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Commentary: Of horses, motorcycles and rivalry between men

  • Kurniawan Hari
    Kurniawan Hari

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta | Fri, April 13, 2018 | 09:37 am
Commentary: Of horses, motorcycles and rivalry between men President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo made headlines early this week for his visit to Citarik village in the West Java regency of Sukabumi. Jokowi packaged his visit in an unusual manner: he rode a customized 350 cc Royal Enfield motorcycle, while dozens of his aides flanked him, also on motorbikes. (Antara/Puspa Perwitasari)

President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo made headlines early this week for his visit to Citarik village in the West Java regency of Sukabumi. It was not the trip, during which he inspected a cash-for-work project as part of the government’s poverty alleviation program, that grabbed the public’s interest but the way he toured the village.

Jokowi packaged his visit in an unusual manner: he rode a customized 350 cc Royal Enfield motorcycle, while dozens of his aides flanked him, also on motorbikes.

As if to show his biker identity, Jokowi donned a denim jacket and black sneakers, instead of his typically rolled-up long-sleeved white shirt. Riding in front of the motorcade, he looked like the head of a motorcycle gang in some American movie.

Nope, Jokowi does not match Marlon Brando, who in the iconic flick The Wild One, rode a 1950 Triumph 6T Thunderbird, or perhaps James Dean, who in Rebel Without A Cause was fond of Royal Enfield 500 cc vertical twin. Jokowi does not even embody Dilan, the main character in the recent hit local movieDilan 1990, who rode a Honda CB100.

Jokowi is simply too skinny and looks unfit for motorcycle riding. Nevertheless, he was successful in sending the message to the public, particularly young people. He must have noticed that about 40 percent of voters in the 2019 elections are aged below 40.

He showed the people that as a leader, he is open and accessible to all. During his ride in Sukabumi, a bare-chested young man ran after the motorcade just to greet him. In fact, on most of his work trips, Jokowi does not distance himself from the crowd, which means extra work for his security detail.

While signaling that he is the man of the people, which is crucial in his bid for a second term in office next year, Jokowi turned to the motorcycle perhaps to show the public that he is an ideal Javanese man.

In Javanese tradition, a man will never be a man until he owns five things in life: wisma, wanita, turangga, kukila and curiga, which are house, woman, ride, pet and weapon, respectively. 

A wisma is not just a structure, but a place to start a life and return. It is also a place to build a family. Wanita is the source of life and happiness, which is why a man without a woman is half complete.

Literally, turangga means horse, but in general it refers to vehicle, which can be a motorcycle or a car. In a broader context, it can also mean knowledge that helps a man excel. 

Kukila is a Sanskrit word for bird, which is a source of entertainment for Javanese men. However, today, entertainment can come from anything, which for Jokowi can be the croak of frogs in a pond or the bleating of lambs, which he occasionally feeds.

Last but not least, curiga is translated as weapon, although it can also mean caution and awareness to defend one’s self. Like other politicians, Jokowi has an animal instinct to defend himself. His adversaries may see him as plonga-plongo (indecisive), but the last few years have shown that the former furniture businessman has fully grasped the concept of survival of the fittest.

As the incumbent, he has resources at his disposal to hold on to power. He, for example, enjoys the privilege of going anywhere he wants and receiving nation-wide publicity to keep his popularity high.

His choice of a motorcycle trip to Sukabumi should be understood in the political rivalry context. His potential contender, Prabowo Subianto, who recently accepted his party nomination to run for presidency next year, is widely known as a good equestrian and therefore should fulfill the ideal feature of a Javanese man.

In October 2016, Prabowo invited Jokowi to his ranch in Hambalang, West Java. The two, who fought in the 2014 election, were photographed on horseback. While Prabowo looked confident, Jokowi appeared to be uneasy.

“The horse is big and I am lightweight. So, the horse appears happy,” Jokowi told the media who covered the “reconciliatory” meeting at the time.

Jokowi today has grown far stronger and more prepared than he was in 2014. So far, he has won support from five political parties: the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), the Golkar Party, the NasDem Party, the Hanura Party and the United Development Party (PPP). Prabowo, on the other hand, has been nominated by his own party, Gerindra. The Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) has pledged support, but has not officially nominated him.

Jokowi is also leading in most opinion polls. The Indo Barometer survey in late January, for instance, found that Jokowi’s support base stood at 48.8 percent, Prabowo stood at 22.3 percent, while 28.9 percent remained undecided.

Jokowi may be lightweight physically and perhaps horses know it, but as a politician he is a heavyweight, at least for Prabowo, a former Army general who is seeking revenge next year. 

Let’s wait for a showdown between a great equestrian and a lightweight biker.

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