Thursday, September 8, 2011

We're Gonna Blow A 50-Amp Fuse!

Today on my second day back in Indonesia I encountered a demonstration (demo) outside the headquarters of the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) on Jalan Rasuna Said in central Jakarta.  I was just walking down the road when I happened onto the demonstration, so I stuck around in hopes that the protest would degenerate into a riot and I'd get a chance to witness some tear gas, water cannon, and rubber bullet action, since that kind of stuff would be pure gold on YouTube.

It turns out that the protestors were upset with Indonesian president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (SBY), vice-president Budiyono, and former finance minister Sri Mulyani over their alleged involvement in a scandal known as the Bank Century affair.  I'm quite interested in Indonesian politics and current events, and so I decided to ask around as to what was up.  After all, Sri Mulyani, who is currently managing director at the World Bank, is widely regarded as a brilliant economist of unshakeable integrity and a possible candidate to be the next president of the Republic of Indonesia.  Sri Mulyani's straightforward manner has won her the respect of Indonesia watchers around the world, so I was curious to learn about her "dark side", because up until now all I've heard is good things about her.   

So I asked some of the several hundred protestors that had been bussed in to central Jakarta for the occasion.  All the protestors were young folks, and so at first I thought they might be college students.  "What's going on here?  Why are you guys upset with Sri Mulyani for?"

"Because she's a corruptor!" came the answer from several different people.

My efforts to ask the question in several different ways, along with my prodding for elaboration ended in vain.  So I tried a different angle.  "What do you guys want the KPK to do about it?"

"We want her brought down!" was the standard response.

"But you know she's at the World Bank now, right?  The KPK doesn't have any influence over the World Bank," I argued.

"BUT SHE'S A CORRUPTOR!" was the only rebuttle.  And then I noticed something.  In addition to not knowing much about the issue at hand, all of the young people were men.  And then I realized that this wasn't a protest at all, but rather an engineered political statement designed to resemble a protest.  This ersatz mass-movement is a common tactic in Indonesian politics, where popular discontent is a powerful tool, especially since the fall of strongman president Suharto in the late 90s.  These protest literally employ young men to shout slogans and carry inflammatory signs designed to impugn the character of whoever is the subject of the protest.  Protestors are paid around 30,000 rupiah (around $3.50) and are offered a free lunch for their participation.  This particular protest was organized by a political organization that shall remain nameless.

It was a pretty interesting thing to watch.  The paid protestors even offered me some lunch, but I refused since I'd already had my fill of rice and chicken sinews for the day.  We sat around shooting the breeze.  They were obviously in it for the food and the money, so I wasn't going to learn much about the allegations against Sri Mulyani.  So we talked about other things.

Keith: "Mana cewek?" (Where are the chicks?).

Protestors: "Di Mall..."  (at the mall...).

All: "HAW HAW HAW!"  (Haw Haw Haw). 

What made the day most interesting is that yesterday, on the flight from Singapore to Jakarta, I sat next to an Indonesian civil servant who had worked for 15 years as a banker specializing in international finance.  He told me about some of the intricacies of the Century Bank imbroglio (which are far too detailed and boring to get into here) and how difficult the whole thing is for your average Bambang to understand.  We then got into a discussion about how dangerous ignorance can be in a democracy.  We both agreed that lots of folks are swayed by simple explanations for incredibly complex problems, which makes the ultimate resolution of such problems that much harder to achieve.  It made me realize how blessed I am to live in a country where all the people are well informed when it comes to complex issues such as the national debt, taxation, and global warming.  It's because of this that we're able to elect leaders that do such a good job working together for the benefit of everyone!

On a lighter note, below I've included the picture of the day.  This photo is of Moon Base Epsilon, which, due to the failure to carry a one in complex orbital calculations, actually ended up being constructed in Jakarta.


  1. Keith, this was very interesting. Protestors getting paid to protest, whic was organized by a political organization. I wonder if they will still offer to pay you to protest if you were a female? We definitely live in U.S.!

  2. We’re gonna blow a 50 amp fuse.
    Quality understanding of political trends in any country in current times is a challenge for sure. Even with all of the media capability the information and disinformation can be really challenging. I wonder of your thought that we here in the US are able to elect preferred leaders that will have the interests and concerns to work together to achieve positive results for everybody.
    With respect, I have never seen such uncooperative dysfunctional performances by our political leaders in my life, and I am 59 years old. I served in the military, US Army and the US Air Force with two honorable discharges.
    Plus10 years with a military contractor, and I cannot accurately describe the disappointment and hurt that is actually painful to me, to see what the politicians here are doing. Being informed to current issues and concerns is paramount for an accurate understanding. BUT, the responsible and appropriate responses by the elected officials are another thing. Priorities seem to have lost any sequential logic. I can only imagine, barley what the issues and concerns are and with a political system coupled with the tactics that are common to that region to influence political strategies. I would love it if it would make me feel better about our own here in the USA. Well… I still believe that the potential has potential. I hope that you continue to enjoy the Spirituality of the “Magic” there!!!

    Mahalo !!!

  3. This was a very interesting blog entry. I have no interest in politics in America but it's interesting to hear about a different way of politics in another country. I have to disagree about your statement of America being all well informed because government can control anything they want us to hear or not hear about issues, same goes for all countries. I love the photos you posted and everything. I would love to visit Indonesia someday.

  4. To my soldier poster: Thanks for the very insightful comments. My comments about the efficiency of the US political system in this post are very tongue and cheek...I try not to get too political in the blog because it's not the forum for that, but it is hard not to be discouraged by events in the Congress. Like the US, Indonesia is currently facing a lot of difficulties with democracy. Confidence in the parliament here is at record lows because of all the corruption. Like you, though, I believe in the potential. I hope that the problems in both the US and Indonesia are just speedbumps on the road to something better.

    To the October 11 poster....thanks for the comments. I would very much encourage you to visit Indonesia. It's a beautiful and diverse country. You'll learn a tremendous amount here, meet wonderful people, and see things you'll never forget.