All colours make yellow in Indonesia poll

When a group of teenage Indonesian boys, carrying big sticks and wearing green T-shirts with yellow stars, peers into the your taxi and starts trying to climb onto its roof, several reactions spring to mind. The first is to drive off as quickly as possible - but you can't do this because the road is blocked on all sides by similarly equipped youths.

Your second thought is to find a policeman - but they are in little evidence, having been heavily stoned a while back. Instead, relax and follow the example of your taxi driver: lean forward, and make a complicated finger gesture with your fingers and thumbs. Instantly, the lads climb off the roof, the crowd parts, and everyone smiles and cheers.

Five days before polling, Indonesia's election campaign came to an official end yesterday, marked in Jakarta by a final round of stone throwing and tyre burning on the part of demonstrators, and tear gas firing by the police. But the atmosphere in Jakarta yesterday had more in common with the build up to a tense Cup Tie between Celtic and Rangers than a general election.

On paper at least, Indonesia's election is very straightforward. There are only three parties, each one licensed and organised by the government. There is a similarly restricted choice of candidates and, when polling takes place next Thursday, the result is in absolutely no doubt: 32 years after he came to power as a young general, the Golkar party of President Suharto will win another handsome majority. But for all the restrictions facing them, Indonesians have managed to create a rich political iconography, complete with colours, symbols, songs, arcane hand gestures, and accompanying merchandise.

Yesterday's troubles focused on the greens - the adherents of the United Development Party (PPP), which draws its support from Indonesia's majority Muslim population. There were green kites in the air, green banners fluttering from the lamp posts, and green T-shirted gangs parading through the streets banging green-painted oil drums with goatskins stretched across them.

The PPP appears first on the ballot papers, so its hand symbol is the single raised thumb. Several of this week's numerous fights have occurred when thumbs have met V-signs, the symbol of the yellows - President Suharto's Golkar. For the third group, the Indonesian Democratic Party (colour: red, symbol: bull), things are even more complicated - after a split last year, the PDI now has two factions, each of which has its own sign.

Even the forces of order have their own colours - prominent on the streets of Jakarta yesterday were men in black boiler suits, carrying automatic rifles, whose pink berets identified them as Indonesian Marines.

Indonesia's leaders like to refer to the election as a "Carnival of Democracy", as if acknowledging that the result counts for much less than the performance. Recently a new colour has entered the political palette - white, the colour of abstention, propagated by those who see it as the way of registering a protest at the unfairness of the system. For all the atmospherics of the campaign,Indonesians know that having flown the kite and bought the T-shirt, nothing is going to change.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Photographer / Floorplanner / Domestic Energy Assessor

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Photographer/ Floor planner /...

Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - Surrey - £40,000

£30000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - Guildford/Craw...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Assistant

£13500 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Customer Service Assistant is...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £35,000

£16000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An ambitious and motivated Sale...

Day In a Page

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence