhoyono's lead after a peaceful vote has produced business-community optimism, a stronger rupiah and a stock-market bounce. But the joy won't last without key reforms, starting with a real war on corruption, that Yudhoyono didn't pursue as a top minister.

All in all it's a great day for Indonesia. Is someone going to mount a Bahasa version of Don's Party?

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