Indonesia: A Blaming Nation


This happened again. The police arrested one of the leaders of the anti-graft body. The President seemed helplessly requested the police not to make any controversial moves, as they have already done in the near past. The request seemed went to deaf ears. The public outcry was directed to the President, blaming him too weak to sit on the position.

It is a huge contrast to the enormous support the Indonesian public has shown to Joko Widodo, a.k.a Jokowi, during the presidential election, less than a year back. He was duped as “Indonesian Obama”, “a new hope”, “someone from us”. Unlike other predecessors or other president candidates, he does not come from political elites or military family, nor does he lead any political party. His uniqueness as an “outsider”, a “working class and really working” governor, has produced an unprecedented euphoria among Indonesian public. Suddenly, people from the elites to the roadside vendors, from Chinese-ethnic merchants to Papuan mothers, from his fanatical supporters to his dire opponents, talk about only one name—his name: Jokowi.

But during Jokowi’s first months as Indonesian president, the high hopes started to crush. The public survey shows the public support has decreased. Back in the days of presidential election, you see much of netizens voices fighting hard to defend him from any defamation from the opponents, and the atmosphere was like wars between two groups of fanatics. But if you see from Indonesian internet forum nowadays, the voices are getting more homogenous: blaming the President.

Jokowi is indeed a fresh face in Indonesian politics, with fresh moves and policies which appealed to the young Indonesian democracy. But, like what happened with Obama, the public expectation to him was too high, and thus, as usual, high hopes brought severe disappointment.


I am not defending Jokowi’s move in the case between police and the anti-graft body. But I think Indonesian public should remember that it was due to Jokowi’s uniqueness that he grabbed public attention and finally won the president’s seat, but it was also this very uniqueness of being “political outsider” caused the current political situation and called for the public’s disappointment.

Jokowi came from a commoner family, living from one slum to another slum on the river banks of Solo. Through years of hard work and painful failures, he then became a successful furniture businessman. He never involved in practical politics before he became the candidate of the mayor of Solo, when he attracted a slight of sceptic attention of the Indonesian Democratic Party in Struggle (PDIP). The party then became his vehicle to be the mayor of Solo, the governor of Jakarta, and then the president of Indonesia. But the vehicle is never his own. It is “owned” by the leader, the daughter of the first president, Megawati Soekarnoputri.

Megawati then wanted a man of her favorite to be the chief of Indonesian police, but the anti-graft body (KPK) suspected the man possessed questionable wealth. The police took avenge by arresting two of the KPK leaders. The Indonesian politics descended to mumble-jumble. The Indonesian public loves the KPK too much as it is seen almost the only clean body they can rely their future to, and then condemned the President’s slow and careful move in defending KPK, suspecting him as the puppet of Megawati and even accusing him supporting the corrupt police.

Jokowi actually has taken a “win-win” move by not appointing Budi Gunawan as the chief of Indonesian police. But then, the police appointed Budi Gunawan as the deputy of chief of the police (this is out of the President’s control). Just weeks after that, another arrest of the third KPK leader by the police happened. And again, the public outcry is directed to Jokowi, not towards police nor PDIP. The public don’t really care that the President has lost his party’s support due to his move to defend KPK, and don’t really care that the President—a total outsider without enough political power support at his back—needs to be really careful in maintaining balances of powers.

Blaming the president seemed has deep ingrained in this nation’s psyche. I was raised during the Suharto’s New Order regime, and we were taught in schools to blame the failures of Sukarno’s Old Order regime (the name “Old Order” was given by Suharto). After Suharto fell down, we entered the Reform era, and we started to blame Suharto for his corrupt regime. But we never really thankful of being a new democracy, blaming Habibie for the loss of East Timor, blaming Abdurrahman Wahid for his physical blindness and eccentric mind to say that the Parliament was a bunch of kindergarten kids, blaming Megawati for selling the national assets.

Then came Susilo, whom we blamed for his excessive spare time to produce music albums, for his overly-repeated “I am concerned” sentences, for his corrupt political party and for his absence of actions to make the country seemingly moved in an “auto-pilot” mode. Then started the longing for Suharto, for his iron-fist rule to bring the country to enjoy prosperity during the New Order. Yes, during this democratic era, the draconian New Order has become a beautiful bed of roses, an illusion of a life where all things were cheap and all Indonesians were rich and happy. This is especially among the young Indonesians who never experienced the era.

Now during Jokowi’s first few months, even Susilo’s regime already sounds perfect. You rarely hear any negative voice anymore directed towards Susilo—unlike one year back. Some people even started to develop illusion that Susilo’s time was the best.


In London, I met Elizabeth Pisani, an American journalist who had worked in Indonesia for almost a decade, had traveled extensively from island to island for the whole one year, and wrote a fabulous travel book on Indonesia: Indonesia, Etc. She said that during his trip in Indonesia that one year, she only saw three (yes, three!) Indonesians reading books. “Why do you think is that?” she asked me.

As an Indonesian, I could not help but pointing my fingers to Suharto. “He, with his New Order style of education, killed our critical thinking mind…”

“Why Indonesians always put the blame to Suharto?” she cut my sentence, “Why not Sukarno? He also did evil things like Suharto.”

And why the blaming? I think there is something totally wrong in our way of thinking. Maybe because we don’t read books, so we are unable to maintain the habit of critical thinking. Maybe it’s due to our laziness that we don’t really ask for ‘why’. Maybe it’s due to our passiveness that we always wait for a “satria piningit” (the ‘Hidden Warrior’), our Messiah, to come down from the sky to change our fate. Maybe it’s due to our egocentric mind, that we always need a scapegoat to blame for all of our sufferings and failures.

The unrealistic hope towards Jokowi was similar to the craving of the arrival of a superhero who will change Indonesia overnight. But it’s impossible. The problems of this country is so deep-rooted, that whoever you put in the president’s seat would have similar result, or even worse. And whoever you put there is a ready-made scapegoat for your blames.

I believe, what kind of people will get what kind of government. The current president who often says “It’s not my business” is a reflection of his people, a blaming nation. The corrupt police body is a reflection of the people, who loves to find shortcut for everything and tolerant to giving bribes. The greedy politicians are reflection of the very people, who are similarly greedy and ignorant, so they may elect those politicians as their representatives in the parliament.

When Jokowi talks about “Mental Revolution” to change this nation, I believe that “revolution” is overly pessimistic word choice to be used to this country. “Evolution” is more realistic. And let’s hope it’s not going to be a “Degradation”.

About Agustinus Wibowo

Agustinus is an Indonesian travel writer and travel photographer. Agustinus started a “Grand Overland Journey” in 2005 from Beijing and dreamed to reach South Africa totally by land with an optimistic budget of US$2000. His journey has taken him across Himalaya, South Asia, Afghanistan, Iran, and ex-Soviet Central Asian republics. He was stranded and stayed three years in Afghanistan until 2009. He is now a full-time writer and based in Jakarta, Indonesia. Contact: Website | More Posts

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.