“There are so many reasons to despise Howard,” declared The Jakarta Post yesterday in an editorial that left no one guessing about how Indonesia’s most prominent media group would be voting — if it could — in next week’s Australian election.

In the way of the Javanese, the editorial skirted round the issue, throwing a little praise at Howard while undermining both him and the Coalition.

The very next line in the editorial gave Howard credit for his support of Indonesia in its fight against terrorism and there was acknowledgement of the Australian Government’s generosity in the wake of the tsunami, but overall the tenor was something like this; If Howard goes it won’t be a day too soon. What’s more, we’re glad Kevin Rudd is here to foster a stronger ongoing relationship between our two nations.

Howard was described as an “old friend of Indonesia,” but more importantly the paper then asked “Perhaps we need Rudd as a new friend. Who knows – maybe we can build a better future with a new friend?”

And in case there was any doubt: “It is understandable then that many Indonesians hope the Labor Party’s Kevin Rudd will take out Australia’s election next week.”

The Jakarta Post is the English language masthead of the mighty Kompas Gramedia Group, surely the most prestigious and influential media company in the country and the one noted for its measured coverage of politics.

For example, Kompas, the country’s largest selling daily, had a remarkably even-handed piece this week, setting out Australian political issues from an Indonesian perspective. Writer Ikrar Nusa Bakti wondered whether Howard would suffer the same fate as other leaders of the “Coalition of the Willing” by losing the election. He only went as far as describing Howard as “licin bagai belut,” which translates as “tricky”, although given the measured tone of the rest of the article it was probably just meant as “hard to catch” – which could almost be a compliment.

Rudd is seen as “more pro-Asia” and not surprisingly his fluency in Mandarin impresses the commentators. On this point there may even be some envy. After all, Indonesia is the country that repressed the speaking of Chinese languages for two generations and lost its competitive edge as a Sino trading partner as a result.

Many Indonesians do care about Australian politics. As The Jakarta Post observed the relationship between our two countries “is often described as one of love and hate – with both sides unable to get rid of each other.” But in a surprising admission the paper also addressed one of the major points of difference between us:

Indonesians often feel irritated with the Australian Government. But this country needs to realise that whoever wins the Nov 24 general election, Australia will likely give more respect to Indonesia only once the republic can prove it deserves the respect it demands.

But before we get too self assured, there was this charming little line as well:

We accuse Australia of being arrogant in its dealings with Indonesia. But do we ever try to find out why Australians are arrogant?

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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