As Indonesia prepares to head to the polls Thursday for its general elections, to be followed by presidential elections in July, perhaps one of my ojek (motorcycle taxi) drivers sums up rather well the situation of your everyday voter.
He wears a free black vest that he got from the PKS, an Islamic party, that he dons despite the sweltering heat, and a free cap that he got from Hanura, the People's Conscience Party. The roof of the ojek stand was for some time made more water-and-sun-proof courtesy of a PDI-P (former president Megawati Sukarnoputri's party) flag. All the political parties hand out free stuff — caps, shirts, flags, balloons and worst of all, cash — to try and win votes. Of course, the poor are happy to take the handouts, even if it turns them into a walking talking political paradox.
When I asked him if he liked the PKS, he grunted and shrugged his shoulders. When I asked him if he liked Hanura, he grunted and shrugged his shoulders while stomping out the butt of his clove cigarette on the ground. When I asked him if he liked Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, he ummed and said "maybe".
My limited Indonesian and his ambivalence meant that we were never going to have a serious political conversation.
But he said one thing I understood clearly.
"' 'Bu, partai polik semua sama. Nggak apa-apa."
Political parties are all the same. It doesn't matter.
It seems that a lot of the excitement around tomorrow's election is about Indonesia showing once more it has a peaceful democracy… even if many feel there aren't any candidates offering policy that is smarter than handing out free polar fleece vests in a tropical climate. There's no Obama in this race.
But I really hope tomorrow goes well, and peacefully, because this country has done pretty well to get from a mess in 1998 to the democratic nation it is today. And hey, there may not be any super exciting fresh new candidates… but gosh, remember those elections on Oz where we were picking between Beasley and Howard :p ? Or in NSW, between Debnam and Iemma? You can always have a dud year. Maybe next time there will be more fresh candidates to choose from…