Wednesday, September 21, 2005
I was having a coffee in the school staffroom during a free period. The only other person present was Alan, a bachelor who mixed with the locals, who loved Indonesian culture, and who was easy to get on with.
He was onto his third clove cigarette and his face looked pasty and lined.
"You’ve got a yellow coffee cup, Alan." I said, "Does that make you a supporter of Suharto’s GOLKAR party?"
"I should have got a red mug," said Alan, frowning. "Have you noticed the yellow bus stops, yellow trees, yellow walls?"
"I’ve seen a few. GOLKAR seems to be spending a lot of money."
"What do you think of the coming elections, Alan?" I asked.
"It’s all fixed," he said, looking rather sad. "GOLKAR will win. There’ll be no proper monitoring of polling booths. Not that it matters. There’s no real opposition."
"Because Magawati’s party is not allowed to take part," I said.
"It’s not just that. Megawati never sounded like much of a radical. She seems to feel she has no choice but to ally with certain generals."
"Wahid, the moderate Moslem leader, seems to feel he has to back GOLKAR." I was trying to impress Alan, who was generally thought of as being the member of staff most knowledgeable about Indonesia.
"That leaves the PPP party as the only so-called opposition," said Alan. "The PPP chairman, Matareum, got his job only because he had the approval of Suharto. And after the last election, which party was the first to nominate Suharto for the presidency? It was the PPP."
"This time it may be different," I suggested. "The PPP has been attacking corruption and nepotism."
"Agreed," said Alan. "But I wish the PPP would be brave enough to name names."
"The PPP has to be careful. Look what happened to that politician, Budiman Sudjatmiko. Thirteen years in prison for speaking out."
"Budiman’s PRD party is banned," added Alan.
"The government is worried about this election," I said. "They know people will turn out for the PPP as a form of protest."
"They are worried," said Alan, lighting another clove cigarette. "Back in February the army was parading their British Scorpion tanks, and thousands of troops, here in Jakarta. You’ll have seen the TV news pictures of the black-clad Ninjas, the special forces, dropping from helicopters."
"They were sending a message."
"GOLKAR are predicting they’ll get 70.2 per cent of the vote," said Alan, forcing a smile, "which is not surprising as they are the government and the army. Six million people work for the government and they are arm-twisted into voting for GOLKAR and into fighting for Golkar."
"I’m told that in the villages it’s only GOLKAR that’s allowed to operate."
"If a village doesn’t vote GOLKAR they may end up getting no government money," said Alan.
"Have you noticed that GOLKAR dominates the TV news?" I said. "The PPP gets a few seconds. When they show GOLKAR, they show a big crowd of happy people. When they show the PPP, it’s a few weird looking people."
"I get bad vibes about Indonesia," said Alan.
"I think we’re heading towards some sort of major conflict or cataclysm."
"You don’t think that we’ll all muddle through?"
"Suharto is getting old. Various generals are getting restless. The economy is built on corruption. The mass of the people are getting poorer, and they have no stake in the system. There’s an explosion coming. Which is why I am thinking of getting out."
"I might try Singapore."
"Aren’t elections fixed in Singapore?"
"Elections are fixed in America," said Alan, with a hint of a chuckle. "But in America they don’t have tanks in the streets. Not yet."
"You’d miss Indonesia, if you left." I knew that Alan had a number of young Indonesian friends.
"There’s nowhere like Indonesia," said Alan, "but my vibes are telling me it may be time to make a move. Also, my timetable has changed. This is one of my few free periods."
He lit another cigarette.
On Jalan Veteran, not so far from my house, there was a motorcade by GOLKAR. It seemed poorly supported and lacking in enthusiasm; there were the usual station wagons occupied by overweight fat cats and the usual trucks carrying bored-looking civil servants kitted out in GOLKAR’s yellow colours.