The Jakarta Post
I never thought I would ever say this, but I really miss the time when president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono was in office. I know this is an unpopular opinion, considering that his presidency is hardly memorable. For many people, his reign was filled with mediocrity, complacency and missed opportunities.
But regardless of what you think of “the thinking general”, President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo could still learn a thing or two from his predecessor.
President Jokowi, who is now facing a multitude of crises ranging from the raging land and forest fires in the deep jungles of Kalimantan and Sumatra to the raging student protests on the streets of Jakarta, could learn from SBY about how to listen to the people – and by people I mean all people, not just his aides and supporters.
Let’s be honest here. What I miss the most about SBY is that he did not have “fanboys” or any semblance of fanatic supporters. If you criticize him, nobody fires back at you, calling you “hater” or “Prabower” or “kampret” or “Taliban sympathizer”. SBY was not protected by an imaginary force bubble created by a group of digital “volunteers” who do nothing but praise and justify his actions and, worse, frame any legitimate criticism as a personal attack or even a plot to unseat him.
SBY, who rose to power before Twitter and Instagram or the “social media revolution”, did not have that luxury and it has served him well. It allowed him to listen to the people’s aspirations without the noise of his own “buzzers”.
It is crucial that Jokowi listens to his critics more than his loyalists. Moreover, it is essential that he listens to what the people, regardless of their political choices in the last election, say. For that is what democracy is – an endless process of checks and balances. It is more than just a race to get the most votes every five years.
Unlike SBY, Jokowi is overly confident about his popularity, as reflected by the way he handled the controversy surrounding the selection process for the new Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) leaders and the revision of the 2002 KPK Law.
He chose to ignore calls for a review of the selection process for the new KPK commissioners, paving the way for the election as KPK chairman of a police general who had been flagged as problematic from the get-go. Calls for the President to reject the legislative initiative to revise the 2002 KPK Law, which would weaken the commission, also fell on deaf ears, allowing the political parties to pass the revision bill within a week after the President sent a letter approving the start of deliberations.
His loyalists – online and offline – were quick to defend him, saying that the KPK had been infiltrated by “radicals” and “political actors” and therefore should be reformed. Presidential Chief of Staff Moeldoko even cited a Kompas daily survey saying that more people are “supportive” of a revision to the KPK law.
Jokowi just made his biggest blunder. Thousands of university students across the country hit the streets to prove Moeldoko wrong. The students, seen by many as a legitimate political force who are above partisan politics, were unanimously against the KPK Law revision and called on the President to revoke it.
I am not saying that popular opinion is always right or that an unpopular decision is inherently wrong. The KPK is not infallible and President Jokowi may have his own reasons for why the KPK needs to be reformed, but deliberately ignoring public aspirations regarding a highly controversial law revision and hoping that his loyalists would be able to somehow sway public opinion is politically reckless.
There is no guarantee the protests will stop anytime soon. The students are clearly demanding the President issue a presidential regulation in lieu of law (Perppu) to revoke the KPK Law revisions. Can Jokowi meet the demand?
In 2014, president SBY issued a Perppu to cancel the then newly passed Regional Election Law that reinstated the regional councils’ authority to elect governors, regents and mayors. The president made the decision following a wave of student protests against the law, which they considered a “democratic setback”. SBY listened and did what he thought he had to do: Save Indonesia’s democracy.
President Jokowi could do a similar thing. He could issue a Perppu to cancel the KPK Law revisions. However, before he does it, he needs to listen to what the people say. By giving the public a say in its deliberations, Jokowi and the House could produce a new KPK law that could be accepted by the public and, more importantly, would not be considered a legislative product that betrays the spirit of political reform.
I still believe that President Jokowi will be remembered for many things. He will leave more legacies than SBY could ever imagine. But if he fails to undo his mistake regarding the KPK Law, which has practically turned the commission into a toothless government body, he will always and only be remembered as the President who betrayed political reform by destroying the leading institution in the war on graft.
It’s not too late, Pak Jokowi. You can always look up to Pak SBY.