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INDONESIA POLLS: Yudhoyono makes the crowd take notice

Publication Date : 29-04-2014


Sidoarjo, East Java, on Saturday, April 5. It’s midday. It’s hot and sticky and I’m walking along a road crammed with Indonesia’s ruling Democratic Party supporters as we make our way to the town’s stadium for the last major event of the legislative election campaign.

Tomorrow is the first day of the “cooling off” period.

I’m with a crowd of Dahlan Iskan supporters – don’t forget the party’s Presidential Convention has yet to be concluded on April 27 – and they’re bubbling with confidence.

A few young men are carrying large, 3.5m high inflatables with the candidate’s name emblazoned in bold lettering.

Elsewhere, however, the party supporters seem desultory and lacklustre.

They are gathered in small clusters: many are crouching under shop-awnings and below advertising hoardings to escape the direct sunlight and heat.

Once in the stadium car-park, there are hundreds of buses and small angkot (mini buses) parked haphazardly.

Having spent the day before trailing the hyper-energetic and exuberant if slightly exhausted-looking PDI-P presidential candidate – the super-popular Jakarta Governor Joko Widodo as he raced his way through the Nahdlatul Ulama (one of Indonesia’s largest Islamic groups with membership at more than 30 million people) heartlands from Banyu?wangi to Surabaya – the mood in the ruling party’s camp is altogether different.

Nonetheless, this is an historic event: SBY’s last campaign rally and I want to experience the mood.

I’ve tracked the former general from when he first started out as a minister and presidential candidate.

A news journalist would have rushed off to cover the front-runners but I’m drawn by the sense of an era coming to an end. Besides, I want to hear the baritone-voiced leader once again.

So, sitting in the stands and surrounded by what appears to be half of the residents of Pasuruan and Pandaan – two cities in East Java, (most of whom are plotting where they wanted to head to next), I prepare myself for SBY’s entrance.

The stadium has been lavishly set up. This is a major production: there are flags, flag-wavers and countless banners, not to mention a vast video screen.

This is a well-funded event. The video itself is an impassioned account of SBY’s 10 years in office and his plans for the future.

As the story line approaches its climax, the man himself marches onto the stage. He stands at the forefront with his wife and son Edhie Baskoro, or Ibas, and a phalanx of supporters all wearing blue.

I’m prepared to be disappointed, especially after such a bombastic video message, but the speech itself is a surprise.

The general is in fine fettle. His marvellously reassuring speaking voice carries across the stadium.

Yes, he’s slightly hoarse as he exhorts the crowd to vote in the Democratic Party for another term.

Plus, there’s real passion in his language.

Looking around, I notice that the crowd is actually listening. They may not like his party but it’s clear that they do respect the man.

Walking away from the stadium, I’m struck by the contrasts between the two: the party and the man – one so tired and lacklustre and the other, despite 10 years in the saddle, seemingly raring to go.


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