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If the Huffington Post‘s Stanley Weiss is right, and Prabowo is leading the pack among Indonesia’s presidential candidates, the implication is that SBY is Prabowo’s biggest electoral asset.
Why? Because SBY’s namby-pamby, make-no-tough-decisions style is driving Indonesians to the level of frustration that Prabowo starts to look very good in contrast. In politics and logic this is called occupying the extremes. One someone else occupies an extreme position, you start to look good relative to that person.
So well done as Prabowo’s most effective campaigner, SBY!
The Courage to Jump in Indonesia
JAKARTA–Five years ago, one of the most respected soldiers in U.S. history died too soon. Wayne Downing was a West Point graduate and four-star general who served two tours in Vietnam and came out of retirement after 9/11 to serve as anti-terrorism advisor to President George W. Bush. Known as the father of the modern Rangers , Downing commanded America’s elite counter-terrorism teams in the 1990s and spent decades training foreign soldiers who came to Fort Bragg to learn about democracy. Not long before he died, I had lunch with General Downing at the White House. He told me that of all the foreign soldiers he ever trained, two stood out. One was Abdullah II bin Al-Hussein , the reigning King of Jordan. The other was Prabowo Subianto , the former commander of Indonesia’s special forces, and the current front-runner to be Indonesia’s next president in 2014.
Meeting with Prabowo , now a successful businessman, and his wealthy brother Hashim Djojohadikusumo here in this capital city, it’s not hard to see what General Downing saw. Prabowo is strategic and insightful, remarkably idealistic about his country and confident about its future. The scion of one of Indonesia’s most prestigious families, he grows passionate when he speaks about the nation’s income inequalities. He embodies a strength that is later captured well by Juwono Sudarsono , the respected former Minister of Defense, who tells me, “Prabowo leads the pack because he projects grit, firm leadership and decisiveness–which are seen to be lacking in our current leadership.”
That Prabowo is part of the conversation at all here is a testament to both his survival skills and the growing pains felt by this archipelago nation in its second decade of democracy. In some ways, he is the last person Westerners expected to be in a position of leadership–which has some wondering what his ascension means for Indonesia, and the future of Asia’s democracies.
Fourteen years ago, the former general was one of the most detested men in Indonesia . The then-son-in-law of former dictator Suharto, Prabowo was accused of leading deadly crackdowns against democracy activists in Suharto’s waning days, inciting riots that led to Suharto’s ouster and leading a coup attempt against his replacement. Although never charged with wrongdoing, Prabowo was found guilty of “exceeding orders ” by a military ethics committee and dismissed by the army . For his alleged role in the riots, he was the first person in U.S. history to be denied a visa for violating the United Nations Convention Against Torture. He is anathema to human rights organizations in the West- -but Indonesia may be willing to look past that history.
Why does anyone or any organization call a news conference in the first place, instead of merely sending out a news release?
The reason for calling a news conference, for most people who are media savvy, will be that it gives the spokesperson the chance to deliver his messages effectively and to be able to explain and clarify any questions that the media can have.
The caveat here is that the spokesperson should be well-trained to deliver his messages and able to answer the most difficult of questions in a manner that is credible, authoritative and likable. If the spokesperson does not have such skills then its best not to expose him to journalists.
Being credible is a challenge to many politicians, government servants and corporations. Their institutions have built a culture where they communicate through institution-speak: the self-centered, which-kool-aid-are-they-drinking kind of speech in which they seem to be perfect or at least can do now wrong and that the public is eminently interested in their accomplishments.
The public generally does not care, of course, unless the spokesperson says something that connects with, or is relevant to, them. And if they feel that someone is trying to take them out for a spin they react with anger and criticisms.
The journalists, who act as the intermediary who must filter and process the information given by spokespersons and render them into a news story worthy of the public’s attention are even more skeptical. Who wouldn’t be, if faced by an endless stream of incompetent spokespersons and PR Flacks trying to pitch them newsless and self-interested stories day in and day out?
Faced with such skepticism the spokesperson has to perform to expectations and sure something new or something important or face their wrath, in the form of critical news reports and comments.
So it is strange that the President’s PR minders have decided to recommend to him to call a news conference when they are not prepared to say anything important or new, and when the President has obviously not been trained at all in the art and science of being a spokesperson.
And to top it all the minders tried to stage-manage the whole event with predetermined questions, as if anyone, especially the skeptical journalists, would be taken in and think that SBY is a forthcoming president.
Instead of enhancing his image the minders have once again degraded it. Which begs the question: which kool aid fountain have they been drinking from?
It was a rare chance, albeit rehearsed, for journalists to ask questions directly of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, but the nationally televised Q&A on Monday night still came off as stilted and emasculated.
Preparations for the event, which was initially scheduled to take place last Friday, began a week earlier when journalists assigned to the State Palace were asked to submit questions they wanted the president to answer.
All of the questions were screened by Julian Aldrin Pasha, the president’s spokesman, who asked two journalists to tone down their questions and rejected a query on the controversial Bank Century bailout.
“Please use soft words and don’t mention names,” he said to one of the reporters.
“Don’t ask that question,” he told another. “The president will address it directly on another occasion, but not tonight.”
That the president’s answers had been prepared long before journalists could pose them on Monday night was evident when Yudhoyono consulted a bundle of notes after someone asked him a question about national debt.
But even with all the screening and preparation, observers noted, Yudhoyono’s answers were tepid and lacked any insight.
Ikrar Nusa Bhakti, a political analyst from the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI), pointed out that when Yudhoyono spoke about the talk he had with Muhammad Nazaruddin shortly before the former Democratic Party treasurer fled the country, he revealed nothing the public did not already know.
Yudhoyono said he asked Nazaruddin to resign due to the corruption allegations against him, but that Nazaruddin, who is now on trial for bid-rigging, refused.
“It’s a shame that he didn’t go into detail about it, because this is a really important issue that is still unfolding,” Ikrar said. “I thought that when Yudhoyono wanted to do the Q&A he was going to address some urgent points that we didn’t know about, but it was all just stale news.”
Critics were also not satisfied with the president’s answer about mounting allegations of human rights abuses by security forces.
In his seven years as president, Yudhoyono said, Indonesia has “never experienced any incident of human rights violations that could be considered serious.”
That contradicts findings by the National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM) about gross rights abuses in a deadly crackdown on a peaceful protest in Papua last year, as well as indications of violations in a host of clashes over land disputes across the country.
Yudhoyono said that in the latter cases, including in Bima, West Nusa Tenggara, and Mesuji, Lampung, he was fully committed to resolving all claims of rights violations.
“I stress that there will be no leniency and the cases will be resolved,” he said. “The government is responding swiftly to prevent future clashes.”
His oft-repeated call for a resolution also cropped up in his response to the standoff over the GKI Yasmin church in Bogor that the local administration has continued to seal off in violation of a Supreme Court ruling.
“I hope the regional leaders, the mayor and governor, can fully resolve this case,” Yudhoyono said. “What’s important is that the case is resolved so that it doesn’t drag on for years.”
The beleaguered church congregation has been forced to hold services, including for Christmas and Easter, on the street or in parishioners’ homes since 2008 as a result of the state’s illegal seizure of their property.
Yudhoyono said he was committed to ending the dispute “so that Christians, along with Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Confucians and others, can practice their faith in an orderly, calm and peaceful manner.”
Sympathy for the FPI
On the issue of banning the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), the notorious hard-line organization known for its intimidation of and attacks on minority groups, the president’s answer was just as noncommittal.
“Organizations in Indonesia are allowed to operate on the basis of freedom of speech and freedom of action,” he said.
“Any organization that violates the laws must face due legal process, with no exceptions.”
The FPI has frequently raided stores selling alcoholic drinks and destroyed property as part of its self-professed moral crusade. Its members have rarely faced prosecution for these acts.
Yudhoyono defended the FPI’s right to organize, saying he was concerned about a recent development in which members of the indigenous Dayak tribe in Central Kalimantan took over a local airport to block the arrival of FPI members.
“Why should others be allowed to carry out their activities while our brothers in the FPI are forbidden?,” he said.
He said he discussed the incident with Home Affairs Minister Gamawan Fauzi, hoping to determine whether the 1985 Law on Mass Organizations should be amended to prevent that kind of protest. He also called on regional officials to improve security conditions to avoid more “acts of provocation” such as the one against the FPI.
Iberamsjah, a political analyst from the University of Indonesia, said he was disappointed with a lack of meaningful or informative answers from the president.
Given the quality of Yudhoyono’s responses, Iberamsjah questioned why the president would even need to prepare for the Q&A beforehand.
He said the presence of the full cabinet at the Q&A made the event too formal, saying it could have been more down-to-earth as a gathering simply between Yudhoyono and the journalists.
“Just look at Barack Obama,” Iberamsjah said.
“At press conferences, he’s rarely accompanied by a complete set of ministers because he has high self-confidence.”
Know Ye O Mortals, especially in Indonesia, that there is one who walks among you with the gift of the silver tongue, whose words of wisdom buoy you to the highest levels of commitment and devotion.
Such a man is not easily understood and is quite reviled at home among the Chattering Classes but actually appreciated aboard, especially by the High Priests of the arcane arts of Public Affairs, who recently voted him COMMUNICATOR OF THE YEAR.
Now gaze on his wondrous video-taped acceptance speech to Public Affairs Asia and learn the many skills he employs to become a revered communicator.
For an earlier posting of how SBY beat out Pretty Boy Abhisit for the title, and to vote on your choice of Communicator of the Year go here.
Any communicator who have had the chance to see both Indonesia’s Susilo Bambang Yudhono and Thailand’s Abhisit Vejjajiva speak in public would probably have put their money on Abhisit winning any Communicator of the Year Award.
Apart from his good looks, the Thai Premier is suave and articulate with a English public school accent. In contrast, SBY comes across as stilted, confusing and sometimes downright clumsy.Some of his harsher critics have been known to use the word bovine.
Yet the Public Affairs professionals seem to have thought differently and they voted SBY over Abhisit. “Through his election victories, and his work both domestically and internationallyC, SBY has shown himself to be a formidable communicator and a highly effective modern politician,” Mark O’Brien, the vice president of Public Affairs Asia said about SBY’s victory.
That statement is so general that it could mean anything. Unspun is absolutely curious whether Public Affairs Asia would care to elaborate on what they mean by “his work both domestically and internationally.” While the mystery still stands, however, one thing is certain: Hans Vriens, the former head of APCO in Jakarta (which is still functioning in spite of more-or less closing down) and who now heads his own consultancy is certainly not in a bad position to be for a public affairs consultant to be where Indonesia is concerned.
Unspun also wonders what others who are not steeped in the arcane arts of the PA professionals might think so here’s a small survey to see if perceptions line up:
Yudhoyono scoops Asia political communicator award
Edhie Yudhoyono (R) Accepts PublicAffairsAsia award
Indonesian president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (SBY) has topped the list in the The Gold Standard Award in Political Communications.
The president saw off eight other nominees to secure award, which forms part of the PublicAffairsAsia Gold Standard Awards programme.
The president’s son, Edhie Yudhoyono, collected the award at a gala reception for senior PA professionals organised by PublicAffairsAsia at the Foreign Correspondent’s Club in Hong Kong on February 4.
Yudhoyono was nominated by Hans Vriens, the founding managing director of Vriens & Partners, the Singapore based PA firm which is linked with Jakarta-based Kiroyan Partners.
Yudhoyono saw off Thai prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, who was nominated by Sebastian Beaumont, the managing director of the Marque Consulting Group, a specialist public affairs and consulting firm in Thailand.
The third finalist was Ryan Gawn, a British charity campaigner who mounted a highly effective programme to mobilise British government support for Save the Children’s work in Afghanistan.
Yudhoyono topped the contest after securing a historic second term victory in last year’s presidential election.
Commenting on the award, PublicAffairsAsia’s vice president, Mark O’Brien, said: “This award allows professional political communicators and lobbying professionals to identify achievement by the politicians and campaigners with whom they work.
“Through his election victories, and his work both domestically and internationally, SBY has shown himself to be a formidable communicator and a highly effective modern politician.”
The following article in The Age has an interesting perspective about SBY’s “enhanced” second term in office and its implications for cronism, long the bane of Indonesians. Can this be true?
July 15, 2009
MIGHT it just be that after President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s sweeping re-election, the era of Indonesia’s grasping cronies is coming to an end?
These free-wheeling cronies have been a lawless cancer on the Indonesian economy for too long; the reason why so much of Indonesia doesn’t work properly — why its roads are pot-holed, why badly built bridges, buildings and dams collapse, why its technological backbone is dysfunctional, why consumers are abused, why its justice system is corrupt, why the oxygen-sustaining Borneo rainforests are logged to within an inch of their lives.
Cronies are to Indonesia what politically connected oligarchs are to Russia, except they’ve been around longer. Their fathers were to some extent commercial pioneers in the newly independent Indonesia, and there was then a role for them, because the new nation needed to be built, and built fast.
Their contracts and businesses were largely based on proximity to the military and the ruling family, which, save for the last decade of “reformasi”, has been largely the same thing, be it the Soehartos or the Soekarnos before them. Foreign investors quickly figured it out — joint-venture partners were chosen because they were well connected with the palace, not because they were great operators.
Too much was never enough for the cronies, who became some of Asia’s richest men, displaying almost obscene wealth in a country as poor as Indonesia. They should have been banished after the 1997-98 “Asian Contagion” crisis when the Indonesian economy collapsed and Soeharto was ousted. Some did — the Salim/Liem food-to-banking empire for one is a shadow of its former self — but the system was sufficiently politically malleable that many survived, and even prospered.
Was at both the the Presidential Lecture at the Jakarta Convention Center and the Government Leaders Forum at Shangri-la Hotel. At both functions both Bill Gates and President SBY spoke. Bill was, of course, interesting for his insights and some of the cool things they were doing with software like an astronomy internet application to be launched later this month. It’s like Google earth, except that its about the stars. The clever thing was that people could go in and conduct tours of the heavens and then safe them. gates then showed a tour conducted by a six year old of a ring nebula. All very cute. Social network meets Google Space.
Craig Mundie, who was asked by Bill to present some ideas in medicine also had some cool stuff to show. He said personal healthcare of the future could be such: if you feel ill you blow into your handphone of the future which, because it is linked by the Net to some super duper computers that analyze what’s wrong with you. Super compute then sends you your prescription on your handphone. You take your handphone to the nearest dispenser, which could be in remote Papua or anywhere else, you dowload your prescription to the dispenser, which is nothing more than a laser printer of the future. The only difference is that instead of ink what the dispenser does is to print formulas of medicines onto tabs on a flat sheet of paper. The medication rolls off the printer and you break off a tab at prescribed times and put it in your mouth.
Sounds neat and most of the technology is there, but apparently humankind still cannot do all that yet.
Then there was President SBY. Participants at the two functions who has seen the President speak in English a couple of years before were struck by how fluent he has become this time around. His pronounciation was good 98% of the time, he seemed much at ease in English and he came across well. Much less stilted as before. Whomever is coaching the President certainly deserves a pat on the back and Indonesians should be proud of a president that takes pains to improve himself (OK, the next thing he has to work on is the speed of his decision making but, as they say in the movie Contact…Baby Steps).
Disclosure: Unspun’s company helped handle the PR surrounding the GLF and Bill G’s visit but its not in the work scope that Unspun has to blog about the event. This is a purely personal choice.
The proof? See story below. If Mahathir had acted like SBY and, in his time, chastised upcoming leaders for sleeping on the job, the Barisan nasional would still be holding on to the two-thirds-majority, Malaysia wouldn’t be in the shits and bloggers would not be in elected offices. It’s all the Mamak’s doing!