Men in White

©2014 basuki
©2014 basuki

Indonesia is a country of symbolism. Stemming from the Javanese culture, which comprises a majority of the population, every ritual and events will be embedded with subtle messages in the form of symbols and gestures which is not explicitly stated or written – or in some cases, it is used to accentuate what has already been stated or written. Those who can master these symbolisms will surely be able to send the right messages to the right people, win hearts, and even win elections.

President Jokowi, a Javanese man himself, is someone who understands and knows how to play these symbolisms.

The cabinet announcement last week, was held on the lawn of the Presidential Palace. His ministers, was donned in white shirts and black pants like the trademark attire of the President himself. When introduced, each of them was asked to run to the President. Hence, the “Working Cabinet” or Kabinet Kerja, was symbolised as the President’s men and women, who follows the same instruction of the President. They are ready to work, starting with a clean slate, different from the past regimes.

At least this is what they would like to portray.

The earlier canceled cabinet announcement was supposed to be held in Tanjung Priok, arguably Indonesia’s busiest port, and working helmets was prepared for each of the ministers. Tanjung Priok would have been a good show of priority for Indonesia’s maritime revival, similar to President Jokowi’s first speech after the presidential election announcement in the old harbor of Sunda Kelapa. Perhaps it is good that the Tanjung Priok plan did not materialise, because some were already quick to critique whether President Jokowi is someone who prefers “being with the people” instead of someone who can work efficiently from the palace.

As far as intended symbolism goes, there are others who can read between the unintended symbolisms as well. For example, why is Puan Maharani, daughter of PDIP Matriarch Megawati Soekarnoputri did not run towards President Jokowi when introduced as the Coordinating Minister for Human Development and Culture, and instead used a golf cart when other ministers walked in the palace.

Symbolisms may also be used to tone down the realities on the ground.

Despite the focus on the maritime sector, the newly created post Coordinating Minister for Maritime Affairs needs a lot of hard work since the institution is practically still Indroyono Soesilo as an individual. There are no staff, no budget, and no programs to manage yet, although thankfully BPPT is quick to lend an office for his daily work.

In the other ministerial posts, we also need to observe how the massive institutional shifts and mergers will play out:

  • The Directorate General for Higher Education under the Ministry of Education will now be merged with the Ministry of Research and Technology
  • Ministry of Public Housing will now be merged with Ministry of Public Works
  • The Directorate General of Spatial Plan under the Ministry of Public Works will now be merged with The National Land Agency – supposedly to have regulatory powers when transformed as the Agrarian Ministry
  • The Ministry of Forestry will now be merged with Ministry of Environment

The latter is even more worrisome, as environmentalists were quick to point that the two ministries have different paradigms as one is for exploitation, and one is for protection. When combined with spatial planning powers, conversion of natural forests into palm oil plantations or mining concessions will be expedited without proper checks and balances. One could have faith if the strategic ministerial posts were given to professionals, but we should be wary since these two posts are given to the Nasdem Party. One should also be even more cautious when the downstream and trade sector have the risks to be captured by corporate interests that will benefit from such arrangement.

There is a risk that in the early days of the government, ministries will be busy doing internal reorganisation work instead of strategically thinking about what they want to do in terms of policies and programs. Not to mention that there is a risk of delay since the apparatus of the parliament is not yet ready to discuss budgeting and program planning due to the recent DPR leadership crisis. The media is also not helping by highlighting the idiosyncrasies of the newly-appointed ministers rather than scrutinising on what they think the government should and can do.

Symbolisms may be useful, but despite all the media spins, tattoos-and-whatnot, what is more important is the actual performance of these ministers. After all, white is a colour that can easily get tainted.


9 thoughts on “Men in White”

  1. First, you know who Puan Maharani so please understand it if he was not running when called as a minister. Second, whether the symbolism still have a connection with “pencitraan”? So we’ll see …:-)

  2. I agree that symbolism is obviously part of Javanese culture. But unfortunately (or fortunately?) it has been expanded national wide and people at large do care more with symbolism instead of substances. People in Indonesia tend to look at the surface instead of the content.

    However, let us give the new administration a chance to do walk all the talks. We can contribute too bu working professionally and passionately. I think now is too premature to judge everything. Let us work first for at least a year and see what would happen.

    Thanks a lot 🙂

  3. This is really an interesting post…

    First of all, symbolism is not just related to “Java”, the people, the culture etc… People love symbols. For symbols can define that human exist in the world. Symbols, as you just stated in your post, sometimes can explain what verbal language cannot. Symbols are part of history. Indonesia exists because of symbols, our flag, our garuda, our pancasila and many more…

    Even your title “Men in White” also a symbol to deliver message to the reader. 🙂

    Nothing’s wrong with symbol as long as it contains good meaning. However symbols can be misused and misinterpreted. In psychology and in psychiatry, we can use symbols to manipulate human’s mind. On the other hand, we can also have broad and general perspective of someone who uses symbol. And again interpretation of experts and common people may differ.

    Second, “being with people”, not totally wrong but should be at appropriate time. As a leader of a country, Indonesia no. 1, president Jokowi should consider it well.

    Third, i like your opinion about “toning down the realities on the ground” 🙂 I’d like to add a bit, IMHO, Indonesia has already had “National Health Insurance” or “Jaminan Kesehatan Nasional” (JKN). JKN merge Askes, Jamsostek, Jamkesda, Jamkesmas, Jamkeskin, Jampersal and other various private health insurances into one system and one roof that managed by health BPJS. And president Jokowi make a program “Kartu Indonesia Sehat”, which is not well defined about the legality in law, the implementation in reality, and the position of the program in national health insurance.

    So why should add one more? What is the need of it all? Is it the part of symbolism itself?

    Keep writing good stuff and do not easily get tainted even if you work in governmental institution. Oh, and for the last, even if white easily get tainted, white itself is combination of all color spectrum, so to be white is to get tainted beforehand 😛

    Thank you.

  4. Publicly criticizing the rezime in which you’re a part of is not a smart move. Definitely NOT a smart move.

  5. Good critics and glad to see someone in the inner circle of the government still have a good sense of being an outsider to critics their ownself.
    That condition will create a better productive environment for the future of this Working Cabinet.
    Keep up the good work 😎

  6. itu thema dan topic yang salah apabila suka share sesuatu di internet..coba kek blog resep masakan dan kegiatan lainnya..dunia politik itu saat ini seperti dunia agama yang sensitif banget..sampai sampai kita harus yakin sekali bahwa orang orang sekeliling kita tidak salah paham dengan maksud tulisan kita..;

    1. Bener !! Terkadang penyakit kita…sangat mudah meng-Kritik, tapi tidak memberi solusi, seseorang yg mempunya wewenang untuk membuat kebijakan juga jadi binggung, karena semua tindakan di kritik, kenapa tidak lihat dulu kinerja mereka, beri kesempatan, baru kritisi sambil kita beri solusi…klw mmg punya solusi hehehe. Pake jas, di kritik (pakaian serba mahal), pakai baju sederhana , di kritik ( masa pejabat negara selevel Presiden baju-nya begitu ??)

  7. Saya sangat tidak setuju kalau Indonesia hanya berasal dari Budaya Jawa. Tanpa Budaya Melayu – Sumatra – dan Sulawesi Indonesia bukan apa-apa. Jadi terlalu berlebihan jika Jawa disebut sebagai yang utama dari Indonesia, Saat ini Indonesia itu negara yang sedang mencari jati diri, masih meraba-raba, dan mencoba-coba. Padahal kalau kita komitmen dengan Pancasila, istilah simbolisme itu adalah salah besar. Apa bedanya dengan kita kelompokkan Indonesia dengan menjadi suku2 dan ras kembali ke zaman dulu.

    Mudah saja kok, siapa yang bisa mengambil hati rakyat, bisa menyatu dengan rakyat tanpa memperdulikan status sosial, berbaur dengan rakyat, mendengarkan keluh-kesah rakyat, mau turun dan bekerja bersama rakyat maka otomatis akan mendapat suara dan dukungan dari rakyat. Itu sudah menjadi sebuah teori. Hal ini pun sudah banyak diajarkan oleh sejarah, asal kita mau tau semua sebab akibat itu mirip dan berulang2. Lihat dan pelajari sejak zaman Yunani, Romawi, kekaisaran Cina, Islam. Menjadi pemimpin yang besar dan hebat sudah banyak contohnya. Bisa kita ambil dari sana, jadi tidak mesti Jawa. Kebetulan saja di Indonesia bahwa Jawa adalah mayoritas.

    Barangsiapa yang mengkhianati kepercayaan rakyat maka jangan coba2 bisa mengambil hati rakyat untuk kedua kalinya, kecuali ada kecurangan yang terjadi di dalamnya sebab Indonesia masih mudah terpengaruhi dan dipecah belah oleh asing dengan mudah apalagi oleh kekuatan ekonomi mereka.

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