Subject: The West Australian: Money And Might Talk In Indonesian Poll

The West Australian Saturday, July 4, 2009

Money And Might Talk In Poll

Motorcyclists take to the streets, leading thousands of people in noisy and colourful rallies, as presidential election fever grips Indonesia — the world’s third biggest democracy after India and the US.

The Jakarta scene of pomp and pageantry has been replicated in cities, towns and villages across the sprawling 17,000-island nation for the past four months, with parties rounding up their faithful for the parliamentary elections in April and the presidential elections on Wednesday.

Behind the colour, noise and excitement of the rallies, political parties have been buying voters, giving out envelopes containing 20,000 rupiah (about $2), along with rice and T-shirts to anyone willing to wave party flags and chant slogans. And the handouts get bigger for those recruiting voters.

Vote-buying has become so sophisticated that the Election Commission has been warned to look out for voters turning up with mobile phones to take pictures of their ballot papers as proof of their vote before getting paid.

However, the handouts are small change for the wannabe presidents and their running mates, who also are backed by millions of dollars in anonymous campaign donations.

Incumbent President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, better known as SBY, is the poorest of them all with about $1 million. His vice-presidential candidate, Boediono, a former central bank boss and economics professor who graduated from the University of WA in 1967, is said to be worth $2.5 million.

Megawati Sukarnoputri, a former president and daughter of the country’s first president Sukarno, is having a second tilt at the presidency; her estimated wealth is between $15 million and $18 million. Her vice-presidential candidate, Prabowo Subianto, a son-in-law of former president Suharto and a former military commander facing charges of human rights abuses, is worth $190 million.

Then there is Vice-President Jusuf Kalla who is challenging Dr Yudhoyono for the presidency. The former businessman’s fortune is said to be between $35 million and $45 million. His running mate, Wiranto, a retired general who is facing United Nations war crimes charges over East Timor atrocities, is worth at least $8.5 million.

As is the case in Australia, where Prime Minister Kevin Rudd is worth about $45 million and Opposition Leader Malcolm Turnbull about $160 million, there is nothing wrong with candidates being rich as long as they do not flout election laws and favour cronies.

However, Indonesian political commentators and analysts fear an endless flow of anonymous donations not reported to the Election Commission will reinforce the culture of corruption of the authoritarian Suharto era of a decade ago. They also are suspicious of the military links, past and present, of most of the candidates and fear the return of military influence on the political process.

“The culture of corruption is so deep-rooted that people are fed up with the political process,” Dede Sujatna, president of the Perth Indonesian Muslim Society and chairman of the Indonesian election committee in WA, said.

“The people are saying: ‘Why should I vote, they are all corrupt,’ ” he said. “Now, there seems to be too much democracy, so much so that decisions cannot be implemented quickly.

“Many people want to be leaders, not to improve the country but to get rich. That is why there are so many political parties. In Suharto’s time, there were three parties. During the 2004 presidential election (which brought Dr Yudhoyono to power), there were 24 parties, now there are 44.”

Money politics was a major concern, agreed former Curtin University academic Colin Brown, an Indonesia specialist who is preparing to take up an academic posting in Indonesia next month.

Dr Yudhoyono was the undisputed favourite but the contest was much closer than the opinion polls showed, partly because of the money factor, Professor Brown said.

“Prabowo has a lot of money to spend and it is unclear how the electorate will respond,” he said.

If there is no outright winner with 50 per cent of the vote from 20 provinces, a run-off will be held in September.

Professor Brown believed Dr Yudhoyono, whose Democratic Party had gone from newcomer in 2001 elections to the strongest with 150 seats in parliamentary elections last April, was the best candidate to take the country forward politically and economically and build on ties with Australia.

Although Dr Yudhoyono has been accused by critics of being indecisive, unwilling to make unpopular decisions and obsessed with appearances, his rule has been widely welcomed as truly democratic. He is seen as a steady hand, honest and reliable and has broad support across the nation.

SBY wants a second term to fulfil his promises to clean up corruption, secure economic growth and lead the country out of the global financial crisis. In his first term, his battle against corruption has been hampered by his party’s weak position in a coalition in Parliament and by an inefficient civil service.

However, high-profile bankers as well as civil servants and MPs have been caught in the anti-graft net. Unlike justice in the Suharto era, Dr Yudhoyono did not intervene when a relative, central bank deputy Aulia Pohan, was jailed for 4 1/2 years in a $9 million illegal payments scandal.

While poverty and unemployment remain high, the authoritarianism of the Suharto era is a distant nightmare, with the people embracing a vibrant democracy and greater press freedom. There are fewer political prisoners and human rights are better.

“At one level institutionally things have changed for the better, the military has a lesser role in politics,” University of WA Indonesia specialist David Bourchier said. “However, at the local level the military remains too powerful, police continue to abuse human rights frequently and torture and lashings are still prevalent.”

The colour of money and the might of military connections led East Java poet, artist and farmer Bamantyo Prijosusilo to question the credentials of Mr Prabowo.

“He (Mr Prabowo) keeps a stable of dozens of horses, some of which reportedly cost up to 3 billion rupiah. Does he really expect people to believe he knows what it feels like for a family of three to survive on 10,000 rupiah a day,” he wrote in the Jakarta Globe.

Mr Sujatna, like many progressive Indonesians, believes the spirit of democracy will prevail.

“There are so many unemployed people in Indonesia and the election handouts are handy cash for them,” he said. “But I think they will still exercise their true intentions in the polling booth.”

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