Empty promises and vanished hopes; How Jokowi is Losing his Base of Supporters

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Independent Observer

IO, Jakarta – A “leader” is synonymous with “credibility” and “trustworthiness”. In other words, a person’s words matching their deeds. However, if there is no consistency between words and actualities, it will become a problem. Within 4 years of Joko Widodo’s leadership, many policies have not been consistent. Furthermore, many of Jokowi-JK’s campaign promises turned out to be only unrealized rhetoric. To look back:  during the 2014 presidential campaign, Jokowi boasted that he would strive to halt imports. “We need to dare to stop food imports – stop rice imports, meat imports, soy imports, vegetable imports, fish im­ports. We actually have every­thing!” he stated at the time. 4 years later, after he has led Indonesia, Jokowi admits that the country’s biggest problem is that its imports are bigger than exports.

Another campaign promise Jokowi made was to free Indonesia from debt. “We need to use the State’s Budget efficiently and effectively. There is no need for us to get into debt,” he stated at City Hall in 2014. But now, the Ministry of Finance’s recently-published data on Government debt at the end of 2018 show that we owe Rp 4,418 trillion. The data shows that within 4 years Government Joko Widodo (Jokowi), Government debt increased Rp 1,809 trillion. The total of Jokowi Government’s debt within these 4 years is bigger than the entire debt increased over 10 years (2004-2014) of the Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (SBY) Government at Rp 1,309 trillion. Economist Faisal Basri even went so far to state that Government debt in President Jokowi’s era increased 69%.

Another interesting campaign promise is that Jokowi wanted ministers to be free from political party affiliation and to hold no double positions. Unfortunately, words only remained just that: words. In the event, President Joko Widodo allowed Airlangga Hartarto to double his position as Minister of Industry and General Chairman of the Functional Group (Golongan Karya – “Golkar”) Party. Jokowi made the excuse that the current cabinet’s tenure remains only one year, and therefore such a late change in the term. “We know that Pak Airlangga is inside, he is already a minister. Only one year left, we are simply being practi­cal. If we put somebody new in his place, it would take him or her six months to master things; if he or she is slow, it will take at least a year,” Jokowi stated after appointing new ministers and officials after the third cabinet reshuffle at the Presidential Palace on Wednesday, 17 January 2018.

During his campaigns, Jokowi said that he would not practice transactional politics if he became elected as President. There will be no more “distribution of seats”. “A great nation must be built together – but not by negotiating over minis­terial seats,” stated Jokowi on Monday 31 March 2014. However, when he appointed his ministers in 2014, in fact 15 of them originated from political parties. Even after cabinet reshuffle, there are still 16 ministers originating from political parties.

That was a low blow.

Another false hope is related to national car production. During his campaigns, Jokowi made use of public psychology to affect the people’s opinion. He boasted about how Esemka car will be a national car that Indonesia can be proud of. “How many years are we independent already? We have succeeded in build­ing our own plane, how come we can­not build our own car? Let’s just be logical here,” he said at the time.

Unfortunately, the promise remains just an empty promise. After 4 years in power and no Esemka in sight, Jokowi was asked about it. Here is his terse reply: “Well, we should leave to the industry whether they want to produce it or not, that is simply no longer our business. How come the president should make his own factory? Create his own Esemka car lines? Get real, what are you saying?” Jokowi said at the 2018 Trade Expo Indonesia at ICE BSD, South Tangerang, on Wednesday 24 October 2018.

Of his many campaign promises, one of Jokowi’s most extravagant promise is that Indonesia must buy back Indosat shares. This way, Indonesia can operate unmanned aircraft using Indonesia’s own satellite, and not lease time on other countries’ satellites. “In the future, there is only one key: we need to buy back, to take back Indosat shares,” Jokowi said in the Presidential Candidate at Holiday Inn Hotel, Kemayoran, Tanjung Priok, North Jakarta Utara, on Sunday 22 June 2014. He said that the sale and purchase agreement made during Megawati Soekarnoputri’s Government in 2002 contains a clause that the Indonesian Government can buy back the shares; it is just the Indonesian Government simply has not bought them yet. After that brief mention during the debate, Jokowi has never alluded to any plan to buy back Indosat again.

Campaign promises are not the only thing that remain unrealized. When he started to lead Indonesia back in 2015, Jokowi guaranteed that Indonesia’s economy will start to skyrocket. “We’ll start to rise slightly in Sep­tem­ber, October. Well, in November it will get to be like this (pointing high upwards),” Jokowi stated at Bogor Palace on Wednesday, 5 August 2015. Unfortunately, this is just wishful thinking on Jokowi’s part. Indonesia’s economy keeps on falling under his leadership, as indicated by the continued drop of the Rupiah exchange rate against the US dollar. In fact, the Rupiah went to the low level of Rp 15,233 per USD in October 2018.

Other than many unfulfilled promises and failed plans in leading Indonesia, Jokowi is also frequently inconsistent in his policy-making: the latest is his decision to release convicted terrorist brain Ustadz Abu Bakar Ba’asyir. He stated that the release was granted because of humanitarian reasons. A mere four days after the announcement was made, Jokowi cancelled this policy. “Well, this is a conditional release and we must satisfy those conditions. There is no need for me to break the conditions, don’t you agree? For example, loyalty to the NKRI, loyalty to Pancasila, that’s the absolute basic requirement. That’s absolutely principal,” stated Jokowi to journalists on Sunday, 22 January 2019.

For the Sake of Image-Building
Said Didu, former Secretary of the Minister of State-owned Enterprises (Badan Usaha Milik Negara – “BUMN”) concludes that President Jokowi acts as if it is the country and nation that need him, not Jokowi who needs the nation. Jokowi makes policies for the sake of image-building, so that when the public complains about them, he retracts. “For example, the policy of raising petroleum fuel prices was later retracted when the public criticized it. His main concern is his image, not how the country can be advanced with a good system and how the country will be developed in the future. The danger is that not a few of these image-building actions are based on dishonesty. For example, the Esemka car introduced by President Jokowi, I would say that’s a monumental lie. Many of his words are inconsistent, such as when he said he would not increase imports but in fact there has actually been a major increase of imports; he claimed he would not take on new debt, but it turns out that there is a major increase in foreign obligations. I think that his attitude as if the country, the nation, and the people need him, combined with his intent on image-building, without caring whether the image is based on truth or dishonesty, and this causes his inconsistency,” Said Didu stated.

Among President Jokowi’s inconsistent policy-making moves, the ones that affect the people most are policies relating to debt and imports. Debt is taken on for the sake of image-building. He does not care if it is economically feasible or not, as long as it props up his image. These image-building projects will burden future Governments. The Palembang LRT project, airport railway project, toll roads, Jakarta LRT, and the ships for the marine toll project are all extremely costly, and all funded by loans. The next Government will have to suffer from stagnant image-building projects, because these projects’ viability is completely ignored. What matters is that these projects are completed, no matter if they are hardly used by the people or if the costs are so high that it is impossible to repay the debts used to fund them.

Communications Pattern
President Jokowi communicates in such a way as if to show that it is not a problem if he was dishonest. He never corrects anything he says. For example, when he said that he would not get us into debt but he did anyway, he never explained about these debts and never corrected his statements. It is the same case with imports: he never explained why our imports are so high, and told his subordinate to explain it away instead. “This leadership pattern is the unwillingness to become accountable and responsible. This is a great danger for all countries, especially big countries such as Indonesia,” stated Said.

President Jokowi frequently makes an appearance in leather and canvas casual jackets, rides big bikes, and has many grand words that people can quote. These methods can only work once to get the people’s sympathy. If he does it repeatedly, the people will be aware of all lies, especially since there are digital tracks that use social media and digitally-published news. It is well-nigh impossible. “What benefit could he get by getting into ditches, for example? I think that is obsolete and dated,” Said stated.

Meanwhile, Acep Iwan Saidi, a Semiotics Expert from the Bandung Institute of Technology (Institut Teknologi Bandung – “ITB”) that Jokowi deliberately builds a significant communications pattern in his public communications. Basically, he requests the public to make their own individual and varied interpretations. This type of communications generates chaos from its multiple interpretation. Jokowi is fully aware that as many people would approve of him those who disapprove of him. He need only profit from this controversy. The base of his communications pattern has always been electability and popularity. When such communications are shared with the public, Jokowi is sure that he would be the center of narrative or discussion. This would only raise his popularity and electability.

“I think this communications pattern is established through image-building. This is done from the start using a conceptual image. For example, Pak Jokowi said that imports are closed off, this stuns them because they agree.

Another promise is that of mental revolution. This is an intriguing concept, as the public realizes that our problems are mentally-based and that we need to revolutionize our minds in order for our situation to change. This phrase amazed the public, but the public never really asked whether a mentality can really be revolutionized. That’s absolutely impossible because we all build our minds gradually, but it is a stunning turn of phrase nonetheless.

This is the same case of Indonesia being the world’s maritime axle or a marine toll road. These concepts are always found in narratives and discussions at both the intellectual level and public level. Again, it is bewitching, but it is in fact never realized. Instead of mental revolution, infrastructure is constructed. That is exactly the opposite. Many explanations from the Palace state that infrastructure construction is closely related to mental change. But in fact, infrastructure is a first priority. This means that a mental revolution is not really the main purpose, but only the impact. This is a conceptual image – only suitable for long-term issues such as mental revolution, but not for short-term necessities such as imports or debts. This is because people would quickly see whether policies in these direct necessities are consistent or not, unlike such long-term, generational plans such as mental revolution and the marine toll road,” Acep said.

The second basis of Jokowi’s communications is visual imaging. Jokowi plays on the visual image level. This visual image bends reality in the real world. In semiotics, we are being driven to enter the world of signs or images. We all know that he likes to ride big bikes, wear manly Dilan-style jackets. “Dilan” is the rebellious young man who is the main character of the youth novel series Dilan by Pidi Baiq. Dilan is most known for his macho image, especially when he said to his girlfriend, Milea, “Don’t miss me, that’s too hard. You won’t be able to handle it, let me do it.” It seems that Jokowi wants to set an image of himself as rebellious “Dilan” to Indonesia as “Milea”: “Leave everything to him”.

The third basis of his communications is a verbal image. “Pak Jokowi frequently stated strongly memorable terms such as tabok (to slap), genderuwo (spook). He plants verbal images in our minds. People are made to focus on these terms, while they are only stated in order to create images that they can talk about,” he said.

His fourth basis of communications is indirect image or echoing image. Jokowi frequently makes use of others to get people to talk about him. For example, Jokowi once approached Cak Imin (General Chairman of the National Awakening Party (Partai Kebangkitan Bangsa – “PKB”), Muhaimin Iskandar, ed.) in such a way that it seemed that he wanted Cak Imin to become his vice-president. Jokowi also approached and praised Golkar General Chairman Airlangga Hartarto; aspiring politician and son of former president Soesilo Bambang Yudhoyono, Agus Harimurti Yudhoyono (AHY); and many others.

The last basis of his communications is a material image. Infrastructure is a concrete thing, but there is image establishment behind it. If Jokowi focuses on mental revolution, that would only show abstract result of his 5 years in office. That is not something that he can sell for re-election in 2019. This construction is much vaunted, but it does not really support and develop our economy. For example, it takes one nearly Rp 600,000.00 to get to Jakarta from Surabaya using the new, direct toll road. This is too costly for ordinary truck drivers. They prefer to use the Java’s Northern Coast Road (Pantai Utara Jawa – “Pantura”) than the new toll road, because they only lose a few hours but save much money. When the Surabaya-Madura (Suramadu) connecting bridge was being constructed, it turned out that construction in Surabaya is faster than in Madura. This is a problem. The same goes for the Cipularang toll road. It did increase tourism in Bandung, but the economies around the Padalarang, Cianjur, and Sukabumi regions are not significantly affected. Infrastructure does not immediately resolve economic development issues.

In the cultural context, Jokowi’s policies carry a post-modernist paradigm that prioritizes image and celebrates the interval of distance, meaning that it is value-free. Good and bad values are mixed up and gray areas are built up. For example, there are many discussions on LGBT issues. This is a gray and complex issue. That makes people like to talk and argue about it, allowing Jokowi to skirt away from discussions of more substantial issues like education and economics. This is why many of Jokowi’s policies are favored by artists and culturalists. Not many of them criticize him like they did the presidents in the previous eras. In fact, they mostly support the Palace because Jokowi plays in their ground: the ground of images.

This love of gray areas extends even to Jokowi’s way of communicating. Iqbal Sultan, Political Communications Expert from Hasanuddin University, said that Jokowi tends to evade when he is found not to have mastered an issue during interviews. He would make an excuse to escape the questioning and leave it alone. This is not pleasant for the public. This is different from the style managed by the older politicians, such as during the Soeharto and SBY eras. The older politicians mastered the issue thoroughly before making any statement.

Finally, he noted that Jokowi favors “shock and awe” tactics to attract new generation voters. For example, he was suddenly set up to ride a big bike during the Asian Games. It must be admitted that his campaign team is amazing, because they know what the public in the millennial era want. However, when we look closely, there is an awkward dissonance because this is really not his characteristic and it is forced.

Policy Inconsistencies
Acep states that from a semiotic perspective, inconsistencies can generally be interpreted as the cracking or severing of a chain of logic. Therefore, inconsistency, whimsicality, and indecision stem from a messed-up, confused, puzzled thought pattern. Psychologically, this might signal schizophrenia or multiple-personality disorder, which in turn might be caused by a sense of insecurity because of multiple internal and external pressures.

Are Jokowi’s inconsistent policies also a representation of this situation? Acep says that it can be both yes and no. One thing for certain is that politics is a gray world full of uncertainties. Political policies in Indonesia tend to be the product of “thinking” and not “reasoning”. “Thinking” is an action that does not consider long-term impact, such as thinking about our daily actions. “Reasoning” includes all complexities and complications, making things as precise as possible. Current Government policies, as products, are mostly driven by momentary issues, such as those being widely discussed on social media.

What makes Jokowi’s policies so inconsistent? Acep notes three reasons: first, because of ignorance and inexperience. Second, the lack of substantial power. Third, the desire to quickly gain things such as popularity, electability, and power itself. “We can see how these three things are identifiable from Pak Jokowi’s policies. For example, the case of the release of Abu Bakar Ba’asyir. Pak Jokowi was clearly fishing for political electability. This is undeniable, because the person Pak Jokowi sent to meet up with Abu Bakar Ba’asyir was Yusril Ihza Mahendra, Pak Jokowi’s legal counsel for Presidential Candidacy issues. If Pak Jokowi sees the issue as a national issue, he would have sent a State Staff, such as the Minister of Justice or the Coordinating Minister of Politics, Law, and Security Affairs. The Palace really cannot escape the accusation that this is a political maneuver made simply to raise Pak Jokowi’s electability.

Secondly, I note the lack of knowledge and experience in detecting issues. The Palace should have made use of the State Intelligence Agency (Badan Intelijen Negara – “BIN”), which could have informed that a figure of Ba’asyir’s caliber would never be willing to sign a pact of loyalty to NKRI or Pancasila. This ignorance is so obvious it’s painful.

Third, the lack of substantial power. To put it bluntly, Pak Jokowi does not have power over what he has said. Australia or the USA must have intervened with this Ba’asyir issue, and Pak Jokowi does not have the power to refuse. He was defeated by the arguments made by his own men, maybe Pak Wiranto or other staff. The same thing occurs in relation with imports and debt issues – all three reasons also cause this type of retraction,” he said.

Jokowi is infamous for having made, and then later retracted, numerous controversial policies. Said Didu stated that because the basis of Jokowi’s policies is image-building, it never even occurs to him that his policies are inconsistent. People everywhere, especially for a leader that is not consistent. A person may become inconsistent for many reasons. First, they may not understand the issue they are facing. Second, they are just impudent and take risks. Third, because they want to build their image. Fourth, they do not want to be held accountable. Fifth, the person is basically dishonest.

Let us look again at samples of Jokowi’s inconsistent policies. One, many ministers hold double positions, while Jokowi promised the contrary. Yet he never explained or apologized. This means that Jokowi never feels any guilt when he betrays his own words. We suspect this is because of his great confidence in himself, of the people’s need for him.

President Jokowi said that he would release Abu Bakar Ba’asyir for humanitarian reasons, a statement first published by Yusril. Yet a few days later, after Wiranto said that he should not make a rash statement that would not be a good memory, he retracted. Because leaders are marked by our ability to rely on their words, we need to consider whether to vote a second time for a leader whose words are inconsistent.

Iqbal Sultan reminded us all that such inconsistencies are not the first time for Jokowi. During the 2014 Presidential Elections campaign, Jokowi said that he would fill the cabinet with professionals. This is a breakthrough that people hope for, and this moved them to vote for him. Later on, people also said that this might be the leader they all wanted and idolized, because he was favorably compared to SBY, a rather stiff man with a strong military background.

“So, I think the campaign team is very capable and has thorough planning, because Jokowi was not campaigned or promoted just as a presidential candidate. He was presented long before that. For example, during his candidacy in Solo, Jokowi suddenly showed up driving an Esemka. The media contributed greatly to his fame. There was much exposure about Esemka. Jokowi was profiled as a mayor who cares about the work of native sons. Later, when Jokowi offered himself for candidacy as Jakarta’s governor, he agreed to be partnered with Ahok. This was due to Presidential Candidate Prabowo’s strong support, because Megawati at the time disapproved of Jokowi partnering with Ahok.

Jokowi is presented as a simple man from a common family. He was shown to have social concern by using non-verbal cues, such as investigating sewers and making sudden inspections of marketplaces (blusukan). Jokowi’s back-up team was simply amazing. At the time, Jokowi kept his promise to the people as desired. When he was elected as Governor, he had a firm grip on the public’s heart as well as the media. This is a plus for Jokowi, as it became easier for him to market himself through the media and offer something that the Indonesian people have not tasted in a long time, such as the promise of skyrocketing economy, strengthening rupiah, and many others that are presented through his image as “Jokowi, the man of simplicity”.

It was only later that Jokowi’s supporters decided to cash in on their favors. They demanded their portions, and Jokowi must balance the interests from various political parties. Finally, Jokowi’s promises, such as streamlined cabinet mostly filled in by professionals and reducing party cadres, cannot be realized,” Iqbal said.

Committed Leader?
It would be very dangerous if the country is led by a man with insufficient understanding, doubtful words, and dishonesty to boot. He was built up to assume that the people forget easily. A large, multi-cultural, multi-ethnic country such as Indonesia needs consistent and honest leaders, those who have clear direction for the nation. “But we never know where Pak Jokowi is taking this nation. Jokowi does not have a clear-cut political attitude – he only embraces anyone who might be of use or benefit to him. Look at how Yusril finally returned to his side, and then there’s the issue of the release of Abu Bakar Ba’asyir, and also when he was attacked with religious-based issues. That’s when he selected his Vice-Presidential Candidate from among the ulema. That’s all for the sake of power and image-building.

He succeeded in becoming President in the 2014 Presidential Elections because of his image-building based on dishonesty. We must remember that the Esemka car was the monument of that initial lie that raises Jokowi’s image. As Pak Jokowi succeeded with his dishonest image-building, he continued with it. Policy inconsistency is not a legal violation, but it is a moral violation, and lying is the lowest kind morality,” Said Didu said.

Jokowi wants to serve for 2 terms, but he failed to fulfill many promises even in his first term. A man who makes dishonest promises would simply find it easy to make new promises that he doesn’t intend to keep. Don’t wonder if nowadays many people have been invited to make new promises. There will be new lies, which will be covered with even more lies. The country should be led by a person who has clear commitment to the future based on honesty. People can make mistakes but remain honest. Even though it’s dangerous, that is still correctable. People who make errors and lie to cover them: that is extremely dangerous to our future. “I think the people should see for themselves: so many lies were uttered, and he never admits that he lied. It would be much better for a person to admit that he lied in the past and regrets it, than if that person continues to lie yet never admits fault,” stated Said Didu.

Acep stated that our people or public are divided. Jokowi’s type of leaders is preferred by emotional and idealistic voters, not by pragmatic and critical voters. It has always been noted that our people forget easily, that they have a short memory. That is a sad fact, which is worsened by social media, which is oriented towards accelerating things. The important thing nowadays is not the process, but the purpose. It all depends on how the opposition would compete and win support from pragmatic people. “Jokowi is inconsistent, but dreamer citizens would not see that. They would only see the outer layers of development. Pak Jokowi’s inconsistent policies would later be discussed as political and intellectual narratives by thinkers. At grass root level, people might not care so much about it. We need to educate our more emotional brethren about it,” he said.

Jokowi is vulnerable in that his words frequently do not match his actions. Iqbal Sultan believes that a leader should really do what they promised. This is where Jokowi fails. It is quite possible that Jokowi himself does not want this, but it is pushed upon him by the many interests that swim around his circle. This is very significant, especially with his candidacy for a second term. He naturally would not be allowed to make decisions according to his own preferences and ideas. “We all see how Pak Mahfud M. D. has been led to believe that he would be Jokowi’s Vice-Presidential Candidate, but it is actually another man who got appointed. That means that Jokowi is weak in making decisions by himself, he relies too much on the people within his circle,” he said

 

Initial StatementVenue/EventLater Statement/FactsVenue/Event
We need to dare to stop food imports – stop rice imports, meat imports, soy imports, vegetable imports, fish im­ports. We actually have every­thing!Assakinah Meeting Hall, Cianjur, West Java (Wednesday 02/07/2014)Our country has a big problem: our imports are now bigger than our exports….Pulo Gadung, East Jakarta (Monday 03/12/2018)
We need to use the State’s Budget efficiently and effectively. There is no need for us to get into debt.DKI Jakarta City Hall (Wednesday 20/08/2014)Economist Faisal Basri  stated that the Government’s debt during President Jokowi’s era increased significantly at 69%, i.e. from Rp 2,605 trillion to Rp 4,416 trillion.

“In comparison with that of other countries, our loan-to-income ratio at 30% is quite small,” Jokowi respond­ed.

Media Statement (Monday 22/10/ 2018)
I personally prefer to have ministers who are free from political parties.

 

Jalan Situbondo, Menteng, South Jakarta (Saturday 09/08/ 2014)We know that Pak Airlangga is inside, he is already the ministers. Only one year left, we are simply being practi­cal. If we put somebody new in his place, it would take him or her six months to master things; if he or she is slow, it will take at least a year.State Palace (Wednesday 17/01/ 2018)
We’ll start to rise slightly in Sep­tem­ber, October. Well, in November it will get to be like this (pointing high upwards)Bogor Palace (05/08/2015)Rupiah weakened to Rp 15,233.00 per USD

 

News (Tuesday 09/10/2018)

 

How many years are we independent already? We have succeeded in build­ing our own plane, how come we can­not build our own car? Let’s just be logical here.Jakarta City Hall (Friday 19/09/2014)

 

Well, we should leave to the industry whether they want to produce it or not, that is simply no longer our business. How come the president should make his own factory? Create his own Esemka car lines? Get real, what are you saying?2018 Indonesia Trade Expo at ICE BSD, South Tangerang (Wednesday 24/10/2018).
A great nation must be built together – but not by negotiating over minis­terial seats.Media Statement (Monday 31/03/ 2014)There are 16 ministers originating from parties. 
In the future, there is only one key: we need to buy back, to take back Indosat shares.Holiday Inn Hotel Kemayoran, Tan­jung Priok, North Jakarta (Sunday 22/06/2014)Still unfulfilled until now. 

 

(Dessy Aipipidely, Ekawati)