IO, Jakarta – “Blunder”. This term is frequently used in sports, especially for soccer. However, what does it means if it occurs in the world of politics? What is a “blunder” anyway? To put it briefly, it is a serious and/or embarrassing mistake caused by foolishness, carelessness, or neglect. The phrase “national blunder” perfectly captures the several incidents that occurred within the past week caused by a mayor, ministers, and a Party Chairman who supports President Jokowi.
The first blunder was made by Minister of Communication and Information Technology (Komunikasi dan Informatika – “Kominfo”) Rudiantara in the Kominfo Next event at Senayan’s Basketball Hall, Jakarta, Thursday, 31 January 2019. At the event, Rudiantara requested his staff to select 2019 Presidential Elections stickers. The stickers came in two designs, and the more popular one will be displayed at the Kominfo Office. Rudiantara stated that the selection of the sticker is not related to the Presidential Elections.
Rudiantara then called two staff members. One of the staff members, a woman wearing a hijab, selected Sticker number 2. Rudiantara asked her why she selected that number, and she replied, “Maybe it’s just something that I believe in, Pak. I just believe in the Vision and Mission expressed by the Number 2 Candidates, that’s all,” she said. Rudiantara seemed amazed, because he was asking about the stickers’ design, not the woman’s choice of presidents. Right after he requested the two staff to return to their seats, Rudiantara continued apropos of nothing, “Ma’am, Ma’am, who’s paying your salary now? The Government or who? Not the one you believe in? That’s it, thank you,” he said.
The second blunder occurred when Minister of Youth and Sports (Menteri Pemuda dan Olahraga – “Menpora”) Imam Nahrawi revoked the re-imposition of the mass singing of the Indonesia Raya anthem before the start of films in cinemas. The circular was issued on Wednesday, 30 January 2019, with the intent to reinforce a sense of nationalism and love of the Motherland among the youth. However, the directive was rescinded within two days, because it apparently generated many negative responses.
The third blunder garnered a lot of public attention. On Friday, 1 February 2019, the General Chairman of the United Development Party (Partai Persatuan Pembangunan – “PPP”) Romahurmuziy (Romi) was part of President Joko Widodo’s entourage for a visit to Al Anwar Pesantren in Sarang, Rembang, Central Java. At the end of the meeting, Mbah Moen recited a prayer that Prabowo Subianto becomes elected as President, while Jokowi was actually sitting on his left side. When the prayer was concluded, Romi approached Mbah Moen and requested that the prayer be corrected. The video of the mistaken prayer immediately went viral as a trending topic in Indonesia.
Finally, a major blunder was made by Hendrar Prihadi. The Mayor of Semarang requested that the people not use toll roads if they do not support Joko Widodo-Ma’ruf Amin in the 2019 Presidential Elections. He made the statement when he attended a Jokowi social gathering with the brotherhood of Central Java entrepreneurs in Semarang Town Square, Semarang, on Saturday (2 February 2019). “Has anyone here ever used the new toll roads?” he asked. He further stated that the new toll roads as transportation facilities have greatly added to travel convenience, and that they exist because of Jokowi’s hard work within the past four years. Therefore, people who do not support Jokowi must not use the toll roads built by the Government. “Tell your friends and relatives out there. If they’re not supporting Jokowi, don’t use the toll roads,” he said.
Digging His Own Grave
According to Political Observer Arbi Sanit’s analysis, Jokowi actually has had many opportunities to raise his popularity, but he has ruined them himself because of lack of peace of mind. Everyone is invested in winning and afraid of losing. They lose their cool and become depressed all because of their own ambition. Look at how silly the Minister of Kominfo was. “I think the people in position in Jokowi’s Government fear losing even more than Jokowi. It’s quite understandable for them to want to be reappointed, which makes them afraid that Jokowi’s loss would mean their consequent loss of power too,” Arbi said.
Arbi further stated that that Minister of Kominfo showed excessive panic. His words showed anger and lack of reason. After all, the one paying the wages of the State’s Civil Apparatus (Aparatur Sipil Negara – “ASN”) is not the Government. The Government only distributes wages, but it is the State that pays it out of the State Budget. “The Minister is highly educated, but how come he said such a thing to his own staff? “Who pays your salary” indeed! The Minister pushed himself into a rage because the event was badly designed and caused interpretations, as if the event was made for the Election. This looks bad for him as a Government official, especially since one of his staff actually dared to say in public that she is voting for Presidential Candidate Number 02,” he said.
The blunder regarding the issuance and immediate revoke of Menpora’s circular concerning the singing of the national anthem, the Indonesia Raya (“Great Indonesia”), before films start in cinemas, reveals the drunkenness of power. “I think the Minister, who originates from NU (Nahdlatul Ulama – Ulemas’ Revival) wanted to show Jokowi that NU has succeeded in upholding the spirit of nationalism. Therefore, Jokowi would later re-appoint him as the Menpora again. However, that pathetic attempt has failed. Even though it is a small problem, it is a principal one. For what purpose are you asking people to sing Indonesia Raya when they are going to watch a movie? The national anthem is reserved to be sung in serious and solemn occasions! People go to the cinema to entertain themselves; that is not something that must be acknowledged respectfully. A lot of things no longer make sense nowadays,” Arbi commented.
The Mayor of Semarang stated that people who do not support Jokowi must not use the toll roads. It brings up the question, “Are the toll roads Jokowi’s personal property then?” This is nonsense.
Mbah Moen mentioned Prabowo’s name because it has been in his mind for some time, as he is quite close with Prabowo. It’s funny how PPP Chairman Romahurmuziy insisted Mbah Moen to correct his prayer. “What you pray for is what you pray for, how can a prayer be corrected? More and more members of the public have lost their respect for Jokowi because his helpers say nonsense things, do nonsense things, and have nonsense to show for their work,” Arbi said.
Meanwhile, Maneger Nasution, Director of Muhammadiyah University Prof. Dr. HAMKA’s Human Rights Study and Education Center, Jakarta said that public officials must be really aware that they are really the servants of all citizens. They should not act as if they know all and can do everything, but they must also be able to feel what the public feels. They must prioritize their common sense and not panic. Menkominfo’s statement in particular is highly distressing: a public official should understand that it is the people who pay their salaries, and that all public servants are also free in their choice of whom to vote, even if it is unwise to mention such a preference publicly. As for the Menpora circular, that unfortunate incident was caused by his lack of sufficiently deep vision and literacy as a public official. All policies must be completely based on research conducted for their suitability before the policy is issued. The fact that Mbah Moen prays for Prabowo to become the President when Jokowi is present? Well that is rather awkward, but the contents of all prayers are the right of all citizens. Everyone may and should pray the way that our hearts lead us.
The message sent by these public officials is that they lack breadth in their vision, that they are unaware of human rights. This is a political year: no matter what happens, there will always be various perceptions of it. Even when you do or say something good, there will always be people who consider it to be nothing but “image-building”. All blunders made will ruthlessly cut into one’s social capital. One of the Government’s constitutional obligations is to ensure that such things are not repeated in the future. “I am really concerned that more and more people will not vote in the 2019 Elections. This is a detriment to our democracy. I suspect this blunder occurs because of lack of literacy. After all, if it were deliberate, that would be a kind of ‘suicide’ – that is ‘digging one’s own political grave’,” Maneger observed.
Support and Subjectivity
Pipin Hanapiah, a lecturer in Government Affairs at the Faculty of Social and Political Sciences of Padjajaran University, said that the many blunders made by the mayor, ministers, and even the Chairman of a Party that supports President Joko Widodo’s government occurred because these people think of their status not as statesmen, not as leaders for everyone, but as a celebrity who will continue to support the incumbent. Their mindset is more towards that of a politician, not as a leader who is responsible for all citizens whom they are leading. No matter what their status or position, no matter how “honored” anyone is as an official or figure, they would absolutely become subjective and emotional, and they would commit idiotic blunders when they take sides. This is a political and governmental reality that applies to anyone in any country.
There are many possible causes for such blunders. First, because they failed to properly prepare alternative solutions for a policy. Second, because they underestimate the situation they are facing. Third, lack of vision. Fourth, because their experience and knowledge are sub-standard. Fifth, because they automatically counter anyone who is not part of their “in-group”.
Menkominfo’s blunder was out of place and too pointed. “The Minister seemed disappointed because the hope and optimism that he had in his mindset long before the event was held did not come true, so that he panicked and asked an unnecessary question. This happened because of insufficient preparation that did not anticipate this possibility. It is a good thing that the lady he asked was wise. What if she had told him the truth as she knows it, “I am paid by the State using money from the taxes collected from the people and from foreign debt”? The Minister would have been totally humiliated for his blunder” Pipin said firmly.
Kemenpora’s intent was actually good for strengthening Indonesia’s nationalism. The blunder is the fact that it was revoked. Why? The policy was issued rashly. It seemed to be rushing to be issued before the deadline of 17 April 2019. This shouldn’t have happened if the policy design were pre-tested publicly, information about it were disseminated, and the people’s responses were recorded for revision as necessary. “To me, a good policy meant for the good of the State and nation should just continue; there should be no retractions made based on a mere controversy among the people,” Pipin said.
The statement made by the Mayor of Semarang gave rise to the question: “When did the toll roads become Jokowi’s personal property?” Toll roads do not belong to any president whatsoever – they are the State’s property. “The Mayor may have forgotten that both the State Budget and Regional Budget come from taxes paid out by the people and from foreign debts. Whether toll road users are going to support the incumbent or not, that’s irrelevant and foolish. The people are now information-conscious and become more egalitarian in their political attitude. This kind of opinion will only hurt the Mayor himself, because he did not act within his capacity as mayor but as a politician from the Democratic Party of Struggle, Jokowi’s party,” Pipin said.
Mbah Moen’s prayer that Prabowo becomes President seems to have come from his heart, as it was uttered even when Jokowi was present. Everyone present, even Pak Jokowi, said “amen” as courtesy demands when a person utters a public prayer. “I find Rommy’s action to be rude towards Mbah Moen as a senior citizen and religious leader, and shamelessly ingratiating towards Pak Jokowi. It was such a shame and humiliation. He could have let it go as it was, because the truth can only be discovered in its own time,” Pipin said.
Syahrul Hidayat, Political Observer from the University of Indonesia, said that the blunders made by ministers, mayors, or even the ulema are not important in a campaign. Both the campaign team and the supporters are trapped in issues that are not related to the context of the campaign.
Do this sort of blunders cause any reactions? Smart people with wide-ranging vision would probably get even more distanced from politics and lose even more enthusiasm for the 2019 Elections. Such petty statements create great brouhaha, but nobody mentioned this, let alone discuss essential things. Many of our politicians are not yet mature enough in how to respond to things, hot to act, how to support their cause and issue wise statements. They tend to do things simply to get attention and push their preferred candidate, which in the end turns to be a blunder. This might cause great antipathy among voters.
Bad Understanding of Political Communications
Suko Widodo, Political Observer from Airlangga University, concludes that many of the people who support Jokowi in this political year have bad understanding of political communications. They tend to force their will on others, which they never should do. This is clearly exemplified by the Menkominfo, the Menpora, the party chairman, and the mayor. These leaders do not understand how the public feels. For example, Mbah Moen’s prayer should have been recited in a private space, as prayer is a private activity. Again, this shows bad political communications management. “Such blundering statements make the public question the quality of Jokowi’s agencies and reduce voters’ sympathy. It especially affects swing voters, reigniting their doubts about electing, they revise their opinions of Jokowi. More and more people have become swing voters in consequence. Inaccurate communications would not satisfy the public’s expectations,” Suko said.
Pipin said that the message given by the series of blunders is that Jokowi’s supporting team are panicky, emotional, and immature in their political perception in this political year. Such messages can be perceived if the text and context of all statements are not checked, rechecked, and cross-checked with anyone competent. This is most detrimental for State or Government official politicians, who should have standard protocols for this kind of things second nature to them by now.
If the blunders continue to occur even more massively, it would naturally humiliate Presidential Candidate Pair Number 01 and reduce their electability. But if such blunders are gone, and if Presidential Candidate Pair 02 make blunders too, the votes would naturally go up again. Normally, in any democratic country, incumbents are given more advantages due to various factors. Successful incumbents are almost certainly going to get re-elected, and failed incumbents are not going to get re-elected.
Therefore, Pipin thinks that the President as the incumbent should talk less, smile more, greet people more, and be more present as the leader of the State and nation. The President should allow competent, sympathetic, and well-informed spokesmen to speak for him. Let the ministers, governors, mayors, regents, and general chairmen of his supporting parties do the maneuvering. “If they should make erroneous political communications and public policies, then let the incumbent President apologize to the people and straighten things up. The Government should not do any unnecessary busywork, especially on sensitive issues that may cause polemics among the people,” she said.
Arbi said that being surrounded by supporters that tend to make blunders like this would make Jokowi lose public trust, and consequently, his electability in the 2019 Presidential Elections. This is because people would think poorly of this kind of minister, and conclude that this is the reason why Jokowi’s Government has less than satisfactory performance (e.g. economic growth rate below that of SBY Government).
This series of blunders shows their fear of losing in the 2019 Presidential Elections. Jokowi’s local campaign team must work hard to correct the damage caused by the blunders. Many blundering statements will only increase the number of non-voters, especially among swing voters. Swing voters may increase because are disappointed in Jokowi. The difference is that swing voters with strong principles (usually from the middle- to upper-classes) would choose not to vote, while disappointed voters from low economic strata would change sides.
Meanwhile, Syahrul believes that such blundering statements were made because the politicians have not reached the level of understanding that during campaigns nearing the elections, the best route to take is to strengthen the ideas behind the policies, to properly calculate the effects and consequences of such policies. “I worry that these blundering statements would actually reduce the number of citizens who want to appreciate the experience of politics – they would lose their enjoyment. They would instead find politics uninteresting, and might even decide to not vote when the day comes. Swing voters will wait at the last minutes and make short-term moves. For example, according to surveys, votes for Prabowo-Hatta as Presidential Candidate Pair increased within the 1-2 final months nearing the 2014 Elections. I suggest that the Government attempt to make politics more attractive and help the candidates by pitting their ideas against one another,” he said. (Dessy Aipipidely, Ekawati)