This year, three of the world's largest democracies are holding national elections — vast polls spread over several days and thousands of miles of territory, involving more than a billion voters. Two of these elections have attracted intense media coverage, or will. India's national elections, which took place in May, swept out of office the long-ruling Congress Party and handed government of a rising economic and political power to the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party. Brazil's elections, which will be held in October, are coming on the heels of the World Cup, one of several high-profile events that have marked the country's emergence as the second giant of the Americas.
The third election, Indonesia's presidential vote on July 9, has been mostly ignored by the international media, even though Indonesia, with a population of about 250 million, ranks as the fourth-largest country in the world, as well as the biggest economy in Southeast Asia.
In "Indonesia Etc.: Exploring the Improbable Nation," Elizabeth Pisani, a journalist, epidemiologist and on-and-off resident of Indonesia, readily acknowledges the archipelago's feeble presence on the global stage; her friends back in London look at her quizzically when she mentions the country. Though she had flirted with Indonesia for decades, she finally tires of the world's ignorance and chooses to take a break from work to travel the islands, offering a primer and a quick history lesson on this awakening powerhouse.