Thursday, May 17, 2007

Tale of Two Presidents

In his first dispatch from Istana Negara/Cikeas, MT writes about the somewhat comical behind the scene reactions of (now former) cabinet members during the highly anticipated non-event otherwise known as the cabinet reshuffling. In his second post as a guest blogger for the Cafe, MT writes about some similarities between SBY and Soeharto (they just keep coming, don't they) which include SBY's ability to make people cringe, instead of laugh, with his jokes. - Manager
Tale of Two Presidents
by MT

Days before former president Soeharto resigned -I think its around November 1997- Cornell’s Ben Anderson gave a not-so-famous interview about Soeharto’s intention to resign (in high Javanese language as Lengser Keprabon, Madheg Pandhito for whatever that means). Anderson talked at length about the hypocrisy of Soeharto and how alluded much to Javanese olden day epic (Babad) to justify his action. But that I don’t want to talk about.

In one part Anderson spoke about his coldness (he could order the killing of thousands of people, borrowing Capote’s words in cold blood), in spite of (or may be because) his being Javanese. Anderson said that when Soeharto resorts to cruelness it is not something from his nature, but something that has been calculated, it is part of his strategy. He is an extremely cautious, suspecting and never acts spontaneously. One demeanor that rings true to me more
than ever watching Soeharto’s pictures and news footage was that when he tried to be friendly and warm, we barely feels the warmth he exudes. And if he is being warm and friendly, Anderson said that we have to be very cautious about what he hid behind the smile. (well, he is indeed a Javanese par excellence that way).

Much has been said that Yudhoyono have the potential to follow Soeharto’s footprints. Hey, he’s a Javanese, an army general (albeit U.S. educated and holds Ph.D in economics), married also to a Javanese woman, and much as stoic as Soeharto. And the most worrying sign that is however difficult to corroborate is Yudhoyono’s dalliance with Javanese mysticism (very Soeharto-like indeed). The most famous being his fixation with figure nine. The combination of his date of birth is nine so he does almost anything based on that number (well, not always) but the most famous example is that he broke several big news when the date strikes nine. One other thing that could show his Javanese mind set is his penchant for looking for guidance from the other side. In several occasion he made a visit to both his father’s and father in law (the famous general Sarwo Edhi Wibowo) ’s tomb before making important announcement. Well, of course there is nothing wrong about visiting your parent’s grave, but it’s the timing.

But if you think that this country is at risk of being led by another cruel and humorless general, think again. However dour he might be, Yudhoyono is at the very least an amiable person to go by. In fact, he likes jokes too, however dry. OK, he might be pale in comparison with Abdurrahman “Gus Dur” Wahid in this joke affairs. In out-of-palace functions, Yudhoyono frequently tells us jokes.

The day when he was about to break the news that a cabinet shake-up would take place in the early May – in the now famous durian plantation in Bogor – he cracked a joke about nutmeg and durian. He told us that during a visit to East Nusa Tenggara he inspected a nutmeg plantation when he stumbled upon a pile of that spice. And as he inspected the pile, he told us, one of fresh nutmeg fruit fell upon his head and he said “this is not fair, a fruit this useful only has a tiny size” and he strolled ahead.

Later in durian field, he discovered a pile of durian skin and while he observed it, a durian fell close to him. To us he said, “God the merciful, if only nutmeg is as big as durian then I would be dead when it fell upon me,” he said to a confused laughter among the audience. It’s not a funny joke (I read this joke in some obscure jokes book before and we all know that durian doesn’t grow in East NusaTenggara) but at least he tried.

1 comment:

  1. Anyway, is it possible to have a smart-sexy Dutch-Javanese-descent woman president in Indonesia? Like Mata Hari for example?