Commentary: Bubble burst: Jokowi's fans should become citizens again

Evi Mariani

The Jakarta Post


Jakarta   /  Thu, August 16, 2018  /  09:45 am

President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo (left) and running mate Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) chairman Ma'ruf Amin greet the media after registering their ticket for the 2019 presidential election on Friday at the General Elections Commission (KPU).(Antara/Hafidz Mubarak A)

Haters will hate, but I hope fan boys and girls will not keep fawning over a politician when he shows us he is no longer what we thought he was. 

Supporters of President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, who have been inflating his achievements and dismissing his mistakes for the past four years, should begin to see him the way citizens should regard their president: with an unemotional, critical attitude. 

Support the good policies and criticize the bad ones. And clearly, his choice of running mate is something to criticize. 

Several analyses provide explanations about why he chose Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) supreme leader and Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) chairman Ma’ruf Amin as the vice-presidential candidate. While some of us can perhaps understand his choice and see it as an inevitable political strategy to win the election, we should not fool ourselves and spin tales about him doing it for the good of the country.

Jokowi’s supporters see him as a beacon of pluralism, and many hope he will champion human rights. But by choosing Ma’ruf as his running mate, willingly or “forced”, beacon he is no more. There are public records on Ma’ruf’s statements cornering minorities, and Human Rights Watch also said Ma’ruf had a role in several MUI fatwas that violated minority rights.

Democracy is all about a space for citizens to balance the power of those in the palace. Lately, that space has been shrinking, not because of the President himself, but because of the supporters who act more like fan boys and girls of celebrities.

I remember in 2009, my best friend and I met after the presidential election and made small talk about our choice. We chose different candidates and our conversation about the election lasted about only three minutes. Then we continued with our meals and talked about other things more important in our lives. 

My larger circle of friends also did not fight about their choices when we met. 

Granted, the social media scene nine years ago was not as robust as it is now, but at that time political “buzzers” did not steer our opinions, so we regarded the presidential election and the president as just one part of democracy.  

Before 2014, criticizing the president was a common enough activity, and no one would accuse critics of giving ammunition to his rivals to undermine his power. Back then, we were cool citizens. 

Those good old days are over. However, now that Jokowi’s supporters’ bubble has been burst, I am optimistic we can go back to being citizens.

Democracy requires a lot of work from all citizens. Voting for a “good” president once every five years and letting him do his job once elected while we, as citizens, sit and make uneducated comments on our social media accounts to keep him in power, no matter what, cannot be counted as contributing to democracy.

Citizens in a democratic country should see anyone in power as a target of scrutiny, not because it is fun but because it is necessary to keep the balance. To do that, we need to detach ourselves from the figure. 

It seems many forget this and instead align themselves with the battle of the elites while framing it as a war of “good vs. evil”. This perspective has fractured civil society, and instead of being solid in keeping the balance of power, civil society members spend much energy on infighting.

I knew a lot of friends who called themselves “1998 activists” or those who wanted to end the authoritarian regime in 1998, who attacked other friends that criticized Jokowi. Usually, after that, an emotional debate ensues and sometimes it ends, along with the friendship.

Citizens can of course vote for Jokowi and support his policies. What I have seen in the past four years, however, borders on worship and blind devotion, which is why I use the term fans. 

The presidential election is still eight months away. Many things can happen. One thing should be the change from emotional fans to cool citizens. Come April 17 next year, whether you go to polling booths or not, choose Jokowi or not — whatever your choice is, being a cool citizen is a must.