Presidential Debate II: Muddling through the muddle

While watching the second presidential debate last night, one of my colleagues posted a trenchant commentary on the progress of the debate at-a-glance:


To Unspun, it really summed up the debate last night: a muddle of unoriginal thoughts, lacking a focal point, confused but if you look closely you begin to see some patterns.

The patterns that we see are Jokowi stuck in concreteness at the expense of demonstrating to the public that he can also think big; Prabowo stuck in thinking in the abstract at the expense of being concrete. Each of the candidates are locked in their default positions and do not seem to be able to move beyond them.

In terms of their argument strategy Jokowi stresses on his achievements and how electronic solutions (his trump card? Sorry couldn’t resist the pun) will solve problems. He stresses on getting things right.

Prabowo hammered on a theme that his brother Hashim spoke about at the Jakarta Foreign Correspondent’s club – lots of money is being wasted now because of corruption, inefficiencies and bad policy. Leakage was his key message. And the solution to that was to get tough.

Both candidates did not display the vision or the courage to go beyond nationalist sentiments. Jokowi espoused the PDIP’s policy of holding contracts sacrosanct, giving some comfort to investors but at the same time spooking them by suggesting erecting barriers as a counter measure to the Asean Economic Community. Probowo has channeled him to champion reciprocity and trying to stench the leakage of Indonesia’s riches to foreign shores.

In terms of style, Prabowo appeared more confident and poised. Jokowi fumbled and mumbled, reinforcing his image as the Forrest Gump of Indonesian politics.

At the end of the night both candidates were disappointing and the question that needs to be asked is if any of them slipped so badly that it would cost them any vote; or if their lacklustre performance was staged purely for the benefit and schadenfreude of the chatting classes of Indonesia with their  social media accounts on steroids.

So what lessons can one draw from the second presidential debate?

For Unspun it was that both candidates are somewhat equally limited in terms of espousing a vision that could inspire change and rely the nation. Where does that leave the electorate then?

The answer has to be between, on one hand, Uninspiring Candidate #1, Prabowo who has no record of government, whose success in the military and business is difficult to attribute because of his elitist and privileged upbringing, who thinks he can ride the Islamist-Fundamentalist Tiger and triumph over them, like Lee Kuan Yew with the Malayan Communist Party and whose running mate Hatta Rajasa, who as Coordinating Economic Minister in SBY’s Cabinet, was responsible for the many of the economic ills he rails against.

On the other hand there is Uninspiring Candidate #2, Jokowi, who is good with homilies and getting things done, who is not adept at all at talking about policy, who is from a humble, non-elitist background, whose honesty and integrity has been proven and whose running mate Jusuf Kalla is the man who told the Pancila Youth in The Act of Killing that Indonesia needs preman.

The issues, like the painting above remain murky and confusing. And given the candidates’ inability to embrue the cut and thrust of intellectual parrying as we have been accustomed to expect through television, movies and Western politicians (as well as Rumpole of the Bailey books) things won’t get any less confusing in the few weeks left before the presidential election.

But the pattern is emerging strongly on where Indonesians should place their votes for the future. Provided, of course, that Probowo isn’t able to rise to the occasion and commandeer the emotions of the nation’s wong cilik to vote for him.



















Posted in Indonesia | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

Making sense of the first Presidential debate

Like most people living in Indonesia, Unspun’s impression of the presidential candidates had been confined mainly to a diet of TV newscasts, print news stories and the endless rhetoric – for one side or another – on social media. So like most people Unspun watched the first presidential debate last night with some expectations: a mercurial, fiery orator in Prabowo big on the national issues and a somewhat vague Jokowi who may be good on city administration homilies but all out at sea on national issues. Like most people Unspun was pleasantly surprised. The Tiger of Asia (Macan Asia) proclaimed by Prabowo’s campaign banners turned out to be a doddering pussycat. Instead of being inspiring and articulate, he looked puffy, unsure and unprepared, delivering normative, boring answers. Jokowi, on the other hand, was starting to look versatile and presidential. Instead of wearing his trademarked checked shirt, he wore a dark suit, white shirt and red tie. And although unpolished he demonstrated that he could take on national issues and articulate coherent solutions and policies. How did this come to pass? How does someone of Prabowo’s background – an elite family, good education, stints overseas become so inarticulate and fumbling, while a simple businessmen who stumbled into politics could spur himself toward being presidential? There must be many reasons but if Unspun had to guess Probowo’s folly rested on two intertwining factors: hubris and a New Order mindset. The hubris was evident when a day before the debate Mahfud MD, who is now heading the Team Sukses Probowo-Hatta, told reporters that Prabowo was already prepared for the debate and had no need to practice. It would seem that they were all drinking the Kool Aid at the Gerindra headquarters. Hubris mixed with a New Order mindset can be a fatal combination. The New Order mindset is characterised by a self-perception fed by acolytes and bereft of any reality checks. So in the run-up to the presidential debate Prabowo must be looking at the mirror and seeing a ferocious Asian Tiger. Jokowi, on the other hand, was reported to be mugging up for the debate. Unsure of himself, he nonetheless had the pluck to take on this wholly new level of challenge and, from his performance last night, managed to master at least some of the basics. The question that we have to ask ourselves is what do their performances at the debate, given the context, say about the presidential candidates? To Unspun it says that Prabowo is moribund to the old ways. That there is substance to the rumour that he usually thinks that he’s the smartest guy in any room, and therefore does not need to put in the extra effort to put in a good presentation. he takes things – his abilities, his privilege, his stature for granted. Jokowi, on the other hand, does not have a fixed mindset. He is willing to learn new things and he’s obviously a fast learner. He is adaptable and if he keeps this up he’s likely to master the new skill of managing the presidency. What wasn’t surprising were the performances of the running mates. Prabowo’s Hatta Rajasa was yet another Order Baru creature, spewing out normative without conviction. Jusuf Kalla was more engaging and sometimes witty. His baiting of Prabowo over human rights in 1998 was masterful. Of the partnerships the Prabowo-Hatta relationship looked like a master-factotum relationship while there was a synergy between Jokowi and Jusuf Kalla. Unspun is looking for the next round where the presidential candidates face each other alone. Will Prabowo be able to come down from his high horse and work toward a better performance? Will Jokowi be able to hold the floor on his own without Kalla’s support? This is all shaping out to be a more interesting presidential race than though and the television, much reviled in Indonesian educated society for their usual trashy programming, may yet prove to be the great leveller of Indonesian politics through the presidential debates. And yes, the moderator sucked. So did the moving LED backdrop.

Posted in ask the right question, Indonesia, politics | Tagged , , , | 6 Comments

The Blogger, the Crowd, and the Prime Minister

One of the early promises of the Net was its ability to democratise, to level the playing field.

Then the Net became ubiquitious, Facebook and others let the barbarians and trolls in to play and many of us got disenchanted with it.

So it is particularly heartening then to read about the power of the Net to level the playing field between Singapore blogger Roy Ngerng in the David corner and Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in the Goliath corner.

Roy had been asking questions about how the Singapore Government has been using, or abusing, its funds. Lee didn’t like the criticism so he sued Roy.

The legal suit has been the Big Stick that governments and the rick can wield against pesky reporters and writers, who are usually not that well off financially. I remember many years ago in Malaysia when a tycoon took out a suit against one of the big names in journalism M.G.G. Pillay for something he wrote.

M.G.G. spiritedly tried to fight it but the pressure of having to pay something beyond what he could make if he lost the suit took its toll. I think it broke him to a certain extent.

But now, thanks to the Net, we have crowd funding, like what Roy has resorted to. The implications of his action, and his initial success at raising up to S$50,000 with little effort, has huge political implications.

It now means that writers and bloggers need no longer be that afraid of the crippling legal suit, especially if they are writing something critical about a government, institution or individual that is not publicly popular.

Sue me? I’ll crowd fund my law suit. let’s see you in court. Libel laws are still important, as with the principle of the right of the aggrieved party to sue for libel, but in this instance at least the scales of Justice have been tipped to be more even.

Published: 2 June 2014 | Updated: 3 June 2014 3:56 AM

A Singaporean blogger sued for damages by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong (pic) said Monday he had successfully raised fees for his legal defence in just four days through crowdfunding.

Roy Ngerng Yi Ling, a government health worker who posts comments on social issues, said 1,104 people had so far contributed more than Sg$72,000 (RM184,900), exceeding his target of Sg$70,000 (RM179,700) when he launched the campaign Friday.

Ngerng published the transaction history of his bank account on his crowdfunding platform. Many of the donors registered comments criticising Lee and opposing the use of libel suits to silence government critics.

Singapore officials have long used defamation suits against printed publications to defend their reputations.

Ngerng was the first online critic brought to court by a Singaporean leader.

“Donations were mostly of small denominations, and ranged from one cent to two thousand dollars,” Ngerng, 33, told AFP.

“It reflects the people’s frustrations with the current situation,” added Ngerng, author of a blog called ‘The Heart Truths’..[continued...]


Posted in blogging, Social Media | Tagged , | 2 Comments

Not all what it seems in the Cadbury incident? – Maverick Indonesia

An update of the Cadbury incident in Malaysia, at the Maverick blog. It appears that the Malaysian Ministry of Health may have been mistaken when they said that there was porcine DNA in Cadbury’s chocolate products.


Not all what it seems in the Cadbury incident? – Maverick Indonesia

Could it be that our suspicions that the Malaysian Health Ministry had been wrong when they said that two samples of Cadbury Malaysia’s chocolates had contained porcine DNA?In our last posting we wondered why Cadbury had such a curious response to the Ministry’s findings:The curious part about Cadbury’s response is that they did not acknowledge whether the Ministry’s findings were correct; or at the very least whether it was consistent with Cadbury’s own findings and information. Once a Brand knows the batch number of a product it can easily track back to its suppliers and institute an inquiry into the contents of the product. This should take no more than two days by today’s standards.It now appears that Cadbury, either they read our posting, or came to the same conclusion has decided that it is better to come out with the fact that their own tests did not tally with the Health Ministry’s [continued..]

Posted in Crisis and issues management, Malaysia | Leave a comment

What, indeed, should Cadbury do about the calls to jihad?

This is what I wrote for our office blog earlier today:

PR Week has an interesting take on the ongoing Cadbury porcine DNA Issue that is being played out in Malaysia.

Describing the call by more than 20 Malay-Muslim groups in Malaysia for a jihad against Cadbury “surreal in its extremity” PR Week also described another surreal accompanying situation: the reluctance of PR peeps to comment on a crisis-like situation and display their know-how. The issue seems to be so sensitive in Malaysia that apparently many of the PR professionals there came to the conclusion that discretion is the better part of valour.

PR Week’s question of what should Cadbury do, however, is relevant. What should Cadbury do when the country’s Ministry of Health says it’s detected porcine DNA on at least two samples of its chocolate products,  20 Malay-Muslim groups are calling for a jihad and its getting a lot of flak on social media? Continue reading here

Posted in communications, Crisis and issues management, Malaysia | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

End of the road for another Jakarta icon?

The Stadium is sleazy and unsavoury but it was one of those landmarks that added color to Jakarta. Just like the Tanamur from years back. Anyone remember Tanamur?

Ahok to shut Stadium club after cop’s overdose death | The Jakarta Post.

Jakarta’s iconic Stadium nightclub, known for its 24-hour partying and high tolerance of drug-taking and transactional sex, is likely to see its decades-long operation come to an end after the city administration pledged to shut it down for good.

Deputy Governor Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama said on Sunday that he could no longer tolerate the operation of the club after a policeman, identified only as JVG, 22, died on Friday morning following a suspected drug overdose.

“We’ve ordered the Jakarta administration’s Tourism Agency to immediately close Stadium. The incident cannot be tolerated,” he said.

The administration, according to Ahok, had frequently warned Stadium’s management to put an end to all drug-related activities, but it had never responded positively.

Ahok said that he had contacted the National Police detectives chief Comr. Gen. Suhardi Alius to investigate allegations that the club had connections to a drug-trafficking network.

The Jakarta Police spokesman Sr. Comr. Rikwanto said JVG was originally stationed with the Minahasa Police, in North Sulawesi.

“He [JVG] partied in Jakarta as he had four days leave after taking part in a course in Megamendung, Bogor, West Java,” said Rikwanto.

“The victim died in Husada Hospital in West Jakarta after he was ushered out of the club at around 16.30 by his friend Brigadier MM.”

The Jakarta Police are still investigating how the drugs were supplied to and eventually consumed by JVG and three of his friends.

Stadium is reportedly owned by veteran nightclub businessman Rudi Rajamas, who also controls the Malioboro Hotel and Spa in Central Jakarta, Sumo Spa in Kelapa Gading, North Jakarta and the newly opened Exodus nightclub in Kuningan, South Jakarta.

With its operation dating back to the 1990s, Stadium is an internationally acclaimed club, playing mostly trance music. Aside from a huge dance floor, it also has dozens of private rooms, equipped with karaoke sets, available for rent around the clock.

The overdose incident involving the police officer is not the first drugs-related fatality to have been linked to Stadium.

In January 2012, for example, Afriyani Susanti hit 13 pedestrians, killing nine, while driving under the influence of drugs and alcohol in Gambir, Central Jakarta.

The drugs taken by Afriyani were allegedly bought from an individual inside the nightclub. The police did not expand their investigation into the origin of the drugs.

Afriyani was sentenced to 15 years’ imprisonment in August last year for reckless driving and an additional four years for drug abuse. (ren)


Posted in Indonesia | 3 Comments

Crisis management or communications?

This is something I wrote for our company blog that discusses the difference between crisis management and crisis communications, based on a Straits Times article today that most PR firms carry out crisis management on an ad hoc basis:

The delicate art of differentiating between crisis management and crisis communications


Posted in communications, Crisis and issues management | 1 Comment