For someone who claims to have been so mortally offended, Jakarta Governor Sutiyoso has been surprisingly upbeat.

The request that Sutiyoso testify at the Balibo inquest — and allegations that police used a master key to enter his Sydney hotel room — have been getting a lot of airplay in Indonesia.

But in spite of a protest outside the Australian Embassy in Jakarta, and the usual diplomatic outrage, this hasn’t been as poisonous an incident as many people might believe. For instance, media coverage here has placed the incident in context of the inquest into the killing of the five Australian newsmen.

And the incident has been good, free publicity for Sutiyoso. The retired army lieutenant-general is nearing the end of his second and final five-year term as Jakarta’s governor, and he has already signalled that he will be in the running for president at the next election in 2009.

While the attention over this incident will soon fade, it has given Sutiyoso a shot of national publicity while appealing to nationalist sentiments. This is significantly better than the attention he got back in February, when his administration came under criticism for its handling of the floods that covered up to 70% of the city.

Sutiyoso, with his background in Kopassus (military special forces) and his tenure as governor stretching back to the Soeharto era, would be a very establishment candidate for president. 

His reign over Jakarta has hardly been a model of enlightened, efficient government, to put it lightly. 

Indonesian politics, however, is highly personality driven, and publicity like this helps. Sutiyoso would almost certainly make an appalling president, completely unable to carry forward the reform process. But that wouldn’t necessarily stop him getting far in 2009. He may also get nowhere close — the election is a long way off.

Remember his name, though. You’ll probably hear it again.

Peter Fray

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