Mohamad Radytio - Indonesia
On October 20 2014 Indonesia elected a new President, Joko Widodo, who was regarded as humble and people friendly – a rarity in Indonesia’s political elites at the time - was elected with 53 % of total vote in beating ex- military strongman Lt.Gen (Rtd) Prabowo Subianto.
The new president started his term with a huge popular support; some even said it was the start of “New Indonesia”. His first 100 days filled with news of his humble presidency, starting from his minister of fishery who rode motorcycle with “commoners” to a series of “people’s cards”, a program in which people from low income class are enabled to receive universal health care and education subsidies. Criticism to his policies and programs from the opposition was generally deemed as resentment of the loser, and for about six months he had a “honeymoon period”, at least with the mainstream media.
But as the president celebrates his first year in power, critics have grown from his own support base. Recent survey from Saiful Mujani research center, an Indonesia’s reputable institution shown his popularity and approval has nosedived to around 40 % from the height of 70 % in the first few months. His secular-nationalist PDI-P started to criticize him even if at the surface they are firmly behind him. Rieke Diah, a PDI-P Member of Parliament on multiple occasions expressed her disappointment with his performance. Her main source of disappointment is the president’s decision to side with businessmen on minimum wage and contract labor issues, with his government ministers saying that raising and change those in line with labour confederation’s demands would hurt businesses.
Many of the president’s supporters say that some PDI-P members’ disappointment to him was merely because they are not given governmental position yet. But considering some events and records from his first year of presidency, there are solid grounds on why the president starts to receive in-and-outside of the camp criticism.
The President has backtracked from many of its economic pledges. His promise not to raise the price of fuel was contradicted less than six months of coming to power, receiving many protests, primarily because hike in fuel prices would have a domino effect to the economy. The land and forest fires were spreading to other territories instead of decreasing, resulting in dozens of dead and half a million people suffer from respiratory diseases. While the president keep his promises on the “people’s cards”, he has some problem regarding the rural villages fund. Both the Ministry of Interior and Ministry of Rural Development are involved in implicit struggle to taking control of the fund’s distribution. He also contradicts his economic pledges by asking for more loans, about US$ 4.2 Billion in total, from the World Bank and Asian Development Bank, not much before he used to criticize these lenders as colonialists.
Critics who said he is incapable to understand economic problems also had some ground, with his reshuffle of economic team in the cabinet barely 6 months after taking office. While the new people on his economic team are experienced economists such Darmin Nasution, the former deputy governor of Central Bank, they are formulating economic packages that in essence a capitalistic approach. For some, these seem as contradicting many of his campaign pledges. His promise that Indonesia-within one year- can achieve around 5-6 % growth were basically thrown by his new economic team, predicting within 2 years the economy could achieve 5,5 % growth, in a report that stroke above optimistic predictions.
To be fair, the president has reasons of why he contradicts many of his pledges. For example, although seems to be cruel, the president and his government make a point in siding with the businesses. This is because Indonesia’s advantage-among others- is cheap labour.
Conforming to the labour confederation’s demands could decrease this advantage; something the country could not afford in the period of global economic slowdown. The land and forest fires also a complex problem, the burden to tackle that should have been shared between the central and the provincial government. Political horse trading is not uncommon inside governments, no matter how promising the good governance pledges are. And, the global economic slowdown itself contributes to Indonesia’s economic slowdown.
If we were to analyze the cause of drop in his approval and popularity, there are many things. It would be way too long and complex. Indonesia is a diverse, strong country of 250 million people with 10 political parties passing the parliamentary threshold. But I choose to underline one problem, and that is communication.
Despite his power base’s clear disappointment- the president and his supporters create a protective bubble. They continuously mention economists who say the economy is on the track, no decrease in purchasing power; it is because of foreign conditions that forced him to contradict his pledges. These are helped to spread by mainstream media. While for those who can afford car and Smartphone the situation is indeed “okay”, those who are in the middle-to-lower layer of the society are feeling the impact.
Yet, instead of properly addressing the issue, his supporters put a defensive, sometimes offensive tones to critics; calling them ignorant. The government’s way of response to the critics and optimistic tones might have purpose to maintain people’s calm. But for some they see this as a government which is disconnected from the people. Many of the president’s supporters, including those who control large percentage of the mainstream media adding fire by opting offensive manners instead of calm and sincerity.
Bustanul Arifin, a Professor from Lampung State University highlights another example of government’s communication problem. “One of the important things is for the central government to improve its communications to the provincial governments and its people. If there is no harmonization, if there still no two way communication between central and regional governments, it would be difficult to consolidate the policies.”
This communication problem is burdening both the government and the opposition. It remained to be seen whether both the president and his supporters could formulated better ways to respond criticism and problems.
Lesson For Turkey
Turkey has just completed an election cycle. The Justice and Development Party (AKP) win back people trust, by increasing around 8 % to 49.4 % from June’s 40.8 % support level. This has enabled the party to regain ability to form single-party government. While different in system, with the President originated from the same political party, the current government in Turkey has similar level of power as a presidential system has, in addition that they don’t need to create a coalition with other parties to pass their agenda in parliament, at least in most of it.
There are some criticism also directed against the AK Party, some in realms of economy, such as dollar to lira parity and slowdown of economic growth. But while the opposition’s claim that the economic indicators do not show “excitement” to AK Party’s victory are exaggerated, it is true that ordinary people are experiencing some hardship. I’m not a Turk, but it doesn’t need to take to look into economic indicators to know that global economic slowdown and climate of ‘terror’ in Turkey would surely have its toll on the economy. The fact that opposition academics, figures and media are engaged in forms of deliberate misinformation should not justify AK Party supporters to repeat some of Mr. Widodo supporter’s mistake: offensive and disconnected responses.
AK Party and its supporters need to be honest to its people about the country’s economic condition. How long it would take to fulfill all promises the party made during the campaign, why and how the party’s economic programs would increase the GDP growth and living standard. And if at the end they couldn’t fulfill some of their pledges, they should be honest to people on why they couldn’t fulfill those. Any notion to conspiracy or foreign involvement should be complemented with data and facts; otherwise, some people could go to the extremes, regarding the party or the government as disconnected and irresponsible.
Do not consider opposition’s attacks as all but relevant events. There could be some truth inside their attacks. For example, despite it is true that foreign investors prefer Finance Minister Mehmet Simsek’s ways of handling the economy than the President’s unorthodox approaches, the Finance Minister- and to the large extent Ali Babacan, Erdem Basci and their supporters – do not need to give impression as if they are leading internal ‘crusades’ against the president and its supporters. Even in Indonesia, where Mr. Widodo need to create an unofficial coalition of five political parties that surely would create fractions, the periodical contradictions and miscommunications are giving bad impression to the people, not least it could be exploited by the opposition.
Indonesia has also needed to drawn some lesson from Turkey. After their decrease in support on june 7 elections, AK Party seems to understand people’s concerns. Many harsh responses, indeed, but AK Party people are not creating protective bubble. By doing meetings and public brainstorming throughout regions, the party has improved its communication skills. Instead of doing seminars that main attendants would be middle to upper income people, AK people descent to the middle of people, absorbing their concerns and aspirations. While they also periodically attack opponents, AK’s main tones are that they are received people’s messages, also explaining the changes that they would do if given chance to power. Mr. Widodo’s humility made him a good listener to ordinary people, with the president often goes to rural villages and factories, sit among labourers. But for the supporters and cadres on how to respond, they need to take some lesson from Turkey’ AK Party on how to deal with people’s disappointment.
While in Indonesia the president’s supporters have implicit conflict and contradiction that irked many people even in relatively stable condition, the AK Party shown strong resilience. The coherency of its people, shown in Abdullah Gul’s refusal to create a split within the party and the fact that there are few heavyweight such Bulent Arinc who are open to internal criticism to give a good example to the current Indonesian government on how to face a crisis. Critics are important, you shouldn’t accuse internal critics have resentment because they are not appointed to certain positions. But criticism doesn’t need to create impression of contradictions or create a clear split.
They also present a comprehensive and measurable pledge that corresponds with the need to have an atmosphere of security and stability. While the main opposition CHP giving lavish economic pledges and attack the AK Party’s programs and pledges as “not enough”, the AK Party refused to plunge themselves into heavy populists campaign. Through cadres such Mr. Davutoglu himself and minister Simsek, it calmly explain that they do not want to give ‘dreams’ to people, rather they would only pledge for attainable programmes. While Mr. Widodo’s reasons in creating his campaign programs are surely for the people’s happiness, it is at the some part influenced by heavy populism. Indeed, it can’t be black and white. Turkey and Indonesia are different. But if there is a same thing, it is that at the end people would ask and accumulate for the campaign promises. If you don’t want to have a nightmare, don’t give unattainable dreams.