Four-year old Juna with her smartphone

COFFEE SUSU AND THE PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS

I’m sitting in the street in front of a kiosk drinking coffee susu. Juna, the landlady’s four-year-old daughter, is playing with her smartphone and getting me into her sights. Using conventional phones and smartphones for online chatting, text-messaging, games, taking pictures and so on seems one of the main pastimes among young people in this country.

A new president is to be elected these days. 190 million citizens are asked to go to the polls. The ballots from over 7,000 islands and from overseas have to be collected, inspected and counted. A logistical tour de force! After a century of European domination marked by violence, wars and internecine strife, followed by subjugation to home-grown dictators, Indonesia now has a shot at establishing a more just, democratic system. For months the two presidential candidates have been omnipresent on the television screens in every hotel lobby and restaurant, in every house and shack, and on every bus. Not a single ship or shop without a TV set blaring away constantly in the background.

The two candidates are poles apart! One represents the past, the other the future. The stick-in-the-mud is a military man turned businessman, married to an ex-dictator’s daughter. Accused of gross human rights violations and barred from entry into the United States, he sounds off stridently about ruling with a “firm hand” and is backed by many of those who have amassed money, standing and power by nefarious means. His opponent is completely different. A fighter against widespread corruption, he has garnered a great deal of sympathy and approval among large swathes of the population with his wealth of ideas, and comes off well in discussions, election rallies and televised debating duels thanks to his humble demeanour and intelligent arguments.

Just a few hours after the polls close, the first computer predictions and election returns from all over the country are already flashing on the TV at Juna’s mother’s kiosk. I wonder whether this new generation, given its familiarity with electronic communication and its natural communication savvy, isn’t better prepared for the future. Having drunk up my coffee susu, I ask Juna what she’s up to there. She turns her mobile round and shows me the video she just shot of me….