Politics

A tale of two stereotypes: Chinese Indonesians at work

I arrived back in Indonesia just in time to see Jakarta vote for its Governor. It’s not a small job, wrestling some sanity into a city that crushes nine million official souls into its alleys, backstreets and blossoming apartment complexes, swelling to nearly 18 million on work days. The election was hotly contested. I witnessed the voting first outside the official Governor’s residence, in rich and (relatively) leafy Menteng. Well-coiffed women in their high day and holiday batik knocked back…


Indonesia: a miracle despite itself

I’m nearing the end of the first (nine-month long) leg of my Indonesian Odyssey and I don’t feel much closer to understanding the heart of this torturously complicated but endlessly fascinating nation. I’ve done my best to try and sum up some of my thoughts in the June issue of Prospect, one of UK’s more intelligent monthly magazines. For what they are worth, you can now read my reflections on culture, corruption and corpses on Prospect online. And no, Oliver,…


Indonesia’s gone Gaga: Lessons in democracy

I don’t like going to the dentist; I’m capable of inventing all sorts of the-dog-ate-my-homework excuses for my inevitable last-minute foot-dragging. But as is so often the case, Indonesia’s reality outstrips my imagination. As I rocked up late for my regular check-up yesterday, I was able to lay the blame at the Satanically clad feet of Lady Gaga. My path to dental hygiene was blocked by Islamic groups trying to keep her out of the homeland. They included this group…


In praise of Endang: A gem among Indonesian doctors

Wednesday was a sad day for Indonesia. and for me. It marked the death of Endang Sedyaningsih, who encompassed what is best in the women in this great country: courage, determination, integrity, compassion and humility. It is a rare combination at the best of times; in the Indonesian cabinet, where Endang held the position of Minister of Health, these qualities are nothing short of exceptional.



The drill in Aceh: whipping up support

I happen to be in Aceh for the local elections. These are interesting times, with rivalries between former comrades in the para-political movement formerly known as GAM hotting up. It’s a sensitive topic in a still-fragile part of this increasingly centrifugal nation; I’d say a lot more, but I have promised the Indonesian intelligence services that I won’t report on the ins and outs of local politics. True to my word, I’m going to write instead about Aceh’s creativity with…


Hike skirts, not prices: diversion for Indonesian politicians

Indonesians think about sex, or at least search for it on the internet, more than most: Indonesian was the number one language for Google searches on sex last year, and the country ranked 6th overall in sex searches (the good fellow Moslems of Pakistan led the pack for the umpteenth year; indeed seven out of the top 10 sex-searchers are Moslem-majority nations). If the legislator caught with a long-lens camera watching porn in Indonesia’s national parliament is in any way…


Headhunters stand up against religious thuggery

One of the mysteries of life in Indonesia is how the government and the security forces allow absolute chaos, sometimes even mass murder, to develop in totally predictable ways. As groups such as the Islamic Defenders Front (Front Pembela Islam or FPI in Indonesian) move around the country beating up hookers and inciting violence against non-Moslems, the President and his ministers play Three Monkeys — see no evil, hear no evil, and therefore never have to speak about any evil. …


Take the Money Politics and run

It’s local election season in many areas of Indonesia. That means posters of well-fed used car salesmen promising vaguely to fight corruption and enrich the “rakyat”, the majority of Indonesians who live from day to day or month to month. It also means that towns and villages are filled with “Tim Sukses” — swarms of volunteers who try to get the vote out for their candidate, often with the help of envelopes of cash.


Ceremonial confusion: personality, politics and parties in Indonesia’s fiefdoms

It’s party season here in Weda, a newly-bustling town on the east coast of Halmahera island. There are parties and Parties, and the confusion of the two are a pretty good illustration of life in Indonesia’s districts, which are often run very much as personal fiefdoms of the Bupati, or regent. The Bupati is the elected head of the local government. He (it usually is a he) runs an executive that is supposedly held to account by the local parliament,…