JAKARTA – Around lunchtime on December 2, the skies opened over Jakarta. But the downpour was probably the last thing on Indonesian President Joko Widodo’s mind as he strolled the few hundred yards from the presidential palace to a nearby plaza, where an estimated half a million Islamist protesters were chanting for the arrest of one of his political allies. Such blusukan — casual walkabouts in markets and villages—were a key part of Widodo’s electioneering and made him seem a down-to-earth man of the people in voters’ eyes. All the same, the protesters were taken aback by the president’s gate-crashing, especially when he joined their ranks, which included some of Indonesia’s most hard-line Islamist leaders, for Friday prayers. “Jokowi,” as the president is known, commended the drenched crowd for assembling peacefully, interspersing his brief cameo with cries of “Allahu Akbar,” and prayed with Habib Rizieq Shihab, the head of the shadowy Islamic Defenders Front, known as the FPI, an Indonesian acronym. One protester, who gave his name as Ahmad, said that he was very surprised, but that “it was good that Jokowi spoke; it helps Indonesia be united.” Ahmad said that he had flown in from Bali, a majority Hindu holiday island, to attend the demonstration. The target of his and the other protesters’ ire was Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama], who was deputy governor of Jakarta and was elevated to the governorship in 2014 when Widodo, who had held the post, became president. Purnama is a Christian of Chinese descent, a blunt and forceful outsider running the capital of the country with the world’s biggest Muslim population.
Manila – The sun had not yet risen on May 9 when voters started lining up at Santa Lucia school in San Juan, Manila, awaiting the 6 am start of voting in national elections. Inside the school, television crews and photographers had staked out a spot an hour earlier, kicking off what turned out to be a sweaty five-hour vigil before presidential candidate Grace Poe arrived to cast her ballot. When Poe finally showed up, a throng of voters whooped and applauded. “Grace Poe, Grace Poe, Grace Poe,” they chanted, as cameras and microphones swirled and jostled around the diminutive senator. But for some of those same San Juan residents who waited all morning in the near-100-degree heat for a glimpse at the would-be president, cheering was one thing, voting another. Hernando Diodoro, a 66-year-old retiree, sat with several buddies of a similar vintage on a bench along the narrow lane through which Poe’s motorcade edged toward the school entrance. Diodoro said he knows Poe’s driver—“a nice guy”—and that the 47-year-old Poe, elected a senator for the first time only in 2013, is popular in this part of Manila. All the same, Diodoro—and all bar one of the bench-load of old codgers lined up in the shade—said they opted for another candidate. “I like Duterte, he means new rules,” said Diodoro, referring to Rodrigo Duterte, who just a few hours later would be so far ahead in the unofficial election results that Poe herself would concede.
KAMPAR — He wouldn’t give his full name or his age — except to say that he had vivid childhood memories of Japan’s World War II occupation of Malaysia — but Lee, a Chinese-Malaysian shopkeeper in Kampar, a onetime tin-mining hub in the northwestern Malaysian state of Perak, didn’t hold back. “Politics in this country is about this: money politics,” he said, using the local shorthand for corruption. “The BN” — Barisan Nasional, or National Front — “is clever at it, and that means it is difficult for the opposition to win in this country,” he added. Sure enough, the parliamentary election held May 5 resulted in the BN coalition maintaining its nearly six-decade hold on power, which dates all the way back to Malaysia’s independence from the United Kingdom in 1957. The BN fended off a strong showing by Pakatan Rakyat (PKR, or People’s Alliance), the opposition coalition, which ran a campaign focusing on alleged government graft — the “money politics” — and the BN’s perceived ethnic favoritism toward the country’s 60 percent Malay majority.