The Jakarta Post
Indonesian weddings have always been grand displays of power and prestige, but perhaps none have made quite a splash like celebrities Atta Halilintar and Aurelia Hermansyah's wedding. (Kompas.com/dok. DES Iskandar Wedding)
Indonesian weddings have always been grand displays of power and prestige but perhaps none have made quite a splash like this. Wildly popular YouTube star Atta Halilintar held a lavish, nationally televised wedding party in the middle of the pandemic with his bride-to-be, singer and model Aurelia Hermansyah on April 3. Their guest of honor? President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, his former rival-turned-Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto, and a slew of House of Representatives members.
Dressed in a black suit, black peci and black mask, Jokowi sat with six other distinguished guests--including his wife, Iriana--while the newlyweds sat sheepishly by their side. Meanwhile, Prabowo sat at the other end of the table.
According to Atta, both attended at their invitation to act as witnesses to their wedding. “We want this happy moment to be witnessed by great figures in our country,” Atta said at a press conference at the Raffles hotel, Jakarta, on April 3.
“We want to show that we’re serious about our wedding. So my side of the family is represented by Mr. Jokowi, and Aurel’s side of the family is represented by Mr. Prabowo.”
The plaudits didn’t stop there. Aurel claimed that Prabowo cut a trip to Russia short to attend their wedding, and Atta’s family said House Speaker Bambang Soesatyo came as well as a representative of his family. While the two newlyweds basked in the spotlight, the internet and the political scene went into predictable overdrive.
A Series of Backlash
Popular writer and singer Fiersa Besari got the ball rolling when his personal Twitter account seemed to criticize Jokowi’s presence at the wedding, especially as the pandemic continued to rage and after the government formally banned the annual Idul Fitri mudik (exodus).
“This is a country of paradoxes,” Besari tweeted. “Mudik is banned but holiday destinations open together. The roads are closed, but traffic jams are everywhere. People aren’t allowed to hold wedding parties, but a celebrity’s wedding is personally attended by the country’s leader. What do I know, I’m just a nobody.”
Sensationally, former maritime affairs and fisheries minister Susi Pudjiastuti--herself very active on social media--replied to Besari, showering him with crying emojis before stating “sad to read your tweet”. As similar sentiments began to pour, many on the political spectrum began questioning the wisdom of Jokowi’s presence at the wedding.
For public health expert Irma Hidayana, Jokowi’s excursion to the wedding is “insensitive” at best and ignorant at worst. “We’re still in the middle of a public health emergency. There’s no urgency in going to the wedding,” Hidayana said. “His time would’ve been better spent visiting hospitals to check their readiness, or doing impromptu inspections at the Health Ministry to ensure that they’re ready to distribute the vaccine. There’s so many things on his bucket list.”
Others, including doctor and popular health influencer Dr. Tirta, questioned why the official account of the State Secretariat tweeted about Jokowi’s visit to the wedding. “Technically, Jokowi and anyone else is free to attend anyone’s wedding as a private citizen,” said Wisnu Prasetya Utomo, a media observer and lecturer at Gadjah Mada University.
“However, Jokowi blurred the lines between his private and public duties when the State Secretariat’s social media posted about his visit,” Wisnu continued. “If he’s there in his capacity as president, which means his visit is an official state visit, how important is his visit there, especially as we’re still dealing with the pandemic and natural disasters in Nusa Tenggara? If he’s there as a private citizen, why did official state accounts post his visit?”
Some have suggested that Jokowi’s visit was a way to curry favor with his young electorate. Atta Halilintar is one of Indonesia’s most popular YouTube stars, with over 27 million followers and an ubiquitous social media presence.
“From a political communications perspective, going to Atta’s wedding is a long-term investment,” Wisnu observed. “Their fans might view them favorably in the future. Within the framework of electoral politics, they’re all potential voters.”
If it was a way to bolster their faltering public image or increase their standing among young voters, some think Jokowi and his merry men failed miserably. “Their presence there worsened Jokowi and Prabowo’s public image,” opined Edbert Gani, a political scientist at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies. “There’s no significant political incentive to be had by being there, especially because Jokowi won’t be able to stand for a third term as president.”
Instead, it provided a boon for critics of his administration and a dampener for his supporters. “They see a continuation of Jokowi’s contradictive public communications during the pandemic,” Gani said. “If Jokowi can put aside his duties to go to somebody’s wedding in public, it means we can also do whatever we want. Whoever invited Jokowi and Prabowo failed to understand the public’s emotions.”
Atta and Aurel’s family, however, remained defiant. Aurel’s parents, Anang Hermansyah and Krisdayanti, were both popular singers who entered politics and became members of the House. Aurel’s mother, Krisdayanti, insisted on her YouTube account that people “shouldn’t overreact” to the President and Prabowo’s presence.
Meanwhile Anang Hermansyah, Aurel’s father, also took to social media to praise Jokowi and Prabowo for putting aside their differences as a symbolic gesture, noting that “building a household is the start to building a nation.”
But others think this message is misplaced at best. “Their symbolic gesture of unity and reconciliation between Jokowi and Prabowo is far from being the priority right now,” Gani said. “The government is telling people not to come back home after Ramadan and limit crowds. Coming to a lavish, public wedding is the opposite of this.”
“Jokowi’s gesture could end up stoking public skepticism about the pandemic,” Wisnu said. “For a year, people have had to sacrifice their weddings, or even had their wedding dispersed by security forces. Suddenly we see the President and high officials at a big wedding. What we see is one rule for the elite and celebrities, and another for the common people.”
“The message this sends to people is simple,” Hidayana said. “If you’re rich and close to power, you can do whatever you want.”
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