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The sorcererís apprentice doomed

By Duncan Graham - posted Friday, 23 May 2014

Drum roll and trumpet blast.  “Ladies and gentlemen, please be upstanding for the next President of the Republic of Indonesia, Haji Doktor Muhammad Jusuf Kalla, exemplary businessman, outstanding political leader and internationally renowned peace-maker, the man who will take this great nation forward to its natural destiny.

“Some of you may have heard he’s the Vice Presidential candidate; technically that’s right. But we all know who’ll be the Big Man around here.” (Applause and laughter.)

Indonesians defer to seniors. Kalla is 72, an age where ambitions have flatlined and a man no longer cares what others think.  Should he still be standing when his term ends in 2019 (life expectancy for Indonesian men is 68) he’ll be more concerned at juggling his great grand children than jostling for sinecures in academia or the UN.


After a career just a heartbeat from the top, the moment has come to stop being an also-ran. For the past five years he’s sat as chairman of the Red Cross in its Jakarta office.

From there he’s watched his former boss Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (SBY), the man who dumped him in the 2009 election campaign because he was too threatening, let the people’s mandate slip from his grasp and become President Bland.

This is Kalla’s final chance to make his mark, to achieve greatness, to be remembered as a Sulawesi hero who trounced the Javanese. He’s got nothing to lose.

Who’s going to roadblock?  Jokowi, a furniture businessman from a provincial town, briefly the Governor of Jakarta? He’s a candidate with no qualifications for national leadership other than being what the others are not – an unpretentious man of the people who seems to want a better Indonesia, not personal power and limitless wealth.

Wearing a plain shirt, walking to work and eating bakso (meatball soup) on the sidewalk is great media but it’s not statesman stuff. Indonesians expect leaders to strut.

If Jokowi has a philosophy it’s that we should all be nice to one another.  Another mild guy preached that 2,000 years ago and look what happened to him. 


In the chilling documentary The Act of Killing about the 1965 massacre of communists, Kalla promotes violence at a rally of paramilitary thugs called Pancasila Youth: (Pancasila – five principles – is the State ideology).

“The spirit of Pancasila Youth, that some people accuse of being gangsters. Gangsters are people who work outside of the system, not for the government. The word gangster (‘preman’ in Bahasa Indonesia) comes from ‘free men’. This nation needs ‘free men’.

“If everyone worked for the government we’d be a nation of bureaucrats. We’d get nothing done. We need gangsters to get things done. Free, private men, who get things done. We need gangsters, who are willing to take risks in business. Use your muscles! Muscles aren’t for beating up people. Although beating people up is sometimes needed.”

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About the Author

Duncan Graham is a Perth journalist who now lives in Indonesia in winter and New Zealand in summer. He is the author of The People Next Door (University of Western Australia Press) and Doing Business Next Door (Wordstars). He blogs atIndonesia Now.

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All articles by Duncan Graham

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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