In a country where the ruling party is riven by infighting, where the police vie -- at times violently -- with the military, where the president and vice president barely speak to one another, something rare happened today.
On the eve of a national day of mourning for the nearly 200 victims of last month's bomb blasts here, the government got on message.
Some of President Megawati Sukarnoputri's closest associates, including her husband, schmoozed and lobbied foreign journalists, flown in on a special military flight from Jakarta, to convince them that Indonesia has fully joined the international war on terrorism. The government is sincere, they said, about stopping a "radical minority" from "hijacking the peaceful majority of Muslims" in this country of 220 million.
The effort, including a subsequent news conference, marked a clear break with the denials and mixed signals from the government over the past year about the extent of the terrorist threat in the country and Jakarta's will to combat it.
The public relations blitz was choreographed to a degree the White House would recognize. On the flight to Bali, reporters were invited, singly or in pairs, to the center cabin, where they cloistered with the president's husband and key political strategist, Tawfiq Kiemas. Upon landing, the entourage was taken to a hotel on Bali's famous Kuta Beach. Reporters again were summoned, individually, to Kiemas's third-floor suite with a view of the waves to make sure the message was hitting home.
The media outing came as the government gathered in preparation for a major ceremony here Friday that is meant to cleanse the negative spirits that many Indonesians believe linger after the massive bombing on Oct. 12 in the heart of Bali's nightclub district.
Kiemas opened this evening's news conference with praise for Maj. Gen. I Made Pastika, who is leading the international investigation into the blasts and has made progress in the past week with the arrest of a key suspect and the identification of several others. Pastika then gave a color, computerized presentation detailing how investigators collected evidence to build their case "from the ground up" and cooperated with international forensic teams in a professional and open manner. At the news conference, 20 officials, some in batik shirts, others in polo shirts, were arrayed before reporters and television cameras. A moderate Muslim leader, Alwi Shihab, chairman of the Muslim-based National Awakening Party, was there to lend support.
"This is almost like a united front," said a smiling Rizal Mallarangeng, an informal adviser to Megawati and Kiemas, after the news conference. "We realized that one of our weaknesses was that we needed to explain ourselves more. This is only a first attempt. This is an effort to convince the world that we are really doing this as best as we can."
Foreign governments have been skeptical about Megawati's commitment to tackling Islamic militancy in the world's most populous Muslim country. And now, with the Bali bombing, foreign investors have been spooked, casting new doubt on Indonesia's ability to restore its economy after the 1997 Asian financial crisis.
The display of unity also was aimed at a domestic audience. Megawati's approval ratings have been slipping. The president, who has said very little publicly since last month's attack, has been criticized variously for failing to reach out to moderate Muslims and for kowtowing to U.S. pressure to go after home-grown militants.
By way of explanation, Kiemas, the man who knows Megawati best, said she "is moving step by step in her own way. If she is not careful, she could unleash some radical forces." He said that if the president speaks out and is misinterpreted, it could backfire and wind up "radicalizing moderate Muslims."
Tonight, for the first time, government officials made a concerted effort to show they know where they stand.
"We will never allow our country to be the second front of the Taliban," said Laksamana Sukardi, the minister of state-owned enterprises and Megawati's close friend and adviser.
His words were echoed by other officials.
One journalist wanted to know the government's response to Australian outrage over images, televised Wednesday, of Indonesian police laughing and joking with the chief suspect in custody, an Indonesian motorcycle mechanic named Amrozi.
"Even if he is a terrorist, he must be treated as a human being," Pastika said. "We, of course, are concerned about the victims and their families. But especially now, Amrozi is a Muslim and he is fasting, so we have to respect his customs. If the Indonesian people see that Amrozi was not treated as a human being, there would be a big reaction."
Sukardi appealed to foreign countries not to issue travel warnings in the wake of the Bali blasts, arguing that to do so would be to "reward" the terrorists "seeking to undermine this legitimate government." He rattled off positive economic factors -- a stable rupiah, tamed inflation, restructured debt -- that he hoped would serve as an antidote to worried investors. He hammered at the theme of Indonesia as a moderate Muslim nation. "We are a country that has been terrorized," he said. "We are far from a terrorist country."