At Obama's Indonesian school, there's no doubt he'll be elected

McClatchy NewspapersAugust 27, 2008 

WORLD NEWS INDONESIA 4 MCT

The inner courtyard of the Menteng 01 school in Jakarta is where Barack Obama spent 3rd and 4th grades. Obama-mania has broken out in Jakarta.

WARREN P. STROBEL — Warren P. Strobel / MCT

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JAKARTA, Indonesia — One of the better-selling books on the U.S. presidential race at the modern, multilevel Gramedia bookstore in Jakarta is "Jangan Bunuh Obama!," or "Don't Kill Obama!" As the title indicates, many Indonesians fear that an assassin's bullet or some other plot could stop him from reaching the White House.

The fact that there's another candidate in the race named John McCain barely seems to register.

It can't be said that Obama-mania has broken out in the bustling Indonesian capital of some 14 million, where the Democratic candidate spent a three-year interlude as a boy. But there's excitement in many quarters, including the school he attended and among his former classmates.

Obama came to Jakarta in 1967 after his mother remarried, to an Indonesian college student named Lolo Soetoro. Obama spent third and fourth grades at the Besuki School, a public primary school along a leafy, narrow street in the city's diplomatic quarter.

The teachers and principals from 40 years ago are all gone, the school has been renamed Menteng 01 and it has a high academic reputation. On the eve of Obama's acceptance of the Democratic nomination, it was glad to be known as the school that "Barry" attended.

Menteng 01 has never been an Islamic madrassa, as some of Obama's political enemies have insinuated. School officials and a former classmate said that religion was a subject of academic study, but not indoctrination.

"We are very proud of finding that one of our graduates became No. 1 in (a) superpower country," said Vice Principal Solikhin, who like many Indonesians uses only one name. "We all believe he will win the election."

Solikhin's bright mood dimmed as he mentioned the news that three men, one with hunting rifles and ammunition, had been arrested not far from the Democratic National Convention in Denver. A federal prosecutor said they posed no direct threat to Obama.

On the campaign trail, Obama hasn't emphasized his years in Jakarta, and by some accounts it wasn't a particularly happy time in his life.

In fact, his fans here may have a case of unrequited love.

Widiyanto, who also uses one name, said he sat next to the chubby kid he knew as Barry Soetoro in third grade. He mused that an Obama victory in November might lead to a visit to Indonesia by a President Obama. "But will he still remember us or not?"

Now the successful owner of a cable manufacturing business, Widiyanto said that when Obama became a U.S. senator, he and fellow classmates did some research to confirm that Barack Obama was Barry Soetero. Six months ago, they sent him a picture of the young Obama among his classmates. They received a supply of photos — from Obama's secretary.

Widiyanto plans to go to a party Friday — Jakarta time is 13 hours ahead of Denver — to watch Obama accept the nomination.

He remembers the kid who made a good target in stickball games because he was too chubby to run fast, who was an ace at drawing superheroes such as Batman and Spiderman and who liked to annoy girls, or get their attention, by poking them in the arm with a sharpened pencil.

No conversation about Obama lasts long without getting around to the subject of skin color and the simple fact that Obama, like Indonesians, isn't white.

Gillyan Carol was leafing through a copy of "Jangan Bunuh Obama!," one of more than a half-dozen Obama titles for sale at Gramedia. She wasn't going to buy the book because of the price, but she was curious about its subject.

"I'm interested in his personality. He's humble, simple, like ordinary people," she said. "I'm sure he will win. . . . This is the time for the colored people to lead."

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