DUNCAN GRAHAM. Our failing media again-ignoring an election next door.

Jun 30, 2018

‘The World’ is a nightly news show on Australia Plus, our overseas TV showcase transmitted to 44 countries in Asia and the Pacific.  The one-hour programme pulls together the day’s global issues, often adding lengthy interviews dissecting international developments.

On 27 June the prime set-piece story in Southeast Asia was Indonesia’s first simultaneous regional elections called Pilkada; about 150 million voters got the chance to pick 171 governors, regents and mayors. It was ignored by ‘The World’ then and the following night.

Psephologists labeled Pilkada’s results a bellwether for next year’s presidential election. This is likely to be a rematch between the moderate civilian incumbent Joko ‘Jokowi’ Widodo, 57, and tough guy Prabowo Subianto, 66.  He’s a retired general, alleged human rights abuser and relic from last century when his dictator father-in-law Soeharto ruled for 32 years.

Alarmists worried about an eruption of racial and religious hate during the poll, especially after East Java church bombings the previous month.

Instead all ran peacefully with early results showing the electorate is getting smarter and Indonesia’s teenage democracy taking a firmer grip.

Indonesian politics are so knotty they make unraveling Australian Senate tangles as easy as tying a clove hitch.  Candidates move around parties like diplomats at Christmas, bemusing Indonesian electors and befogging outsiders.

When The Jakarta Post frontpaged Wednesday’s results Jokowi gains, PDI-P loses it was like saying ‘Turnbull backers won, Liberal candidates lost’.

The Partai Demokrasi Indonesia Perjuangan (Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle) is Jokowi’s party, but the real leader is Megawati Soekarnoputri, 71, daughter of founding president Soekarno and herself a former president. She really wants her daughter Puan Maharani in the Palace.

These difficulties should not have stopped The World recruiting an academic expert from Indonesia or Australia to explain the importance of Pilkada and interpret results. Much of Indonesia’s media is owned by political partisans, so factual news and impartial analysis from outside the Republic is critical for locals and foreigners.

Overall the Komisi Pemilihan Umum  (KPU – General Elections Commission) appears to have done well, opening booths from 7 am to I pm in thousands of locations – often closing streets to traffic for easy pedestrian access. Making the day a national holiday helped boost participation as voting is not compulsory.

Electors chose by punching a hole in the voting slip; officials at the counts held up punctured papers to show scrutineers that all is open. There were a few reports of funny business, but nothing serious.

Candidates have been plastering the country with banners and posters. Policies seldom featured, just touched-up portraits of hopefuls in regional or religious dress, and the same cliche slogans we get in the West. Officials ripped down all signs before the vote,

Figures are still being tallied. The official result will be announced on 9 July

While Australians are familiar with the names of many American and European politicians who feature regularly in the media, they know little of Indonesian public figures.  One candidate who could be heading for international notice is former Bandung (West Java) mayor Ridwan Kamil, 46, a cosmopolitan US-educated architect with a can-do reputation.  He’s leading in the West Java Governorship and is tipped as a future presidential candidate.

Indonesia ranks 96 on Transparency International’s corruption perception index; clean NZ tops the 180 nations measured, while Australia is number 13. Politicians are among the worst offenders.  In East Java, Malang mayor Mochamad Anton campaigned for re-election from prison where he’s being held on charges of allegedly plundering contractors’ budgets.  He lost.

Politics in the world’s third largest democracy is big business, according to Indonesian academic Muhammad Beni Saputra. In The Diplomat he wrote:

 ‘To become a village head it costs 130-150 million rupiahs; becoming a member of the People’s  Representative Council (DPR) costs 1.18 to 4.6 billion rupiahs, a mayor is from 20-30 billion   rupiahs, a regent is 75 billion rupiahs, a governor ranges from 100 to 400 billion rupiahs, and president costs up to 7 trillion rupiahs!

(One Australian dollar buys just over Rp 10,000. The average income is under Rp 50 million a year.)

Apart from rallies and advertising costs, much is alleged to go on goodies for fans, though the increasingly effective Komisi Pemberantasan Korupsi (KPK – Anti-Corruption Commission) has been cracking down on handouts and kickbacks. Unlike previous campaigns T-shirts featuring candidates’ mug shots have been hard to find.

The next biggie will be the 17 April 2019 general election for the DPR and president. Unlike Australia, voters get to select the pres for a five-year stint – two terms maximum.

In the past scores of parties mushroomed causing chaos; now only those with at least 20 per cent of seats in the legislature, or 25 per cent of votes at the 2014 election, can field candidates. Coalitions are allowed to help make up the numbers, which leads to some strange pairings

Maybe then Australia Plus (soon to be rebadged as ABC Australia) will take what’s happening next door seriously.

Duncan Graham is a freelance Australian journalist living in Indonesia











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