Jokowi Is Not Taking Indonesia Backwards (Opinion Piece)

After a few days of circulating social media, this article titled 'Is Jokowi Taking Indonesia Backwards' reached me, instantly spurring curiosity, as I imagine it did for many people. The current consensus that Indonesia this year has somewhat shot itself in the foot is shared by many.

However, upon reading it, I found that it was riddled with strong, biased opinions with a lack of acknowledgement for Indonesian society and the way politics works in general. I feared it would put the wrong ideas into many peoples' minds. It thus lead me to write a rebuttal of my own, not so much to defend the president, but rather to deconstruct the arguments put forward in the article and hopefully help to undo the damage it has done. 

Article submitted by Erik Sitompul

Let me lay down the flaws based on the author's own subtitles (issues):

Freedom of speech under attack

The author says that Jokowi is out to remove freedom of speech from the country, he uses the example of 2 journalists being jailed to prove his point. However, the issue in this case was that really, they had no working visas and by law the maximum sentence one may be subject to for working without a visa is 5 years in jail and a fine of IDR 500 million (worst case scenario). This was an immigration problem, not one of freedom of speech. 

Secondly, his point that Jokowi is trying to make it harder for media to criticize the president is only partially true. Yes, 3 draft bills have been put forward to criminalize defamation of the president (the irony), which Jokowi was said to have supported. Upon closer inspection at the Jakarta Post article he links us to, the article also mentions that Jokowi was "personally not a big fan" of the bills, adding "I have said I have been mocked and scorned since I was a Surakarta mayor, a Jakarta governor and now President. I am used to it". Does this really sound like a man out to criminalize defamation?

Over racism and xenophobia

The article begins with "Under Jokowi, Indonesian nationalism no longer means being proud of the nation’s achievements. It means being racist, xenophobic and blaming foreigners for everything that goes wrong." This statement is over-emotional and grossly lacking in evidence. It falsely suggests that Indonesia has entered an apartheid-like age, where "foreigners" (a term already loaded with negativity) are far from welcome. The very proof against this statement is all around us. Do tourists and expatriates feel threatened by the people of Indonesia? The answer is an easy no. There is no separation between the 'emotional climate' of government-based decisions (e.g. difficult work permits) and what real life in Indonesia is like. 

Clearly the author is not Indonesian and may feel strongly about working visa changes, a frustration many expats are enduring, but this should be balanced on the fact that many expatriates do have good lives here. And even though working visas are harder to come by, Indonesia has opened its gates to tourists ("foreigners") from over 45 countries this year, by allowing visa free travel in Indonesia. A racist and xenophobic country" does not do this.

Using death penalty as a TV show

In this section, the author snidely comments that the execution of the Bali 9 was "obvious racism". This not only over-simplifies a truly complex situation, it also completely denies the fact these men had indeed committed a crime, which they were provenly found guilty for. What's more, the author completely ignores the fact that 2 of those executed were Indonesian. 

The final sentence said "[the executions] also exposed to the whole world the failures of the Indonesian justice system, its corruption, its incoherences and its incompetence". Unfortunately for the author, the truth is that the fact the Indonesian government did go ahead with the death penalty showed that Indonesia's justice system could not be swayed, pushed by international pressure or paid off by bribes. Sadly, these men had been convicted of a crime that is sentenced with the death penalty and - whether it is right not - this is what the result was. [note: I am not commenting on death penalty here, simply that the government went through with the executions, in line with the current laws of the country].

For Jokowi to call off the death penalty would have meant his complete disregard for the current laws of the country, which alone has its many complicated outcomes that must be considered. 

Destruction of the anti-graft agency

The article claims that Jokowi, in light of the police vs KPK (anti-graft agency) issue early 2015, was the reason behind the KPK being "destroyed". It is true that the president lacked resolve and strength during a time when the people needed him. It has resulted in the KPK being left on thin ice to this day (read Jakarta Post article about it here).

Nevertheless, to ignore the fact that there are more factors at play here would be naive. Beyond even the power of the police, the pressures of his own political party (as well as many others), and the entrenchment of corruption from within the government that has decades of history - he has one of the most populated and culturally diverse electorates in the world to answer to. To assume Jokowi has adefinitive say on all matters political, is a complete misunderstanding of the role of a president within a democracy. Remember, he is not a dictator. 

Undoubtedly, a fully-functioning and funded KPK would go a long way in weeding out the more dishonest elements of Indonesian politics. But the lack of an effective anti-graft commission is proof of a system of government struggling for political maturity than evidence against it's elected head.

Flirting with sharia

This section discusses Islamic laws beginning to be applied to everyone in the country, suggesting that the government is flirting with sharia. Again, the title of the article focuses on Jokowi bringing Indonesia backwards, whilst this section of the article has no mention of the president. It is in fact an issue the country seems to be facing, but the article crudely frames the issue as if the president is the one to blame. 

For example, the proposed law of banning alcohol nationwide (around April 2015) was set out by two small Islamic political parties, which has been attempted a few times in the years before President Jokowi. The bill was brought to parliament, gained popularity from Islamic-based parties but tourism, trade and alcohol based business obviously rejected it. The bill did not pass. It was labelled "excessive" by Jokowi's Economics Minister, Sofyan Djalil, who added "if we want to attract tourists to Indonesia, the availability of alcoholic beverages is a must". That doesn't sound like sharia to me. 

President Jokowi was very little involved in the matter, and the suggestions of two smaller, Islamic-based parties (who are simply doing what they believe is right) must not be turned into a slam against the president. Democracy is multi-faceted and has many opinions that are put forward. Indeed, being the president of the 4th largest country in the world is going to bring a plethora of arguments and problems to his table. Not only is the proposed alcohol ban a minuscule issue, it concluded in favour of the writers wishes! A Jokowi win, dear readers?

The main issues with the article

The article covers other issues too, such as the rupiah hitting all time low, economic growth being low, poor relationships with neighbouring countries. Its biggest flaw is this over-focus on the president. Jokowi cannot really be blamed for every issue the country is facing or has faced this year, like he is some all seeing, all knowing Illuminati figure. The author gives off the impression that Indonesia is not run as a democracy. As if Jokowi was Suharto. 

No. Bills, laws, national decisions must all go through parliament and from what we know, the president gets little support from his very own party and party leader!

Nonetheless, the general issues brought forward by the author are important; Indonesia is facing problems and needless to say, these have resulted in a poorer economy this year. Perhaps it has even lead to a slightly demoralized, or frustrated population. And there's no denying that Jokowi has not lived up to the ridiculously huge expectations that was heaped upon him - like electing him would solve all of Indonesia's ills... Seriously? 

For these problems, Jokowi cannot be solely blamed. It's foolish to suggest so. Indeed, by heaping all of Indonesia's problems on one man's understandable inability to solve them, not only do we make understanding them more unclear, but resolving them all the more difficult.

So what is the actual problem?

Difficult politics: The very complex nature of Indonesian politics (perhaps of politics in general). The Indonesian government is a lion's den of corruption, collusion and nepotism, but worst of all it is home to old alliances from a darker, historical past. Who is friends with who makes a huge difference. A challenge that even the president faces, let alone other players, is finding out who to piss of the least. 

Poor Decision Makers: Sadly, Indonesia is filled to the brim with know-it-all politicians who make decisions that are based on (a) making them look good or (b) somehow benefitting them financially. Many are stuck in the past and are closed to the 21st century way of thinking. 

Governmental decisions are decentralized: With a country as large and spread out as ours, it would be difficult to fully centralize every small decision. For that reason, Indonesia has opted for decision making to be decentralized and thus many regulations or decisions are out of reach, or perhaps even out of view, for the top-player in politics. This leaves many small time, and usually less-qualified, leaders to make local decisions. 

Nevertheless, to finish I would like to use a quote the author of the 100bars article used in his argument that President Jokowi is attacking freedom of speech:- 

"Currently there are tendencies that people feel they are ultimately free to behave and voice their opinions as they like. This is less productive when the media only pursues ratings instead of guiding the public to be virtuous and have a productive work culture.” - President Joko Widodo.

Funnily enough, the 100bars article makes me agree with the President. With outlandish and farfetched comments such as "Jokowi killed any hopes that a better system is possible in Indonesia", I can understand where Jokowi is coming from. Articles that defame Indonesia's most famous political figure under the thin guise of political commentary, in order to get a poorly constructed article circulated, are more than just unhelpful. They are dishonest. 

Rather than simply fostering negativity and a feeling of hopelessness what we really need in order to ensure a brighter future is positivity. So let's spread the word and keep fighting for this country, let's do our best to support a guy [President Jokowi] that clearly loves this country.

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