The new Information and Communications Minister Tifatul Sembiring is an interesting politician if nothing else. He was officially appointed to his post two days before Pesta Blogger on 24 October.

When the Pesta Blogger committee met we discussed whether to invite him and many of us thought that he would be too busy to attend a non-mainstream event such as Pesta Blogger.

But we decided to give it a go anyway and through Shinta, she with all the connections, we sent word to Tifatul that we would be delighted if he would attend. Surprisingly, he said he would. More surprisingly, he showed up (instead of delegating it to a director general as many monisters are won’t to do). Most surprisingly, he showed up on time (as many ministers don’t).

While in the VIP room waiting for Pesta Blogger to begin he was good natured and accessible, accepting interviews even from BBC radio in English. Apart from the fact that because of religious reasons he does not shake hands with women, he was all charm and when he addressed the bloggers, he adhered the crowd to him by saying that he was a blogger and a Twitterer who became a minister.

One for the album: Menkominfo Tifatul Sembiring (middle) poses with some of the Pesta Blogger Committee members just before the event

These days he still tweets regularly  and he was quoted in one of the newspapers today that his Facebook page now had so many friends thathe cannot accept anymore – yet there were 10,000 pending friend requests.

Is Tifatul the new breed of politicians — media and tchno-savvy, at least bilingual and  populist — that we will be seeing from now on?

Is Tifatul someone that Malaysian ministers could benefit to learn from?

This from The Jakarta Post today:

Tifatul Sembiring is the minister who tweets

The Jakarta Post |  Mon, 11/02/2009 10:05 AM  |  People

JP/R.Berto WedhatamaJP/R.Berto Wedhatama

JAKARTA: How can a top government official get comments and ideas directly from the people?

By tweeting, of course. At least, for new Information and Communications Minister Tifatul Sembiring, twitter is the feedback medium of choice.

After his inauguration last month, Tifatul introduced himself to fellow twitterers with the nickname @tifsembiring. He immediately gathered a large following.

While many politicians might prefer to maintain a serious demeanor, Tifatul likes to tweet humorous poems.

He is also seeking input from members of the public by asking what they want in the telecommunications sector, using hashtag #tifsembiringasking.

Asked whether it is actually he who tweets, Tifatul said, “Sometimes I do. Tweets are short so I can still write them.”

Tweets at @boediono — for Vice President Boediono — are not written by the VP, but members of his staff.

Tifatul added jokingly, “That’s why I said to fellow bloggers at the blogger party [last month], you’re lucky that a blogger became minister.” — JP

16 thoughts on “The plugged, in Twittering new Indonesian Information Minister

  1. I’m not sure how I feel about a minister who tweets, really. I understand he wants to show that he is accessible, but how much valuable feedback can people give him in 140 characters? Just search Twitter for tweets directed to @tifsembiring and you will see they are mostly unimportant information that will only serve as a distraction for somebody in his position. I’m not criticizing him for having a Twitter account. I just hope he personally doesn’t spend time on Twitter.


  2. Why is it I was excited about this dude until I read this “Apart from the fact that because of religious reasons he does not shake hands with women”. Really unbelievable for someone representing “Communications” in this great country. I sure hope it’s a typo…


  3. Yes, there are people who belief that touching a member of the opposite sex is forbidden by religion. But that doesn’t mean that they don’t acknowledge them. They greet members of the opposite sex by way of holding the palms together in front of their chests, sometimes bowing their heads a little. I think is this way is not wrong or rude, perhaps just different from the “usual” way of greeting each other. Shaking hands is just “one” of the way of greeting, not the “correct” way.

    I think we should respect other people’s beliefs, instead of judging them outright. People in different cultures have different customs. For example, in some places, it is perfectly alright for men and women to kiss each other cheeks (or touch cheek-to-cheek) in greeting, but I know a great many people who wouldn’t be comfortable doing that. In other places, it is men who kiss each other on the cheek in greeting, but I imagine there are men who are uncomfortable doing that. In other places, people greet each other by bowing, not by shaking hands. Let us enrich our lives by getting to know each other through differences, and respect each other for that.


      1. I call different treatment of men and women discrimination, be it due to religion or not.

        If, say, he doesn’t shake hands with both men and women due to religious restrictions, then I can respect that. It’s custom, personal preference, whatever.

        But differentiating men and women? What are we? Satan’s brides who go out to tempt men meant to be avoided at all cost? Inferior class of human species?

        If you are treated differently because you’re a woman (eg: the company’s policy doesn’t allow career advancement for women), then you’ll scream discrimination, right?

        Enough with this nonsense.


  4. This is not an issue of equal treatment or discrimination. This is an issue of sexual modesty. Societies and individuals have different rules about the interaction between men and women, especially sexual interaction. Let me give some examples, starting with the most liberal.

    Some people believe they can have sex with anyone, regardless of gender.

    Some people believe they can have sex with any member of the opposite sex. I’m sure nobody is telling them (for example, to a man), “By only having sex with women, you’re discriminating against men! This is discrimination! You shouldn’t refuse to have sex with anybody!”

    Some people draw the line and have sex only with people they’re in love with. I’m sure nobody is telling them, “By only having sex with people you love, you’re discriminating against people you don’t love!”

    Some people draw the line and have sex only with their legally married spouse, and many because of religious reasons. I’m sure nobody is telling them, “By only having sex with your spouse, you’re discriminating against other people who’s not your spouse!”

    People draw different lines with kissing, too.

    Some people draw the line and only kiss their legally married spouse. I’m sure nobody is telling them, “By only kissing your spouse, you’re discriminating against other people who’s not your spouse! You shouldn’t refuse to kiss other people!”

    Some people draw the line and only kiss their girl/boyfriend. I’m sure nobody is telling them, “By only kissing your girl/boyfriend, you’re discriminating against other people who’s not your girl/boyfriend! You shouldn’t refuse to kiss other people!”

    And people draw different lines with touching.

    Some people draw the line and only touch their legally married spouse. If you don’t tell the above groups of people what they should and shouldn’t do, why is it that you want to tell them, “By only touching your legally married spouse, you’re discriminating against other people who’s not your spouse! You shouldn’t refuse to touch any member of the opposite sex!”

    Maybe you say, touching isn’t sexual. Shaking hands isn’t sexual. But that’s your belief. Other people may have different beliefs. Please respect them.


  5. I’ve heard that he is poligamous but I never thought that he is so fanatic that he doesn’t want to shake hands with women. If he is a common man it’s okay lah, but as a minister ?


  6. @Multi:Your comment was captured by Akismet, WordPress’a spam catching program. Sometimes it does its job too ardously but I have negotiated a release of your comment 😉


  7. Each country has their tolerations and their standards. To this day in Thailand (sometimes still in Bangkok, but mostly in rural areas) it is most common for mainstream Thai men to not hold hands in public with women that they respect. Because the act of holding hands with this woman in public might insinuate that she is not a ‘good’ girl. Are they also to be branded sexists, as some would say this minister is?

    Rather than judge based on our prejudice (OUR norms and cultures) lets try to fathom the diversities of what norms and cultures are for other people.

    Is he sexist because he doesn’t shake hands with women? Is it a relevant criteria for judging a sexist, especially considering he comes from a country that has throughout the ages held strict boundaries on open ‘touching’ between men and women ? Does he actually differentiated between men and women when it comes to the important stuff, like his work? How many women does he have as staff? Does he listen to a womans input as much as he listens to a mans input? These are all things that seem, to me at least, to be more relevant.


  8. I don’t know. I’m a muslim but I don’t trust Tifatul and dislike all the Arabization that he and his party are trying to impose on Indonesia. Nothing wrong about Arabic culture, of course. But we have our own diverse culture. Most Indonesians know this, hence only 8% of voted for them. He’s charming and a smooth talker I admit. But not much substance and a few blunders already.


  9. I fail to see why his choice to not shake hands with women should be turned into an issue. It’s a personal preference, for heaven’s sake. It doesn’t mean he doesn’t respect women.

    I also fail to see how tweeting should lower his standing as a minister. Obama (or to be more accurate one of his underlings) tweets.

    As for “Arabization” (whatever that means) of Indonesia, I doubt Indonesia’s culture is so weak that it can’t withstand the incorporation of foreign elements. We already absorb a lot of Western culture both positive and negative.


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