In Election, Indonesia Watches U.S. Economic Policy

Indonesia is the world's most populous Muslim-majority nation. President Obama spent part of his youth living in the nation and residents cheered him in 2008. This election, with a focus on U.S. economic policy and its role in the region, they are watching the U.S. election campaign — and the fate of Obama — closely.

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ANTHONY KUHN, BYLINE: This is Anthony Kuhn in Indonesia, where many people cheered Barack Obama as the hometown candidate, in 2008. Barry Obama, as he was known to his schoolmates, lived in Jakarta from 1967 to 1971. By now, though, some of that warm, fuzzy feeling has worn off. And Indonesians are more focused on U.S. economic policy, and its role in Asia and the Middle East.

It's hard to find public expressions of interest in the U.S. election, in Jakarta, except in @america, the U.S. Embassy's high-tech cultural center, located in an upscale shopping mall.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOCK DEBATE)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Thank you, President Obama and Governor Romney. That concludes...

KUHN: The center recently held a mock presidential debate, with Indonesian college students representing the four main candidates. Carlos Situmeang channeled Mitt Romney with gusto, because he actually agrees with the candidate's views. He defends Romney's debate comment about collecting binders full of women; and he welcomes a more assertive U.S. posture in Asia, to prevent domination by China.

CARLOS SITUMEANG: I don't agree with their values. Maybe they're good at economics, but their human rights record - how they treat the Tibetan people, how they treat the Christian people - I don't like it. So I think that the world is much better if America dominates the world.

KUHN: An opposing view came, paradoxically, after the debate from the student who played Paul Ryan; a young man with the interesting name of Nixon Kumala. He said he's concerned about a Romney administration that might act aggressively towards China or Iran.

NIXON KUMALA: It will be pretty risky for America if they play aggressively toward Iran, and so I'm afraid that there will be some kind of war.

KUHN: Dewi Fortuna Anwar is a political adviser to Indonesia's vice president. She says that Mr. Obama is the first American leader with whom Indonesian people have felt any personal connection.

DEWI FORTUNA ANWAR: He is able to relate at the people - to people level, more than any other leader of the United States. But I don't think that anybody really expected that he would do things too differently from any other president.

KUHN: The U.S.'s Middle East policies in support for Israel, are always a tough sell in Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim-majority nation. But Anwar argues that President Obama's personal links to Indonesians have at least helped to mollify some of his critics.

Anthony Kuhn, NPR News, Jakarta.

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