Agam's Gecko
Wednesday, October 20, 2004
Your loyal correspondent here, checking in from the Indonesian capital. And a historic day it was, with the swearing-in of the first popularly elected president and his cabinet. I didn't get a chance to see the ceremony on television, but had my main question about it answered this afternoon by a young fellow at Gambir train station. I was chatting with a couple of guys at the left baggage counter, and was told that the ceremony had happened already this morning. I would have been on a bus at the time, making the arduous trip from far out in East Jakarta to the Thai embassy in Central. When I asked him whether Ibu Megawati had been present on the occasion, the answer was, "No," along with a disappointed shake of the head. I was surprised a few days ago to pick up a newspaper, and find that she still had not congratulated Pak Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono on his decisive electoral victory -- well after the offical results were announced two weeks ago. As I wrote before, everyone knew the result on election night itself, which was a month ago already.

I think people generally will feel quite disappointed with Mega, and I feel she has done more damage to her image than with anything she might have done as president. In my opinion, the nation has been cheated out of an opportunity to have a good and honourable transfer of authority, a precedent which -- as it is the very first done with the people's mandate -- will only come around once. Mega has shown herself to be not very clued in to democratic principles, or indeed the simple matter of how to lose graciously. For her to not even show up for Pak Susilo's swearing-in after all this stubborn silence, is just simply childish. She may be Sukarno's daughter, but she appears to have none of his sense of statesmanship.

Well so much for that. I don't know who SBY has chosen for his cabinet, but I think he's doing as much as he can to ensure clean people will be in his government. He said a few days ago that he was inviting anyone to come forward with any reservations or concerns about any of his potential ministers. If there are indications of corrupt practices in their past, he wouldn't hesitate to drop them from the line-up. Hopefully this is a sign for the future, for clean government is right near the top of pretty much everybody's wish list.

So Agam has been in Jakarta for five days now, having arrived on the very first day of Ramadan. I had known it was coming, but hadn't checked my lunar calendar -- and in fact the start of the fasting month had only been officially set for last Friday, only very late on Thursday night. I've been staying with the eldest brother of my good friend Uddin -- the only one of the five brothers I hadn't met until now. Uddin was lost almost five years ago now, and with the martial law in Aceh I'm unable to visit the remaining family there. So it was good to spend a little time with his oldest brother Azly, who lives in East Jakarta with his wife and three kids, along with some other Tapaktuan people. The only problem for me was being so far from Jakarta Central, and taking hours just to get anywhere by public transport. The massive traffic jams and totally inadequate public transportation system make any kind of commuting a tedious ordeal, and the stoic Jakartans who have to do it every day have my full sympathy. The situation reminds me of Bangkok about 10 years ago -- 80% of the buses should rightfully go directly to the junk heap.

Ramadan is the fasting month, but of course it isn't a month long fast. As one of the people at home the other night pointed out, it is just rearranging the time we eat. Agam naturally joined the "fast" as well (I'd been in Tapaktuan during Ramadan a few years ago too, and "fasted" with Mother and Father at their home). We must eat our breakfast before the pre-dawn prayer time (Suhur), and not eat or drink anything until after Maghrib (the after sunset prayer time). During this time of the year, it means getting up about 3:30am for your last chance to eat, and then going to about 5:45pm before consuming anything more. Well I'm not Muslim of course, but I do like to follow it along with my hosts when I'm staying in their home. I left there this morning, and will take the train to Solo this evening from Gambir station. So after checking my bag there this afternoon, I felt quite ready to find a warung and ordered a nice lunch of nasi pecel and iced tea. Well, travellers are not expected to adhere to the fast anyway, heh heh. And it's been so long since I've had a nice nasi pecel.

Last night I went with Azly to his office, where they have internet. Checked up on the latest news, and there were some surprises. First of all, the situation in Burma is getting murkier with a very surprising deposing of the so-called "prime minister". Once the strongman of the intelligence service, Gen. Khin Nyunt was moved last year from his position as one of the 3 powerful "Secretaries" to become the so called Prime Minister. It was judged at the time to be a demotion, but he was seen as the least hardline of the ruling junta -- so there were some possibilities for democratic progress. Apparently he has been placed under house arrest, and power has now been consolidated by the aging hardliner, Than Shwe. Not very promising, other then the hope that any sort of shakeup might have unintended consequences, maybe a rebellion of more progressive forces in the military, or even just to wake up the outside world to the dire situation. Aung San Suu Kyi remains under house arrest more than a year after concerted pressure was exerted by the international community and especially ASEAN. After the ambush and massacre of her supporters in May 2003, I don't think anyone expected that they would be continuing to hold her after that October. Now another October has come and gone, and the whole thing seems to have been forgotten. This is what Thaksin's insistence on constructive engagement achieves -- absolutely nothing.

And a very sad situation in Thailand as I read last night, with something like 23 tigers at one of the tiger parks having died of "bird flu". What a travesty that these animals could be fed with the carcasses of chickens which had died from this disease. If it was a stupid mistake that would be bad enough, and it should never have happened. But if it was another of those cases where some shady deal and desire for saving money to make bigger profit blah blah blah, switch these old chicken carcasses for the tigers' usual food instead of burning them in a pit -- well, you know, use your imagination. If it was something like that and not just a stupid mistake, then I hope they track down the shameless idiots that did it an prosecute them to the fullest.

Well that's all for this time, from your roving correspondent enroute in a couple of hours to the city of Solo, Central Java, aboard the Argo Lawu express. Solo, the city that never sleeps, and in my own experience the friendliest little city in all the world. Yet paradoxically, it's also the home base of the fanatic old imam, Abu Bakar Ba'asyir and his pesantren (Indonesian Islamic boarding school) known as "Ngruki". Several of the Bali bombers originated from Solo as well. Which is, as I say, a paradox since I've only ever come across the most gentle, tolerant and generous people one can imagine in that beautiful city. In many visits over almost 15 years, and having met many people of all walks of life, I truly cannot recall ever having met one of those boneheaded intolerant jihadist types. Obviously they must be there somewhere, but it's just a shame that Solo should be tarred with that negative addition to its reputation as the focus of a highly refined central Javanese culture.

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