Side Views

Dear arrogant leaders: We are not the problem, you are — Yohanes Sulaiman

MAY 9 — In late April, Indonesian students and Islamic representatives in Germany criticised lawmakers who visited the country ostensibly to determine whether the embassy needed renovating. The students called the Indonesian lawmakers “village bumpkins” and said the trip was a waste of money and an excuse for a vacation.

In Lampung last week, thousands of locals tore down and decapitated a statue of former Governor Zainal Abidin, in a style reminiscent of the fall of Saddam Hussein’s statue in Iraq in 2003 in the aftermath of the US invasion. The move followed months of fruitless discussions over whether the statue should be taken down, as residents saw it as a monument to corruption.

The two cases have a common element: So-called leaders believe they know best, and think ordinary folk are ignorant and just get in the way.

They think if they ram their ideas down the throats of the public long enough they will acquiesce. Official reaction to the events was predictably dismissive, with claims that the people were “oknum” (provocateurs who did not understand the big picture).

After the criticism in Germany, Yoris Raweyai, one of the visiting House commission members, said the students had acted “unethically.” The speaker of the House, Marzuki Alie, put the whole affair down to a “miscommunication.”

It was not mentioned that the students in question had monitored the commission’s movements and found they spent much of their time at leisure, at the expense of the taxpayer.

Nobody mentioned that evaluating embassy renovation needs is the job of the Foreign Ministry. The House holds the purse strings and should act as a watchdog to prevent waste. But this frivolous excursion has cast its moral authority on such matters into serious doubt once more.

Surely, the House members should have taken on board the humiliation suffered last year when students grilled lawmakers who were visiting Australia and found them similarly underprepared.

In Lampung, the governor, district head and their supporters said Zainal Abidin was worthy of the 10-metre-high statue, and it was the protesters’ lack of understanding that was the problem. The statue was legitimate, they said, because it had been approved by the regional legislative chamber.

Lampung has been consumed by conflicts over land as plantation companies have bought licenses issued by local authorities for land claimed under customary laws. Several companies have used private militia and the police to intimidate people and throw them off their land. Protesters felt that the statue smacked of nepotism and dynasty-building, as the current governor of Lampung and the district head of the area where the statue was erected are the son and grandson of Zainal Abidin, respectively. The Rp 1.3 billion (RM420,000) would have been better used to alleviate poverty rather than glorifying a dynasty, they said.

People were fed up with business as usual and the arrogance of “leaders” and decided to publicly humiliate them. Leaders would be foolish to think that they can continue to tell the public what to do and expect people to fall meekly into line.

The government has to start building its case based upon facts and strong ideas at a time when the income gap between the rich and poor in Indonesia is growing. The government needs to start listening to what people want, to the concerns of the people on the street.

Anything that the government cannot justify should go. Indonesians continue to show they are increasingly willing to take to the street to show the government up. — Jakarta Globe

* Yohanes Sulaiman is a lecturer at the Indonesian Defence University (Unhan).

* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insider.

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