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Indonesia - a little bit of Arabia in the Indian Ocean

By Melody Kemp - posted Friday, 25 July 2008

It was classic Jakarta Post. After all the years spent in Indonesia I came to love this paper and appreciate the courage of its journalists. In the dark days of Soeharto, many Jakarta Post writers formed the then banned Indonesian Journalist Association.

In these days of relative press freedom in Indonesia, the Post is as incisive and opinionated as one could want, and puts the Australian celebrity and sports mad media to shame.

Reading the Post one must follow a protocol, taking into account juxtaposition of articles, (a classic Post had the World Bank saying that the poor need access to contraception next to a report on the Pope’s arrival in Sydney). One then checks the stories and related articles above and on consecutive pages for the continuing argument and then the language and concealed irritation in the journalist’s turn of phrase.


So the Friday, July 11 version came as a sour plum to be sucked on over the weekend, eking out the last of its flavour no matter how bitter.

The page one lead announced that nine political parties in the forthcoming national party elections had failed to secure enough electoral support to contend Indonesia’s forthcoming election. Among them was the nominal workers party, formed by old trade union warhorse Mochtar Pakpahan, an Islamic party and several nationalist parties.

At least 34 parties are contesting the election exemplifying Indonesia’s consistent culturally suicidal trait of being driven by egos that want to lead rather than follow.

The party to watch is the PKS or the Prosperous Justice Party which is an Islamist party desperate to hide its Muslim credentials in a program of intense recruitment and camouflage conservatism.

It was the PKS I was told by insiders, who blew the whistle on the nine men arrested recently in Palembang on terrorism charges. They did not want their campaign marred by loony youngsters bombing or killing. They figure the way to power is presenting a legit, socially concerned and law abiding front. It’s likely that they will gain ground in an electorate that is tired of fraud and crony politics.

With lots of money pouring in from Wahabiist Saudi Arabia, the PKS is exerting enormous leverage among the poor majority in Indonesia by contributing directly to mosques and Islamic schools, and by visiting people at home for tabiyah (political education tied to Islamic teachings). They have eschewed gaudy TV advertisements or CD’s of love songs, such as that made recently by current president Susilo Bambang Yudiyono, known as SBY.


“Before we had a singing general (Wiranto), now we have a singing President” snorted Nori a long time activist.

The PKS seem to have tacit approval from SBY and VP Kalla who have attended many of the handover functions and official program launches. Kalla, representing the post Soeharto Golkar party, appears to be very sanguine about the PKS, denying that their Hamas-like health, education and social development programs will foster enough votes to threaten the existing secular parties.

Speaking to the Post he admitted that the PKS are very disciplined and that discipline centres on Islamic ideology. It is the other parties and government’s lack of honesty, social equity credentials and discipline that may attract voters to PKS.

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About the Author

Melody Kemp is a freelance writer in Asia who worked in labour and development for many years and is a member of the Society for Environmental Journalism (US). She now lives in South-East Asia. You can contact Melody by email at

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