The presidential candidates stepped up their rhetoric and smiling images across Indonesia, intensifying their efforts as the elections shifted from the legislative to the presidential primaries.
Reaching out to their party faithfuls at Jakarta’s Gelora Bung Karno stadium, contenders like Gerindra (Great Indonesia Movement) Party presidential hopeful Prabowo Subianto and Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle, or PDI-P, stalwart Megawati Soekarnoputri trawled for votes by appealing to the electorates’ nationalist and religious sentiments, as well as enticing promises of welfare and financial incentives. Lowbrow tactics are also the name of the game.
Indonesian political satirist Butet Kertaradjasa, a known impersonator of then President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono in comedy shows like “Republik Mimpi” (“Dream Republic”), performed his act before him at Megawati and Prabowo’s behest during a function pledging a clean presidential campaign. Butet’s act tickled the funnybones of those present except for the president, who was not amused.
These scenes are part of “Children of a Nation,” a documentary on the 2009 presidential elections by acclaimed Indonesian filmmaker Sakti Parantean. An independent production recounting Yudhoyono’s landslide victory in his reelection bid, the film balances newsreels, vox pop interviews and the perspective of student activists like former Forum Kota (City Forum) student movement head Savic Ali.
“[Children of a Nation] can be described as a ‘guerrilla project,’ as it was funded out of my own pocket. I had no firsthand access to the movers, as most of the news I got was from the detik.com and other outlets,” Sakti said during a recent screening of the film at Jakarta’s National University. “As a title, ‘Children of a Nation’ is also a double entendre , as it can mean that we are the nation’s children. On the other hand, it can also mean we are immature. Either way, we’re liable to play, experiment and make mistakes like children usually would.”
National University School of Communications department chairman Eddi Prakosa agrees.
“The release of ‘Children of a Nation’ might strike the public, because this year marks Indonesia’s legislative and presidential elections. Whether one interprets the movie to be Sakti’s observation of Indonesia’s political process or his critique of it, [the film] doesn’t detract from its relevance.”
During the discussion, Sakti added that the documentary also set out to reveal a side of Indonesian democracy that is overlooked by CNN, BBC and other outlets of the international community. This includes using entertainers and free cash by all parties to draw voters, Golkar party presidential hopeful Jusuf Kalla and his running mate Wiranto’s enlisting psychic mediums to endorse their cause, as well as Yudhoyono’s plagiarism of an Indomie jingle for his campaign.
While the movie acknowledged Yudhoyono’s savvy use of social media in his reelection bid, a move pioneered by president Barack Obama in the US, it was also quick to cast doubts on the incumbent’s seemingly solid victory. The film indicates that Yudhoyono and the General Election Commission weren’t above resorting to Suharto era tactics, such as paying TV stations not to air the ads of opponents, rigging the number of voters, and manipulating the findings of survey bodies in his favor.
Most of all, Sakti pointed out that Yudhoyono’s overwhelming victory, which he achieved with over 60 percent of the votes, was made possible by voter apathy.
“Over 40 percent of eligible voters, or more than 60 million people, didn’t go to the ballots during the 2009 elections. That number was up from the 23 percent in 2004,” said Sakti, who founded the Fictionary production house.
“Children of a Nation” also holds the premise that Indonesia is hampered by its collective amnesia about the role Yudhoyono and his fellow generals, Prabowo and Wiranto, played in human rights violations in 1998.
“The three generals, and Indonesia’s political elite, encouraged the nation’s short term memory to whitewash their complicity in human rights abuses. Its also due to the poor regeneration of political parties and other organizations, and their inability in sounding out natural leaders,” says Savic Ali in the film. “The media is also not living up to their part of the bargain as a free press, as they can be bought to influence public opinion.”
Sakti is just as scathing. In the film he narrates that the presidential elections are little more than a talent show comparable to “Indonesian Idol” or “Indonesia’s Got Talent,” a point he sharply made by featuring one of President Yudhoyono’s music videos in the end credits. The film also touches on the Marriott and Ritz Carlton bombings, which along with the Bank Century scandal, seems to foretell Yudhoyono’s stormy second term.
During the discussion, Sakti said that making “Children of a Nation” profoundly changed his political outlook.
“Before [the 2009 elections], I never bothered to vote. But ‘Children of a Nation’ made me realize that we, as the electorate, can be formidable agents of change in our own right,” he said. “That’s why we should use our right to vote. Otherwise it will be misused by certain political parties for their own ends.”
He also used the film to remind his audiences about the challenges that they will face when they graduate and enter the work force.
Originally published in The Jakarta Globe on April 24, 2014