Where’s the mental revolution?
“Morality, like art, means drawing a line someplace.”
Oscar Wilde, Irish poet and playwright
“The presidency is not merely an administrative office. That is the least part of it. It is preeminently a place of moral leadership.”
– Franklin D. Roosevelt, U.S. President
IO – One of Jokowi’s most daring propositions as a presidential candidate in 2014 was to call for a radical change in how Indonesia’s politicians went about serving their country, or, as Jokowi described it, the need for a “mental revolution”. He most eloquently elaborated on this in an op-ed published by Kompas, a national daily newspaper, in which he wrote, “Some traditions or cultures that flourished during the repressive era of the New Order still remain, such as corruption, intolerance of differences, greed, selfishness, the tendency to use force to settle matters, law violations and opportunism.”
Jokowi realized, much to his credit, the rot of corruption could not be solved simply through the use of law enforcement agencies. Jokowi the candidate wrote, “Despite all the action and hard work of the KPK in prosecuting embezzlers, graft practices remain to this day, and even have a tendency to spread.” And more pointedly, Jokowi proposed in his op-ed “we need to fix how we recruit political players, who must rely more upon their skills and track records rather than their money and closeness to decisionmakers.”
More than four years later, we agree there is an urgent need for a mental revolution—but Jokowi’s campaign promise, his soaring rhetoric about making a radical departure from New Order-style politics, has proven to be empty.
In many instances, the president has allowed, through acts of omission and commission, for undemocratic laws to be passed and dirty politics to persist. And even where his presidential powers of administration have been limited and prevented him from taking action, Jokowi has utterly failed in one critical aspect of any presidency: to use his office as a means of providing moral clarity and leadership.
Examples abound. In 2017, when Setya Novanto—then-chairman of Golkar and speaker of the House of Representatives—was indicted and later found guilty of embezzlement in the infamous e-KTP scandal, the president not only remained silent, he also did not make a plea for the judiciary to pursue other high-level politicians largely suspected of being involved in the same scandal. If the president were serious about his “mental revolution”, that would have been the perfect time to take an impassioned, principled stance against corruption within his ruling coalition. He did not.
In another, and more recent instance, there has been a deafening silence from the president’s office (yet again) in the wake of news involving (yet again) a Golkar politician who admitted to taking bribery money related to a major power station project in the province of Riau. [Another suspect in the case is Golkar politician Idrus Marham, who served as social affairs minister under the Jokowi administration]. Former Golkar legislator Eni Saragih, a suspect in the graft case and who returned part of the bribe money to the KPK last week, publicly admitted some of the illicit funds were channeled to finance her party’s extraordinary congress to elect a new chairman after the departure of Setya Novanto.
In other words, there is now reasonable cause to believe the proceeds in a bribery case (allegedly involving a Jokowi cabinet member) were used in some form in a party congress to replace a Golkar chairman (Jokowi’s coalition partner) found guilty of embezzlement—the same party, coincidentally, that was the ruling party of the New Order.
His track record speaks volumes: Jokowi, a self-styled ‘reformist’, has proven since coming to office he values political expediency above all else, even that which is morally right, and by doing so he has abandoned his campaign vow to overhaul Indonesia’s politics—corruption, opportunism and greed, all the unsavory qualities of our political past, are still present. And, equally if not more importantly, Jokowi has failed to utilize his moral authority as president, to berate those who acted in a manner that damages his administration’s legitimacy and has made a mockery of the president’s pledge for change.
As we enter the presidential campaign, an interesting question remains: will Jokowi, once again, use a reformist platform in his bid for a second term in office? Jokowi should know, as the electorate surely does, that reform is not a slogan: if the president knows the political parties that support him are corrupt, but he is unwilling to speak out and closes an eye, he is no longer part of the solution. In the final analysis he is, by definition, part of the problem.