Monthly Archives: March 2004

Christian Participation in Indonesian Elections: Two Strategies

Robert Go of the Straits Times reports on two different strategies for religious minorities to participate in the Indonesian elections:

By establishing their own political party:

JAKARTA – In Muslim-dominated Indonesia, one party stands out – the Prosperous Peace party (PDS), the only party representing the Protestant and Catholic minorities.

Established in 2001, it is a fairly new entrant to the political scene. It is also the only one – of seven – parties to pass the selection criteria of the General Election Commission (KPU).

PDS members are mostly professionals drawn from small prayer groups which united gradually over time.

They spell hope for the Christian minorities, accounting for about 10-11 per cent of the population, whose voices did not find representation during the Suharto era.

PDS hopes this will translate to votes.

Among those who are optimistic is Mr Toga Sianturi, who is contesting a seat in North Sumatra‘s parliament.

‘God willing, I will be successful,’ he said.

‘There are many Christians in this province, and I think they will support the party.’

Mr Sianturi’s reason for hope is that around 40 per cent of North Sumatrans are Christians.

But political observers believe the party faces an uphill struggle.

Church and community leaders here said Christians are loyal to Golkar and President Megawati Sukarnoputri’s PDI-P.

Those two nationalist and secular parties together took nearly 70 per cent of the vote in the 1999 general election.

Analyst Henry Sitorus argued that even if Christian voters abandon the two big parties, they will likely go for smaller newcomers with nationalist ideologies.

Another analyst, Dr S.B. Simanjuntak, said Christians realise they belong to a minority, so they will be careful about stirring up trouble by voting along religious lines.

Or by supporting the major political parties:

SEMATANG SIANTAR (North Sumatra) – The candidate was Protestant, but the final prayer closing the political rally was Islamic.

Ethnic Chinese faces dotted the 500-strong crowd in Pematang Siantar, North Sumatra’s second largest city.

A vocal group of women wearing party-sponsored tee shirts with the slogan “Fight injustice against women, we demand equality” were standing visibly up front.

Though the key fight in this year’s elections is still between Golkar and President Megawati Sukarnoputri’s Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), a new game is being played in the background.

Analysts and its proponents describe it as the politics of inclusion – where political parties that at one time pitched solely for Muslim votes are now looking at non-traditional voters as well – to maintain their political grip.

Right now, the best practitioner of the new politics appears to be the party of former president Abdurrahman Wahid – the National Awakening Party (PKB).

Critics argue that in a country that is just waking up from more than three decades of one-party rule and a strict adherence to one political ideology, this new approach might well become critical, and very attractive, to voters in the future.

In 1999, PKB’s main image was that of a Muslim-based party.

Its strongest association was to Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), the country’s biggest Islamic organisation that the grandfather of Gus Dur, as Mr Abdurrahman is popularly known here, started, and which his family dominated.

But since then, the party has started to shed that image and PKB has made progress in forging links with the ethnic minorities.

Mr Bara Hasibuan, a Christian who is actively campaigning for the PKB and is an election candidate, is a poster boy for the new brand of politicking.

“It’s about time we address the equality issue,” he said.

“We can’t move ahead as long as ethnic and religious fault lines separate the people.”

He has received endorsements from church groups, Islamic boarding schools and ethnic-Chinese businessmen.

And such has been his appeal that some of those subjected to discrimination due to their links to the PKI, the communist party that was blamed for a failed coup d’etat in 1965, have also responded to the messages pitched by Mr Hasibuan and the PKB.

Mr Abdurrahman’s party is not the only one to forge new alliances with minority groups.

Dr Amien Rais’ National Mandate Party (PAN) has positioned itself the same way.

Golkar and PDI-P, too, are stressing their secular-nationalist credentials.

But PKB seems to have gone far to be the only party with concrete examples of inclusion to tout.

During his presidency from late 1999 to July 2001, Gus Dur laid the framework for this when he made the Chinese New Year a national holiday and legalised the use of Chinese writing.

The PKB has also argued staunchly against the inclusion of syariah Islamic principles in Indonesian laws.

Said ethnic Chinese businessman Bambang Sungkono, who is also a treasurer of PKB’s national leadership board: “If you look at the different parties, the PKB is the only one that has done anything on these issues.

“If Christians, ethnic Chinese and other minority groups are looking for the real inclusive attitude, they don’t have to go further than Gus Dur and PKB.”

Democracy is an awfully messy way to run a country, but both Malaysia and Indonesia give grounds for hope of a continuing democratic transformation that could serve as models for other regions.

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Taiwan Election and Its Aftermath

This is the most comprehensive coverage of Taiwan’s 2004 election and its aftermath.

via Andrés Gentry

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Prospects for Indonesia’s Upcoming Election

Hugh White, director of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, opines about the upcoming Indonesian elections in the Melbourne Age:

Next Monday, 147 million Indonesians go to the polls to elect Indonesia’s Parliament. It is the first step in a months-long process that will lead to the elections for the president later in the year. So far the campaign has been peaceful.

The fact that this is all happening at all is a kind of miracle. Indonesia’s experiment with democracy is about to pass a critical milestone. It has survived a full five-year electoral cycle since the first truly democratic election in 1999.

The five years since then have been mixed for Indonesia. The economy has staged at least a temporary recovery, and the constitution has survived the removal of the former president, Abdurrahman Wahid (“Gus Dur”), and his replacement by his deputy, Megawati Soekarnoputri.

The military has stayed on the sidelines, and important constitutional reforms were made to provide for the direct election of the president.

But at the same time, deeper reforms to Indonesia’s institutions needed to foster long-term economic development have been shelved. Apathy and cynicism about the value of democracy has grown, and with it a certain nostalgia for the authoritarian but effective ways of president Soeharto.

The open market in political ideas provided by democracy has not thrown up any new or compelling ideas for Indonesia’s future direction.

So on Monday, Indonesia’s voters will face a familiar line-up. The two big parties between them are expected to win more than half the vote. Last time Megawati’s party, PDI-P, won 34 per cent and Golkar, which was Soeharto’s political machine, won 22 per cent. This time the pundits expect their positions to be reversed, as Megawati suffers the political consequences of an ineffectual and disappointing incumbency.

Perhaps most striking, Indonesia’s smaller Islamic-based parties seem to have made little progress over the past five years. Islam appeared to have been making bigger inroads into Indonesia’s political life during the 1990s and many had expected that the polarisation between Islam and the West since September 11 would have amplified that trend, pushing a more stridently Islamic strain politics to the fore.

Instead, the polling suggests the Islamic vote will stagnate – which, if true, will reinforce the result of Malaysia’s recent elections in which the strongly Islamist party PAS was mauled.

For more on Malaysia’s recent elections, see Head Heeb and below.

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Vignettes from a Rural Burmese Childhood

Above the fireplace in Grandma’s kitchen, beneath the sooty shelf (our houses lacked chimneys, and the smoke had to find its own way out through holes cut in the gables) hung a huge amount of dried meat — beef, wild boar, rats, fish, game birds, moles, snakes — and above that were herbs of all kinds. In the corners of the store-room were huge bags of pounded rice, while big pots of rice-wine were being brewed, swamped with clouds of rice-wine gnats. We had no trouble from mosquitos there, for they hate the yeast that rises from the rice-wine as it brews. Beneath the roof, sheaves of maize and millet hung from the beams on bamboo poles. Grandma’s cat always roamed above the beams protecting the grains from rodents. Geckos and wall-lizards were constant visitors to the walls — propitious and sacred creatures that preyed on small insects. The floor of the house had to be swept every day with elephant-grass brushes. [p. 59]


On summer nights we watched the burning of the mountain slopes by the slash-and-burn farmers on the other side of the lake. The red trails of the fires seemed to devour the water of the lake and the stars of the sky like some mythical monster. The fires were reflected in the lake, so that the whole scene had a special quality of terror and mystery. It seemed to me as though half the world was burning. The fires burned for many nights in succession, and I often woke during the night to watch the changing pattern of the flames. The fragrance of blossoms from the orange tree often swept past the house on the evening breeze as we slept in the open on the balcony or in the tree-house. We also washed and ate in the open — there were not many mosquitos in our town. Wild grouse, cuckoos and summer birds called their mates from bushes and treetops, while the sounds of the cicadas and bees were unbearably loud.

Why do I have such vivid memories of a burning world? As usual, these were not just my personal response, but were shot through with the beliefs I had inherited. The Padaung are haunted both by the Christian idea that the world might come to an end, and by their own ancient beliefs about fire: ‘When the forest burns, the wild cats rejoice.’ This is a vision of civil disorder and of those who would exploit it. Fire is one of the ‘five enemies of man’ in Buddhist tradition — but it is also a power we revere, a power to cleanse and renew. [pp. 53-54]


The jungles to the west of the town and the lake to the east were our playgrounds. We used to pick seasonal wild fruits and play hide-and-seek. But our special pleasure was war games. Inspired by all the government warnings about the rebels lurking in the jungles around the town, we enacted guerrilla raids and attacks, abductions and killings.

The war games became reality later, when we witnessed real fights between government troops and rebels very near our town. We were intensely excited, because each fight seemed ridiculously like a game, except that real people got wounded and killed. Perched on tree branches on the tops of hills, we watched the clashes as if they were football matches. We cheered and shouted while people were slaughtering each other in earnest in the valley.

We organised dangerous games for ourselves. We built small carts with wooden wheels for downhill racing. The carts were like modern go-karts, but with no steering wheel or cover. Of course we wore no protective clothing. To make the carts run faster, we greased the axles with a slimy liquid chewed from the bark of a gum tree. The steeply descending track was strewn with tree-stumps, barbed wire, cacti and bamboo. Worst of all, the track skirted an electricity pylon mushroomed with landmines at its base. No one managed to finish the track without getting hurt. Two boys were killed. Another of our games was to use long poles to prod and explode the landmines around pylons. [pp. 48-49]

SOURCE: From the Land of Green Ghosts: A Burmese Odyssey, by Pascal Khoo Thwe (HarperCollins, 2002)

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Cronyism 101 Taught by the Master: Indonesia’s Suharto

Brendan I. Koerner reports in the 26 March 2004 edition of Slate:

How Did Suharto Steal $35 Billion? – Cronyism 101

Mohamed Suharto has received a dubious honor from Transparency International, which named the former Indonesian president the most corrupt world leader of the past 20 years. With his family’s takings estimated at between $15 billion and $35 billion, Suharto topped such notorious kleptocrats as Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines ($5 billion to $10 billion) and Nigeria’s Sani Abacha ($2 billion to $5 billion). How did the longtime Indonesian strongman amass his wealth?

Sssh! I’m working with Madame Abacha (and the Bank of Equatorial Guinea) to recapture a big percentage of her husband’s ill-gotten wealth. Unfortunately, Ibu Tien Suharto (“Madame Ten Percent“) failed to outlive her husband.

Through a system that his political opponents called KKN, the Indonesian acronym for “corruption, collusion, nepotism” [korupsi, kolusi, nepotisme]. Suharto handed control of state-run monopolies to family members and friends, who in turn kicked back millions in tribute payments. Those payments were usually cloaked as charitable donations to the dozens of foundations overseen by Suharto. Known as yayasans, these organizations were supposed to assist with the constructions of rural schools and hospitals but instead functioned as Suharto’s personal piggy banks. Doling out millions to one of the foundations was simply part of the cost of doing business in Indonesia during much of Suharto’s 32-year reign. Financial institutions were ordered to contribute a portion of their annual profits to a yayasan, for example, and wealthy Indonesians were expected to “tithe” a certain percentage of their salaries.

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Australians to Help Monitor Indonesian Elections

CANBERRA (AP): Australia will send a delegation of lawmakers to monitor next week’s elections in Indonesia, Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said on Tuesday….

“Australia has committed up to A$15 million ($US11 million) to support the Indonesian government in running this election,” Downer said.

Indonesians go to the polls on April 5 to elect a 550-seat legislature….

With nearly 17,000 islands to cover, Indonesian election officials have had to transport ballot papers to remote areas by air force planes, boat, and in some cases, donkeys.

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Morobe Field Diary, October 1976: Two Canoe Experiences

I paddled the kaunsil out to the [M.V.] Sago when we were loading ready to leave Kela and some people waiting for me to cross their path said, in reference to me, masta kanaka, i.e. a ‘native’ whiteman with all the paradox in Tok Pisin that it has in English–maybe more. That is the story I’ll leave behind when I go, I suppose. A story about oneself is the means to immortality here–along with children–not publication. My singsinging at the church assembly gave another chapter of the story to many people there. Maybe it’s the kind of story this country needs more of.

Today I decided to paddle out and dump some junk left over from a coconut tree that was cluttering up the beach in front of my house and attracting dog piss. First I loaded the heavy stuff, climbed in overloading one end and swamped the bugger. Then I redistributed along the length and climbed in again to discover the outrigger was overloaded and submerged so I could only go in circles. Shit, plenty room for pitfalls in these uncomplicated-looking canoes. Then I paddled my weaving, meandering way out past the reef. The uneven drag of an outrigger canoe still gets me. I can get where I want to go but not without a good deal of worry and no grace at all.

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Morobe Field Diary, October 1976: Singsing Toktok

The comforts of the village are not to be decried when compared to what I have just been thru. The past week I’ve lived under the same inadequate roof with about 2 dozen men, women & children without adequate bathing facilities and a latrine in the bush that no one dared venture into at nite for fear of snakes. You had to save your shits for the day time and piss on the beach (10 feet away) at nite. We didn’t have a floor so we had to shake out sand before laying out our mats at nite.

The compensation for all this was the sam (< Jabim) (= Nu. bada Eng. ‘festival, market’). I performed in a war singsing (mock) when our guys singsinged our way down the beach before maybe 1000 people encamped in about the same style we were (but most with floors). During the day there were other singsings, people to meet, stores to spend money carefully reserved for the occasion, church meetings. But most of all, at least for the younger people it was singsing time. There was almost always one going on somewhere until the Saturday of the major meeting word went out that singsings were prohibited until the meetings were over. People who joined the Numbamis from town were disappointed but they managed to squeeze one in between the end of the meetings on Sunday and the time the [M.V.] Sago came to carry them to town.

After my initial frolic I had had enough of being stared at and sat out the rest of the singsings, especially after I burnt my foot, broke the blister singsinging and then tore off the skin & washed it in methylated spirits (for starting Coleman lamps) & had difficulty walking on it for several days. I began to suffer from lack of privacy and quiet after about 3 days and it got acute before we left the sam. All the time I was hearing Numbami spoken around me. It wasn’t the language so much as the vast quantity of it. If the culture is aperture-oriented [referring to the fact that the names of body parts with holes all end in awa ‘hole’ (> -owa), as in tanganowa ‘ear’, nisinowa ‘nose’, etc.], it’s mainly concentrated on the oral one. Everyone was in a festive mood and the time not actually spent singsinging was often spent singing the lyrics & beating the drums.

When I was informed we wouldn’t go back directly but that we would stop at Kela (with whom we helped host part of the visiting delegates) for a post-celebration singsing and feast, I was in a foul, foul mood. Constant noise is something I don’t endure well in any culture. It’s odd how my feelings toward the people I was with changed. At first, and usually, I felt the greatest affection for them all and consider them a remarkable bunch in general. But, after being worn down a bit, I began to dwell on all their bad points: their compulsive talkativeness (with some notable & much appreciated exceptions), their demandingness, the persistence of some in addressing me as bumewe ‘masta, whiteman, foreigner’ rather than by name. [And here I was doing the same to “them”!]

When compared to the Kelas, who were unfamiliar with me, the Numbamis interact with me much more naturally–sometimes I’m even allowed to blend into the woodwork. One time, I was even forgotten when food was served out and didn’t get the first plate as I almost invariably do. Believe me, for two or three days I was doing my best to blend into the woodwork. What happened at Kela (Kila, Keila) was that they said they wanted to buy the #1 favorite Nu. singsing–the baluga, a slow, somewhat stately, and very impressive singsing that the Numbamis perform very well. It’s a favorite of mine too. The Numbamis bought it (for the price of a feast–and no ordinary meal either) from the Garainas (some of whom performed it at the Lae Show and of which I have photos). They, in turn, sold the rights to perform it to the Ya (also Kela speaking) people (who were said to perform it badly) and now the Kelas bought it for vast quantities of taro and two pigs–enough for all of us and the people left back in the village too. It’s kind of like a royalties payment so that performances will be official and, supposedly, of better quality than just a singsing nating [‘nothing singsing’].

Funny thing about the sam–a meeting of the Yabim district–where Yabim should be the lingua franca if any–is that all the program was in Tok Pisin. Yabim was only unofficially the lingua franca of the older set.

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Buruma’s Pessimistic Assessment of China

Traveling in China, one easily picks up the rank smell of political decay. I left Beijing more convinced than ever that Communist Party rule would end, but without any better sense of how this might happen. The peaceful revolutions in Taiwan, South Korea, and Eastern Europe give no firm clues. Circumstances are not the same. I do not share the optimism of those who cling to the hope that the Chinese, in their infinite subtlety, will find a slow, gentle road to the Fifth Modernization [= Democracy], shepherded by the Communist Party. The KMT [Kuomintang = Nationalist Party] did it in Taiwan, but the Chinese Communist Party is not the KMT. Whatever it is that brings this rotting regime to an end, one can only hope it will be peaceful. But hope is not the same as expectation.

SOURCE: Bad Elements: Chinese Rebels from Los Angeles to Beijing, by Ian Buruma (Vintage, 2001), p. 337

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Wei Jingsheng’s Epiphany

If the world of intellectuals can be divided, as Isaiah Berlin once argued, between foxes, who know many things, and hedgehogs, who know one big thing, Wei [Jingsheng] is clearly a hedgehog. The one conviction he guards like a precious jewel, and about which he is lucid, always serious, and willing to stake his life, he had already expressed clearly in his 1978 manifesto on the Democracy Wall in Beijing. It goes to the heart of the Chinese problem. “History,” he wrote, “shows that there must be a limit to the amount of trust conferred upon any individual. Anyone seeking the unconditional trust of the people is a person of unbridled ambition. The important thing is to select the right sort of person to put one’s trust in, and even more important is how such a person is to be supervised in carrying out the will of the majority. We can trust only those representatives who are supervised by us and responsible to us. Such representatives should be chosen by us and not thrust upon us.”

Wei Jingsheng was twenty-nine when he wrote that. Memories of Mao worship and its millions upon millions of victims, humiliated, maimed, and tortured to death, were still raw. The statement is as simple as it is true. And Wei has stuck to it. He is often accused of being out of touch with developments in China, of not recognizing the changes that economic reforms, carried out while he was in prison, have brought. But if one believes, as Wei does, that only political change which guarantees the right to criticize and to vote will do, such reforms are beside the point, for they fail to address the main problem. He argues, simply, bluntly, doggedly, at times megalomaniacally, that without democracy–not “socialist” democracy or “people’s” democracy–the Chinese cycle of violence, followed by tyranny, will never be broken.

The way a former Maoist fanatic arrived at this conclusion has been described by Wei himself, as well as by his perhaps too admiring biographer, the German journalist Jürgen Kremb. That he was once a fanatic is clear from his own account: He had wrecked “bourgeois” homes, dragged out “rightists” for public interrogations, and spouted devotional Maoist maxims ever since he was a child, when his father made him learn a new page of Mao’s writings every day. Wei was among the first wave of middle school students to become a Red Guard but also, it seems, among the first to have doubts. Some of the stages of Wei’s intellectual journey from total belief in communism to total disbelief have taken on an almost mythical status. Most poignant, perhaps, is Wei’s glimpse of the naked girl.

To make it easier for the young to spread revolutionary terror all over China, Red Guards were allowed to travel by train free of charge. Wei hopped on a train sometime in 1966, bound for the northwest. When the train pulled into the city of Lanzhou, he was shocked to see children swarming outside the window begging for food. A middle-aged man, sharing his compartment, said they were probably children of landlords, “rightists,” and other “bad elements,” and deserved to starve.

The barren northwestern landscape became more desolate by the mile after the train left Lanzhou. It stopped at a windswept little station so insignificant that it did not even have a platform. Again, the crying and whimpering of beggars drew Wei’s attention. He leaned out of the window. One girl, of about seventeen, her face covered in soot and her long hair caked with dirt, raised her arms, begging for something to eat. She appeared to be dressed in a filthy rag. The middle-aged man sniggered and said girls like that would do anything you fancied for a few crumbs of food. Suddenly Wei pulled back from the window in shock. What looked like a rag was nothing of the kind. The girl was covered in nothing but her own matted hair. Wei was overcome by a wave of disgust–with the obscene, sniggering man, the starving, naked girl, the stench of urine and excrement, the simmering violence among the Red Guards, and the bony arms outside clawing the ground for scraps of food. And he asked himself: Was this the “fruit” of socialism?

There were more shocks to challenge the official version of reality in China. On a trip to the far west, he saw families living in holes in the ground, sharing one warm garment against the freezing winds; he met “rightist” intellectuals there who had been banished in 1957 to do hard labor without a chance of ever going home. In the early 1970s, Wei met his first girlfriend, Ping Ni, the daughter of a high-ranking Tibetan Communist living in Beijing. Her family story was enough to drive away any illusions he might still have had.

Ping’s father was a staunch Maoist, even during the bloody suppression of the Tibetan revolt in 1959. But someone had to be blamed for the escape to India in that year of the Dalai Lama and a hundred thousand followers. So one night in the spring of 1960, when Ping Ni was six years old, there was a knock on the door. Her father was taken away to spend the next twenty years in prison. Six years later, the Red Guards came for her mother, who, in full sight of her daughter, slit her veins with a razor. With blood spurting from her wrists, she was dragged downstairs by the teenage revolutionaries and bundled into a truck. Ping Ni’s last sight of her mother was of her legs kicking before the door was slammed and the truck drove off into the dark.

Wei came to the dangerous, and for him almost fatal, conclusion that “a foremost characteristic of the Communist Party is lying, very effective lying, lying all the time and about everything. It is not easy for ordinary folks to see through this. As the youngest of the [Red Guard] leadership, I saw it clearly, all the cruelties, which totally destroyed my previously conceived impressions of the Communist Party.”

This in itself did not make him an original thinker. Many intelligent Chinese had reached similar conclusions. More unusual was his view that communism was absolutely incompatible with democracy, and there was nothing to gain from making concessions to the Party. This is what drove him to the Democracy Wall.

SOURCE: Bad Elements: Chinese Rebels from Los Angeles to Beijing, by Ian Buruma (Vintage, 2001), pp. 96-98

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