PanaJournal – All eyes are now on Jakarta Governor Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama after he challenged the City Councils’ draft budget, which was full of questionable allocations, and reported the irregular budgets to the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK).
People have come up with various social media hashtags and movements supporting Ahok have emerged.
According to pollster Lingkar Survei Indonesia, from its survey on the city budget dispute, 40 percent of the lower middle class, 51 percent of the middle-class, and 72 percent of the upper middle class trust Ahok to run a clean government.
This reminds us of President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s presidency, when he was perceived as a hero of the people.
Time magazine used the term ‘new hope’ to describe Jokowi’s presidential win—but does Ahok represent another new hope for Indonesia?
Ahok’s popularity is driven by something different than Jokowi’s. The media used to portray Jokowi as a humble, populist leader.
Yet Ahok swears a lot, stands proud with no party affiliation, and bluntly states the facts that everyone knows but no one dares to say out loud.
He refers to the corrupt as the perpetrators and often says many people are against him not because they think he is wrong, but because he is ethnic Chinese and Christian.
Ahok invalidates many theories of political communication. He lacks wisdom and has little diplomacy, yet many support him. The logic behind Ahok’s popularity lies in one issue that apparently matters most to people nowadays: a leader is valued on the firmness of his commitment to fighting corruption.
Jokowi lost his charm because he failed to show firmness in stopping the police undermining the KPK. In contrast, despite many legal efforts to get rid of him, Ahok appears to be standing tall to fight corruption. When we talk about people’s opinion, who are we referring to?
According to political communication scientist Vincent Price, three words often associated with “people” are crowd, public, and mass. A crowd is moved by the unity of an emotional experience and tends to be reactive rather than deliberative. In a crowd, individuals very easily lose themselves and only act according to collective desire.
Meanwhile, in public, individuals gather not only in the name of empathy, but also in terms of the ability to think and argue. A group of people are called “public” when they face a common problem and express diverse views regarding that problem, but are willing to engage in discussions to find solutions.
The danger shadowing modern civilizations is when the public changes into the mass. Abundant information and analysis from various sources—which are not always credible—can make people skeptical. At this point, individuals become no more than part of the mass, a group of anonymous people with minimum effort to communicate.
In Jokowi’s case, people can be seen as more of a crowd. Jokowi’s best qualities are humility and modesty, but we now know that these are not enough.
In Ahok’s case, people are more deliberate in professing their supports. The budget saga gives people perspective on why they need to be in Ahok’s side.
Clear data regarding the draft budget gives a sense of transparency to the Jakarta administration. It is also a sign that people pay attention to credible sources instead of giving support without reason. The message is clear: it is not about supporting Ahok as an individual, but more about how people are empowered to defend their rights to their own money.
Whether Ahok makes it as the leader of the nation remains to be seen. The best thing to do now is to make sure the people stay together as a public, not as a crowd or mass.
It will prevent them from being too emotional. It will also empower them to become watchdogs of government, institutions, and the media. Hate speech and smear campaigns should be abolished. The public does not always have to be in agreement.
Differences of opinion with a desire to solve problem together becomes a prerequisite of the public existence. It is the only way our democracy will mature.
As published in The Jakarta Post, March 28.