Here Thar Be Monsters!

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Both Sides Against The Middle

The insanity continues apace.

Here in Jakarta, it has taken an especially hard twist.  In the recent governor election, incumbent Ahok lost to challenger Anies.    What makes it a highlight of global insanity is that the winner ran on a religious platform, saying that Ahok ( a Christian of Chinese descent) was unfit to govern because the Koran says that Muslims cannot be subordinate to non-Muslims.  He, of course, completely misinterprets the lines in question while at the same time accusing Ahok of blasphemy for a statement that has been categorically shown to be false.  Even the Minister of Religious Affairs said that Ahok's comments were mistranscribed - probably on purpose - to discredit the reformist governor.

Where it gets really fun is that Ahok came into office as Vice Governor to the current president, Jokowi.  When Jokowi won the presidency, Ahok ascended to Governor and subsequently won re-election.  Ahok has been roundly praised for cleaning up Jakarta, clearing out slums, upgrading the mass transit system, and rooting out corruption.  Indeed, though many people grumble about actually having to follow the law now, the city has improved quite a bit in the past five years.

Anies, on the other hand, is allied with Prabowo, a man widely seen as corrupt and desperate to take the presidency for himself (he lost to Jokowi in a hotly contested election two years ago).  In the time honored tradition, the ruling political parties raid the State treasury for funds to drive political campaigns, only Ahok has put a triple lock on the Treasury door, with one of the keys being held by the KPK, or Corruption Eradication Commission.  This means all expenditures must be approved by the use of three separate passwords, whith the governor holding only one.

Anies ran on a religious platform, but many people view him as a return to the bad old days of rampant corruption in the Regional government.  Despite Anies wearing his religion on his sleeve, photos made the rounds of social media of drunken parties following his victory - a scandal.  Anies also used a State helicopter to tour his domain, something that Ahok and Jokowi have both eschewed during their tenure, preferring to endure the same traffic issues everyone else does.

Ahok has gone one further now.  During the campaign, Anies adopted a "me too" echo chamber, saying that he would do anything Ahok promised to clean up the city.  This included shutting own one of the most notorious night spots in the city.

To understand the subtleties of this particular challenge, one must understand that the military is widely viewed as having an iron-fist grip on the country's drug trade, and Prabowo (major supporter of Anies) is a former general in the army.  Thus, the gauntlet that has been thrown is a challenge to Anies' loyalty and honesty in a very interesting and low-key manner.

In other developments, food stalls have been returning to areas previously cleared out by Ahok, who thought sidewalks should be uncluttered for pedestrian comfort and safety - a novel idea in Indonesia, where food vendors take advantage of public spaces for rent-free operations.  Also, public employees, who have been forced to punch a clock and actually perform their duties under Ahok, are starting to show up late or not at all for work.

Naturally, a great number of people, who have enjoyed the modernization and efficiency introduced under Ahok, are just a bit worried about what's to come.

There is no doubt now that Prabowo and his Gerindra party will launch another major offensive during the 2020 presidential campaign.  The governor of Jakarta is generally acknowledged as a major stepping stone to national leadership

In effect, this all appears to be a strong political assault on Indonesia's populist revolt, which began in 2010, and a return to the oligarchical rule of yesteryear.

Though this counter-revolt is dressed in all the finery of religious zealotry, it is actually the front of a major shift in Indonesia's demographic composition.  The country's middle class explosion of the past 20 years has allowed an entire generation of Indonesians to be educated overseas.  Combined with the internet and social media, they have become increasingly enamored of truly open and democratic societies elsewhere.

This new generation is much more lenient on drugs (especially marijuana), less controlled by religion, and are far more affluent than even their parents could have imagined.

In other words, it is a mirror of the 1960s, and even more so of the Millennials among their Western counterparts.  In a country where Islam has dominated the social and political landscape for centuries, this is a direct and existential threat to the Powers That Be.  The old control buttons and levers aren't working and they are trying to clamp down to retain their privileged positions.

The problem is, Indonesians are growing accustomed to having disposable income and being able to travel abroad and shop for prestigious brands and drive their own cars, as only the richest folks could do just a short time ago.

Jokowi and Ahok are the crest of a huge wave of change coming to Indonesia, and Anies and Prabowo are the breakwaters trying desperately to slow the tide.  It is the classic case of the rock and the hard spot, with a large, sparkly diamond of middle class affluence resting tenuously in between.

Though it hasn't risen to the level of prominence that the Trump and Le Pen candidacies have, Indonesia's power struggle is nonetheless significant, as it is the premier economy of Southeast Asia.  It is significantly tied to other economies, like Sourth Korea, Vietnam, Thailand, and the Philippines, all of which are on center stage in the massive tug-of-war between the East and West.  The West would obviously feel more secure with an Indonesia that is socially backward and mired in internal corruption.

If Indonesia were to become a major player in regional politics, as it easily could with its vast natural wealth, it would likely align more tightly with China - a prime trading partner - than with Western interests.

Enter Mike Pence, the US Vice President, who recently visited Indonesia.  Coincident with his visit (ahem), Freeport-Macmoran secured an export license that has been in bureaucratic limbo for years pending the outcome of various major lawsuits.  Freeport operates some of the largest gold mines in Indonesia and it isn't hard to imagine the Veep promising to buy up the exports to keep them out of Chinese hands, not to mention the silver and other strategic raw materials that are a bonus of gold mining.

No matter how you slice the pie, things are getting rather interesting here in the archipelago, not just because of the imminent threat to and by North Korea, but also because of the ideological clash that is shaping up in these parts.  Witness Duterte's rather blatant threats against Islamic terrorists in recent days.

For those tracking the political tides of the world, Indonesia bears a close watch, as the incoming Anies administration in Jakarta will be a bellwether of currents in the entire region.  The major concern to Western interests is keeping a strong relgious influence over this government and preventing Indonesia from joining the Shang Hai Accord countries (BRICS).  Indonesia's wealth would greatly benefit the BRICS, and Indonesia itself would benefit from cheaper loans, better trade deals and infrastructure support from China and Russia.

That giant sucking sound is a helluva lot of people holding their breath.

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