Golkar election strategy: “behave like rats”

As if they needed any encouragement, the head of Indonesia’s Golkar party has told members to emulate the behaviour of rats in order to defeat their enemies and gain power.

Billionaire party chief Aburizal Bakrie made the comments in an address to provincial party bosses at a meeting to discuss how Golkar – the former ruling vehicle of dictator Suharto – will win 30 percent of the vote in 2014 elections.

I didn’t hear the full speech so I’m not sure whether Bakrie, one of Indonesia’s richest men and key playmaker in President Yodhoyono’s cabinet, had any policy vision about how to make Indonesia a more just, democratic and prosperous country. But judging by the summary in The Jakarta Globe he wasted no time with such niceties.

Instead, he exhorted his besotted disciples to act like rodents:

We are hardworking politicians and we play with certain tactics. Golkar has to have the principles of a rat. Be like the rat who bites someone’s leg, without letting the person know that he has been bitten by us. A rat always bites with certain tactics, and technique. The rat bites a little, and carefully, and then waits. After he feels it is enough, then he goes back to biting just a bit again. The person who is bit [sic] never feels it. In politics, when we attack, we must not be careless and in a hurry, or our opponents will know and attack us back.

In the West, rats are sneaky, filthy, disease-ridden creatures who spread the plague around Europe in the Dark Ages. No one, especially not someone aspiring to win a democratic election would ever admit to admiring the way of the rat.

I was even more dumbfounded to learn from an Indonesian friend that rats have exactly the same reputation in Indonesia. In particular, they are known here as cunning thieves.

It’s just astonishing that Bakrie would publicly encourage his party leaders to emulate vermin. But his point isn’t about stealing, however tempting it might be to draw his metaphor to that obvious conclusion. It’s about cunning, patience and stealth.

In Indonesian political culture one never, ever says what one really thinks. The political elite of this country hide their true intentions for as long as they can while secretly underminding their rivals. Public policy is the enemy, for it requires principle.

Bakrie is the man, after all, who led the campaign of a thousand cuts against respected former finance minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati, who recently resigned to join the World Bank. He did so as one of President Yudhoyono’s closest allies in the ruling coalition.

In a parting shot before she left, Mulyani accused Bakrie of ousting her over unproven corruption allegations in order to seize power for himself and end her efforts to bring his business empire under the rule of law. Those efforts included an investigation of Bakrie-linked companies over hundreds of millions of dollars in allegedly unpaid taxes.

The victims of the Lapindo mudflow might also find Bakrie’s ratty ideas illuminating. Scientists believe shoddy gas drilling by Bakrie-family company Lapindo triggered the mud volcano that devoured whole villages and drove scores of thousands of people from their homes in East Java in 2006. While Bakrie denies any responsibility, and Lapindo and the government blame a distant earthquake for the catastrophe, many of the victims are still waiting for the compensation they have been promised.

(Photo of Bakrie courtesy of Oxfam International and of the rat courtesy of asplosh via flickr)

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