Ho Chi Minh Reverie

On my recent, and first, trip to Hanoi, one of the highlights was a visit to the Ho Chi Minh Museum. In particular I was taken by an installation of images that apparently represent the ideas, personalities and events from the early 20th Century which had an effect on his world view.


Initially my companion Catriona Mitchell and I were disappointed to find that the famous Mausoleum itself was closed to the public. Ho Chi Minh’s remains were on their annual trip to Moscow for “maintenance” work. Or as one would-be guide put it: “Uncle Ho is on vacation”. This hopeful man also told us the museum was closed and that he would take us on a tour of Hanoi. Declining as politely as we could, we wandered around and lo and behold the museum was open. Funny that.

The Museum itself is what I would expect from an institutionalized celebration of a charismatic leader who inspired a nation to resist post colonial foreign aggression for more than a quarter of a century. Celebrity socialist realism springs to mind. Naturally there is a propagandistic perspective to the museum, with displays of the colonial oppressor’s lifestyle juxtaposed next to the humble Vietnamese serf’s hovel; semi-abstract, magnificently heroic displays replete with extensive wall text and flip charts, hundreds of fascinating images of Uncle Ho in different situations; some rather abstruse, tangential displays – for example a corner with vegetables celebrating his message to the younger generation to look after the environment.

Hackneyed as some of the underlying message it is, one cannot help but admire the vision of Ho Chi Minh and the fact he planted this vision so deeply into the hearts and minds of the majority of the Vietnamese people. Perhaps it was the era when such charismatic leaders could have such a mesmerizing effect on a world just beginning to experience the gift of the 20th Century – the porousness of borders in the international realm of ideas.

But in amongst all this predictability,  Catriona and I stumbled upon a real gem. Almost hidden in a corner of the top floor we found a maze of glass and mirrors, with a myriad of images from the turn of the 20th Century printed seemingly haphazardly on many of the panels. Images ranged from Eadweard Muybridge’s (sic) experiments with motion photography; images of Einstein, Madame Curie, various inventions including the early automobile and other mechanical technology, high rise buildings in New York, paintings by Picasso, Rousseau and more. It was a fascinating insight – all of this were things which Ho Chi Minh was keenly aware of and had played a part in shaping his own views and politics. If anyone still had any illusions about Uncle Ho living in hermetic isolation “in the jungle”,  this display would certainly burst that bubble.

The maze is also plenty of fun to wander in and out of. The see-through images on some panels, combined with mirror effects from others contributes to an interesting spectrum of visual effects. And, this is the best place for a “selfie” as you don’t have to muck around trying to point the silly camera at yourself. Or perhaps I should say “pointing the camera at your silly self”.

Catriona and I agreed that this installation, along with a Vietnamese documentary about a traveling transvestite show (“Madame Phung’s Last Journey”) were the highlights of our week in Hanoi.



















all photos ©Rio Helmi


A Tribute to Lempad, and Layers of History #uwrf14


This year’s Ubud Writers and Readers Festival’s tribute went to I Gusti Nyoman Lempad, the first UWRF tribute to a son of Ubud. It was particularly fitting that the tribute took place in front of one of the temples that Gusi Nyoman Lempad designed and executed for his royal patrons. Rio Helmi reports.

Presented by journalist/social commentator Wayan Juniartha, the event launched with a musical performance by a group of  boys from Padang Tegal whilst slides of Gusti Nyoman Lempad flashed on to the screen, including one of my favorites of him with his son Gusti Made Sumung. Once the music was over Wayan Juniartha, a.k.a. Jun,  introduced the film Lempad of Bali, produced and directed by John Darling and Lorne Blair. As it so happens, yours truly also worked on the production of this film as stills photographer and finding /setting up locations.


A slide showing Gusti Nyoman Lempad with his son Gusti Made Sumung photo Rio Helmi

It was really touching to watch the film again after some years; the scenes showing Ubud back in 1978/79 particularly stirred a bit of nostalgia. The audience seemed captivated both by Lempad and his work, as well as the various now historical scenes. It felt strange that I, who played such a minor crew role in this film, was the only one of the original crew on stage: both Lorne and John are now long gone, and Made Sumung my old landlord and mentor even longer before them.

When I look back and remember what a struggle it was to make this film for John and Lorne – just getting the material into Bali at the time was no mean feat, and so much volunteer effort by so many people went into it – and see the reaction of people now I  really feel it was worth it.  At one point Jun and I looked back over the crowd and saw people packed right back over bridge.

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The scene just before the film started to roll. photo by Anggara Mahendra

After the last credit rolls, Jun invited Agung Rai, Hedi Hinzler and myself to talk about Lempad. Up first, I seized the opportunity to emphasize how important the role of Sumung was to Lempad’s international recognition. I remember distinctly how Gusti Made Sumung guided this film, the long conversations between him and John, his slightly mischievous yet rational explanations. An intriguing man himself, he had attached Dutch high school, taught to analyse in the western manner, yet remained completely Balinese. He used his knowledge of the outside world to be the conduit for his father, both helping Lempad understand the foreigners who arrived on his doorstep, and helping the foreigners understand the enigma that was his father.

Sumung was manager, interpreter, publicist, marketer, but above all loyal son and provider for his clan. The symbiosis of Lempad and his son is often overlooked by many who talk about Lempad’s work.

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Scholar Hedi Hinzler who spent years working on Lempad, explains some of the facts. photo Anggara Mahendra

It is a fact that Lempad was more adaptable to western artistic and architectural esthetics as a result. Hedi Hinzler bore this out in her short talk, somewhat interrupted by the rain that began to spatter down (the organizers swear that weverytime hey do an event on that stage for UWRf it rains!). Hedi pointed to the extensive correspondence that existed amongs the Europeans living in or linked to Bali in the 30s and 40s, how much they discussed Lempad, commissions for him and so forth. Thinking of Lempad as simply isolated in his own culture, creating without any “outside influence” would be a myth.

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Gustra of the UWRF team gallantly shelters Agung Rai from the rain with an umbrella nicked from the decor. photo Anggara Mahendra

Agung Rai finished up by stating that no matter what, Lempad for him was a Balinese artistic genius through and through. And at that point the rain got so heavy that UWRFs GUstra simply grabbed one of the decorative umbrellas off the stage and dutifully stood behind Agung Rai and sheltered him from the rain. Turning around again I saw some of the more hardy of the audience huddled under their umbrellas

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A hardy audience  photo Anggara Mahendara

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 Jun, Jengki, and Rio commiserating about the weather.  Photo Anggara Mahendra 

The evening was meant to continue with poetry readings, kicking off with a poem by poet “Jengki” from Denpasar, but unfortunately the rain washed us out. But tribute to one of Ubud’s greatest sons had been paid, and soon we wandered off yet another Ubud Writers and Readers Festival event.

this post originally appeared on the blog roll

Super Charged Albino Expat Syndrome #uwrf14

Made Wijaya, a.k.a. Michael White, convened, chaired or provoked (we’re not sure which) a house rocking panel at the Left Bank earlier today. Invited/seduced/coerced (again we’re not sure which) to join were Balinese Putu Semiada and Wayan Juniartha, beyond-honorary Balinese Rucina Ballinger a.k.a. Jero Soka Astita a.k.a. Jero Ade (who has spent more than 35 years on Bali, is an expert on the culture, has two half Balinese sons in their 20s who grew up Balinese) and Canadian emigré Peter Wall of Hubud co-working space. The title of the panel was “Poison or Passion: the Rise of the Super Bule”. Rio Helmi didn’t take notes, and here is the short version of what his feeble memory retained: 

Made Wijaya  has spent decades in deep immersion in Balinese culture and has also spent decades doing his best to scandalize everyone with his outrageous alter-alter egos (amongst them the poofed up Widji Weinberg) antics, nowadays immortalized on video. Despite Wijaya’s reputation as a fast-talking, royalty-hugging drama queen, he does have a very serious side to him. His dedication and fierce defense of Balinese culture is quite informed and well intended. He is one of the few expats who really does stand up for the Balinese and takes it on the chin…


Made Wijaya holds forth as Rucina Ballinger and Peter Wall sit bemused.

The panel rocked from the start, with Made quickly charting the etymological changes of the terms the Balinese use to call outsiders: from tamiu/tamu (guest), to turis, and then finally to the Jakarta slang bule. For those of you who are wondering, the term “bule”  is pejorative, and has the connotation of  being an albino canine. One of the more amusing things was members of the audience trying to get the definition of the term Super Bule – as if it was in the Oxford lexicon. Coined by Made Wijaya, the definition became more defined as the session went on.

Basically Made is taking aim at middle class foreign people who drop  out and into Bali, reinvent themselves, act entitled and are obnoxious. (Made, if I missed something I’m sure you know where the comment box is).  They are clearly Made’s pet hate, people who come and tread all over the Balinese and their culture.  If you are interested Made years ago also coined the expression ‘the villafication of Bali’, and if you really are interested on more of his coined phrases buy a copy of Stranger in Paradise.

There quickly ensued a serious and hilarious (that’s the kind of session it was)  discussion on the various social strata that have converged on Bali now.; beginning with the Super Bule, through the Bule Aga  (a take on the “Bali Aga” ancient Balinese cultures) who have been here longer and came to immerse  themselves in Bali and it’s culture, to Javanese rich and poor immigrants, through to various levels of Balinese themselves.


above:  Wayan Juniartha: “You’re too romantic. Balinese don’t do 24/7 -365 ceremony…”  

below left: Rucina Ballinger,  

below right: Putu Semiada            



Wayan Juniartha took a clean shot at Made and called him hopeless romantic. Jun went to say that Balinese don’t really spend 24/7 on ceremonies, they want to be modern just like everyone else. He also suggested that without tourism Balinese culture would have long been swallowed up. Putu Semiada pointed out that the school he runs is subsidized  by foreign donations, if weren’t for Bules there would be no program. One poignant quote from Putu: “Take what you want but leave us our gods”.

Rucina Ballinger pointed to her experience in her village just days after the infamous bombings in Kuta : as she sat preparing for a religious ceremony with the women of the community, not one person discussed the recent events only 7km away, instead the conversations were about the preparations for the gods.

There were also some heartfelt statements: a young boy of mixed Indonesian-English parentage asked what he should classify himself to be: Indonesian, English, or something else? (Peter Wall chimed in and said that there is such a thing as the third culture, something new. It was bit of a pity that Peter got caught up soft selling Hubud when we would have loved to have heard more about his experiences in bringing new economic opportunities to the Balinese, something which he barely touched on). Another expat went on to say how he never came to Bali before because of all the stories he had read about the bogans in paradise (g’wan, google it), but that it was a place where he came for his retirement and he has never felt happier and more alive in his life surrounded by Balinese culture, music, art, and villagers. He got a standing ovation.

There’s much more that was said and that happened but I have to run to the next panel.

Selamat Sore.

(this post originally appeared on  –

Silence is Not Always Golden



sita crop


Fund raising for Sita, born with Rubella syndrome resulting in  profound deafness. 

Penggalian dana untuk Sita, lahir dengan Rubella Syndrome yang menyebabkan gangguan esktrim pendengaran.


This is the story of the second child of my friend Made Nagi, a budding photojournalist in Bali: “Sita was diagnosed at birth with Rubella Syndrome. This syndrome  was responsible for two disorders, one to her heart and the other to her hearing. During  the first two years we focused on her heart problems, which in the end the doctors said was no longer a major threat.


However  due to her poor hearing Sita was not able to speak at four years of age. The  treatment and therapy we tried for years brought no palpable change for Sita. After long deliberation we decided  to go with a cochlear implantation. With the help  of many friends we could afford this procedure. On the 22nd of  August 2014, after a seamless five hour operation, Sita gave a positive response to the implant. This month the “bionic ear” was activated as she has recovered from the operation.”


Sita will naturally require  intensive, ongoing  therapy so that it can function properly and that she can get the optimum benefit from it. At  the moment. after a period of nearly a week the sensitivity of her ‘bionic ear’ has been adjusted up to level three (of four) and she is responding to sounds. Now comes the task of teaching her the meanings of sounds and speech in general.


Naturally  there will be ongoing expenses – therapy, batteries, maintenance of the equipment (for example one of the connector cables is already broken, they are necessarily fragile but cost Rp 700,000 each to replace). And then  if there is any other damage that occurs after the 3 year guarantee period, the current replacement cost is IDR 100 million.


Rio Helmi Photo  Gallery is setting aside a percentage of all print sales during September, October and November as a donation to Sita’s therapy and equipment maintenances.


sita combo



Ini  kisah  anak  kedua  teman saya, wartawan foto Bali,  Made Nagi: “Sita lahir  dengan   didiagnosa mengalami Rubella syndrome. Syndrome  ini membawa  dua gangguan   bawaan  yaitu kelainan jantung dan pendengaran. Dua tahun pertama kami konsentrasi untuk mengatasi masalah kelainan jantungnya, yang akhirnya oleh dokter didiagnosa hanya masalah yang tergolong ringan.

Dengan kemampuan mendengar yang sangat lemah, sampai umur 4 tahun Sita belum juga mampu untuk bicara.

Treatment dan terapi selama beberapa tahun tidak memberikan dampak yang berarti untuk Sita.

Setelah pertimbangan yang cukup lama kami memutuskan untuk memeberikan kesempatan Sita untuk mendengar melalui prosedur cochlear implantation. Sukurlah berkat bantuan banyak teman kami dapat melaksanakan prosedur ini. Operasi berlangsung 22 Augustus 2014 selama 5 jam tanpa hambatan dan Sita memberikan respon yang positif pada implan”.


“Bionic Ear” kini sudah diaktifkan setelah Sita sepenuhnya pulih. Tentu saja Sita harus melakukan terapi yang intensif dan disiplin untuk membuatnya berfungsi dengan baik dan Sita mampu memanfaatkannya dengan optimal. Kini, setelah satu minggu dipasang, alatnya sudah disetel ke tingkat kepekaan 3 (dari 4) dan Sita sudah respon terhadap suara. Tentunya sekarang mulailah pekerjaan mengajar Sita arti dari suara, kata, dan bahasa umumnya.


Mengenai biaya Rp67jt yang dikeluarkan untuk operasi dan USD 28000sudah tertutup dengan bantuan teman dan kantor. Namun kini masih ada biaya ke depan – terapi, baterai, maintenance. Contohnya satu kabel konektor untuk alat itu sudah rusak (karena memang riskan dan sering harus diganti) seharga Rp 700rb, dan lain sebagainya. Belum lagi kalau kerusakan alat terjadi setelah garansi habis (3 tahun) – harganya Rp 100jt.


Rio Helmi Photo Gallery akan menyisihkan sebagian dari hasil penjualan semua  foto selama September, Oktober, dan November untuk disumbangkan untuk keperluan terapi dan maintenance peralatan Sita.





Indonesia: The Act of Glossing

As an Indonesian born in the 1950s, I found watching the three hour director’s cut of Joshua Oppenheimer’s documentary “The Act of Killing” (executive producer Werner Herzog) deeply disturbing. Though it revealed nothing factually new per se about the horrors of the 1965 politcal purges, it is the in-your-face quality of delusion of the characters that shocks the most.

Read More…

Indonesia Politics: Where’s the Party?

Originally published in the Huffington Post

It’s been a busy fortnight in Indonesian politics. The inhabitants of the capital Jakarta just voted in a new governor, Joko Widodo a.k.a. Jokowi, of the PDI-P party with the significant support of the upstart partyGerindra,  defeating the influential incumbent Democrat Fauzi Bowo a.k.a. Foke, who has his political roots in the still powerful Golkar party which in turn has it’s roots in the Suharto’s New Order era. Not only that: the new governor is the (soon to be ex) mayor of the central Javanese city of Solo with little experience in national politics. Most startling of all, his new deputy governor, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama a.k.a. Ahok, is of Chinese origin – a first in the ethnic tinderbox of modern Indonesian politics.

Read More…


As an Indonesian born in the 1950s, I found watching the three hour director’s cut of Joshua Oppenheimer’s documentary “The Act of Killing” (executive producer Werner Herzog) deeply disturbing. Though it revealed nothing factually new per se about the horrors of the 1965 politcal purges, it is the in-your-face quality of delusion of the characters that shocks the most.

For Indonesians 1965 is not merely another year in history. It is a number that is as important as 1945, the year that on the 17th of August founding fathers Sukarno and Hatta declared Indonesia independent. By contrast, the 30th of September 1965 is a date of infamy, a night filled with sordid acts of treachery, the trigger that launched a months-long blood bath that took the lives of hundreds of thousands – if not millions – of Indonesians across the archipelago. What happened is yet to be systematically quantified, and in truth is yet to be properly accounted for.

During the subsequent 32 years of General Soeharto’s iron fisted New Order, the “truth” we were force fed was that the burgeoning Indonesian Communist Party, PKI –  at the time the third largest in the world – had masterminded and initiated a coup with the ghastly murder of six top generals on September 30th. A lurid, bloody propaganda-esque film “Pengkhianatan G30S/PKI” (“The Betrayal Movement of the 30th September/PKI”) upholding this version of the events was made by leading cinematographer Arifin C Noer in 1984 on request by Soeharto’s regime. Every year up until 1997 all TV stations were obliged to air the whole film on the 30th of September.

Three decades later, In “The Act of Killing” – which has become a cinematic rebuttal of Arifin’s film – it soon becomes clear to any viewer that the main characters in this multi-tiered, behind the scenes documentary are deranged.

The blatantly murderous bragadicio of the main characters, street thug-turned-local-hero Anwar Congo, his bizarrely theatrical twisted sidekick Herman Koto, and his more sophisticated but no less pshycopathic colleague, Adi, dominate the screen. There is a sickening naiveté to their obsession with the butchery they helped perpetrate during the so-called coup of 1965, and a mind boggling disregard for morality thoroughly mixed with twisted self justification. But there are plenty more equally, if not more, powerfully jaw dropping moments that segue in and out of this cinematic reality saga.

A local newspaper editor in Medan, North Sumatra, where all the action takes place, brags that though he didn’t actually do any killing himself, that just by “blinking my eyelids” he had people killed. He later states it was his job as a journalist to turn people against communists. A neighbor of Congo’s, somehow roped in to act in the film, tells how his Chinese stepfather was taken away and killed – and then he is made to act a victim pleading for mercy. Suddenly, as he breaks down on screen the viewer realizes his acting is not acting. Various high ranking government officials praise the Pemuda Pancasila group (essentially is a paramilitary group of thugs locally know as ‘préman’) with which Anwar Congo is associated, as being an essential extra judicial arm for the Indonesian Government.

Surreal scene after surreal scene fills the screen of this troubling reality show. Distortion is the norm for these characters, but they are not alone. What this brings home to my peers and me once again is that Indonesians have been glossing the responsibility for 1965 for nearly 50 years. Medan was not the only killing field in Indonesia, far from it. Nor was Pemuda Pancasila the only group of thugs involved

Many reasons are given, and many groups were involved. As the reprisal killings in Indonesia began, the CIA took to feeding the Indonesian military lists of ‘suspects’. The military in turn enlisted thugs and youths from various mass organizations to join a brutal killing spree. In Java members of Islamic youth organizations like Ansor were not shy of wetting their hands with the blood of ‘communist infidels’. In Bali – currently marketed as ‘paradise’ – one witness told of “roads running like red rivers with the blood of victims” spillled by thugs who seldom required any evidence of wrongdoing from the finger pointers.

The night I watched this film, thousands of Balinese living in Sumbawa, an island east of Bali,  were taking refuge from bloody rioting following the death of a Muslim girl who had died in a motorcycle accident with her Hindu boyfriend. A completely unsubstantiated rumour that her boyfriend had raped and then murdered her lit up the town like wildfire. A couple of months earlier a murderous rampage against Balinese migrants and their families broke out in Lampung on the southern tip of Sumatra, triggered by a trivial misunderstanding between a local and a second generation Balinese migrant after a minor traffic accident. More systematically, and more chillingly, the Ahmaddiyah sect has been the perennial target of ‘orthodox’ Mulsim violence for years now. The list goes on.

Soeharto’s years were marked with brutal repression. But every year since the downfall of Soeharto has brought with it a new set of tragic communal violence. So much so that some Indonesians have taken to nostalgia for the “good old days” of the New Order. There have been more and more calls for stricter law enforcement. Ex-vice president Jusuf Kalla arrived in Sumbawa this month and echoed these calls, urging local law enforcers to act firmly. But it is important to note this is the same man who on Oppenheimer’s camera emphasizes the need for thugs like Pemuda Pancasila as they are “able to do what the government cannot do”.

We Indonesians look on in horror and dismay at all these ongoing instances of mass madness, and we point to the substantive causes such as jealousy and ethnic rivalry. But what we don’t care to address publicly is the major contributing factor: we have tacitly come to accept human rights abuses as the implicit political price for unity and the rule of the mob as an ugly but ordinary part of life.

This is the legacy of 1965 and the New Order. Expedience and tyranny of the majority rules. Somehow in our collective subconscious we feel that we can get away with it: if we can’t get our way constitutionally then “just cut ‘em down”. General Soeharto, remained in office unchallenged for 32 years. Many still see him as a hero despite the unfettered corruption and human rights abuses that reigned during his rule. Finally forced from office, he remained unrepentant til his death.

(Ironically, given that thugs did most of his army’s dirty work in 1965, in an official biography Soeharto openly admitted to and justified the ordering of extra judicial killings of troublesome thugs in the 80s.)

Last year an otherwise reasonable cabinet minister who coordinates ‘politcal security’, Djoko Suyanto,  vehemently denied the Indonesian National Rights Commission declaration that 1965 was in fact a large scale human rights violation. Indonesian human rights advocate, lawyer Todung Mulia Lubis, pointed out to me that the minister in question has old ties to Islamic organizations whose paramilitary youth wings were heavily involved in the killings in East Java: “And now those youth have become influential elders”.

Though it will be impossible to bring all those who wrongfully slaughtered their fellow citizens in 1965 to trial, Indonesians need to acknowledge the wrong that was done in order to be able to move out of this vicious cycle of human rights abuse. If we admit the wrong and are henceforth accountable it would most certainly change our perspective. At the very least if the truth was aired we could start to forgive.


Originally published in the Huffington Post

It’s been a busy fortnight in Indonesian politics. The inhabitants of the capital Jakarta just voted in a new governor, Joko Widodo a.k.a. Jokowi, of the PDI-P party with the significant support of the upstart party Gerindra,  defeating the influential incumbent Democrat Fauzi Bowo a.k.a. Foke, who has his political roots in the still powerful Golkar party which in turn has it’s roots in the Suharto’s New Order era. Not only that: the new governor is the (soon to be ex) mayor of the central Javanese city of Solo with little experience in national politics. Most startling of all, his new deputy governor, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama a.k.a. Ahok, is of Chinese origin – a first in the ethnic tinderbox of modern Indonesian politics.

For sure the incumbent “Foke”, who is perceived to have achieved precious little during his tenure, basically shot himself in the foot with highly publicized multiple political gaffes. The upset marks something of a sea change in the dynamic of Indonesian democracy. Evidently Indonesian voters are voting according to their assessment of political performance rather than simply following party lines. Political parties now have to be much more careful about their image and what they actually stand for, rather than just the simple dynastic power and money alliances of the past. But political parties per se are obviously not to be discounted yet.

A case in point: shortly after the fast count clearly indicated Jokowi-Ahok victory, retired General Prabowo, a major player in the Gerindra party, boasted that Jokowi and Ahok owed their victory to him. Though everyone knows that Prabowo brought Ahok, a disillusioned Golkar member passed over by his own party, into the race, his bragging rankled the PDI-P rank and file. PDI-P stalwarts are miffed because their iconic leader, Megawati, got so little mileage out of the gubernatorial elections. PDI-P grumbling has in turn has alarmed the Gerindra leadership who are painfully aware that they need PDI-P’s support to achieve the 20% of the seats in parliament required to field a presidential candidate.

Prabowo is controversial at best. He has the dubious honor of being the first person to be denied entry into the United States under the provisions of the United Nations Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. (There is a dark irony here, after all Prabowo trained in counter terrorism at Fort Benning and Fort Bragg). Though ostensibly cleared by a military court of his human rights abuses during the New Order (though he was discharged from the army – this ex-son-in-law of Suharto was commander of the Kopassus special forces) many still insist he was behind the political ‘disappearances’ and torture of opposition activists in the days leading up to Suharto’s downfall.

Prabowo has been back from self-exile in Jordan for several years now, and has been staging something of a comeback into politics. He has his crosshairs firmly sighted on the Presidency in 2014. Though by some he may be perceived as the man with the guts it takes to clean up the rot and corruption in Indonesian politics, the still warm memory of his cold blooded transgressions are only stirred up by his braggadocio. Forgiving might be a virtue, but forgetting is stupid. And Indonesians are really not that stupid.

The renewed arrogance of this moneyed son of the elite may well have cost him not only the support of PDI-P – so much so that they probably will prefer to announce two-time loser Megawati yet again as their candidate – but possibly his own party’s eligibility to field a candidate at all. Gerindra recently announced the cancellation of their national convention later this month – during which it was supposed to have announced Prabowo’s candidacy.

Meanwhile Gerindra has filed a judicial review of the 2008 Presidential Election Law, which sets the 20% threshhold, on grounds of it being unconstitutional. But it is hard not to speculate that there must be some soul searching going on within party ranks as to whether this wild-card retired general is their ace or liability. His popularity might be on the rise (surveys in September by Saiful Mujani Research and Consulting indicate 19.1% would vote for him over Megawati’s 10.1%) but he still needs to get his party to the polls first. Though many Indonesian voters, in an earnest mood for getting the country back on track, may see him as their best bet amongst a field of questionable candidates and therefore are in a forgiving mode, Prabowo needs to remember that he needs the parties to forgive him as well. And as it is hard to forget his past, he probably needs to provide some truly convincing evidence of a change of heart before he gets another invite.