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Indonesia's rent-a-mob industry gears up for election JAKARTA - In a slum just a stone's throw from the gaudy mansions of Indonesia's elite, Rizal trades in human flesh and misery. Angry students, the urban poor, the rural poor, supporters, opposers -- all can be arranged for a price. "Over the years, I've had orders for people from the parties of two presidents, but I'll work for anyone," said the 30-year-old Jakarta man, one of thousands of Indonesians who make a living arranging mobs.
In the world's fourth most populous country, politics has traditionally been about crowds -- huge, noisy and often violent masses. However, Rizal's is an industry which has blossomed since mobs took to the streets in 1998, ousting former autocratic president Suharto and giving birth to a shaky democracy. "Under Suharto, of course, demonstrations were not allowed. You'd be arrested and put in jail," said Dewi Fortuna Anwar, a political analyst and former presidential adviser.
Because political rallies and political campaigns in Indonesia are still mass-based, rather than rooted in issues, some parties need to reassure themselves and their competitors that they have followers, so they rent mobs, she said. "It's become a business ... Not all crowds are rented, but it shows political shallowness and economic need," she said.
And it's an industry many see getting a boost from the country's first democratic presidential election this year. Maneuvering is already under way to line up slates, and the cast of characters is colorful to say the least. One party has the ailing Suharto's business-mogul daughter at the top.
Three others are headed by daughters of Indonesia's first president Sukarno -- including incumbent President Megawati Sukarnoputri. A blind cleric and former president thrown out for alleged incompetence heads another party, while a politician appealing a fraud conviction leads one of the strongest.

Few Indonesians expect a clean fight.

With an air of despondency, the Jakarta Post said in a recent editorial: "What leaders we have today have been groomed over the last 20 years, and a rotten regime breeds rotten leaders." Twenty-four parties have the green light to participate, virtually guaranteeing that no party will win a parliamentary majority on April 5 and that the presidential race in July will go to a runoff.
Analysts say large rallies are a certainty and some fear the tension could spur violence, as happened on the resort island of Bali in October last year, when two people were killed and vehicles torched in a clash between supporters of the country's two main parties. New arrivals in the steaming capital of the sprawling equatorial nation of some 17,000 islands and 210 million people are struck by the vast number of public demonstrations.
"Demos," as they are known locally, take place on an almost daily basis, snarling traffic as crowds march and wave banners. What is not immediately obvious to the casual observer is that many are carefully stage-managed pieces of political theater rather than expressions of ordinary Indonesians' aspirations. "If a politician disagrees with another, he organizes a protest," said Rizal, clad casually in blue jeans, a green T-shirt and flip-flops.
Rizal said one mob organizer he knew had already snared his first election-related job, helping to create a virtual crowd by buying supporters' identities for one political party so it could meet the threshold required to run candidates.



Posted in Elections @ 16 January 2004 00:01 CET by Jeroen · 'Blog' RSS feed · permalink






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