When the subject of Jokowi comes up, there is usually an awkward pause as everyone tries to express the mixture of frustration, despair and disappointment over the man they elected as President with high hopes for reform just a few months ago.
The pause, Unspun suspects, is because they are not really ready to confront their true feeling about Jokowi: ennui.
That is the most dangerous feeling one can harbour for Jokowi. That feeling is so powerful that Unspun, who had once been spirited to criticise SBY for his shortcomings, haven’t taken to writing on this blog lately.
Why is this most dangerous? Well, when there is hope left you would still criticise on the slim chance that it would be noticed by the person being talked about and maybe, just maybe, it would change the way they do things. With SBY you at least knew that Ibu Ani read the media clippings and SBY was sensitive to criticism. There was hope that change could still come about.
With Jokowi, there is no one home. One wonders if he’s really aware of what’s being said about the policies of his government and his decisions. And if he knew, would he care? There is no evidence he would.
So despair gives rise to a feeling of ennui. A tiredness so heavy and cumbersome you give up hope trying to do anything about it. Perhaps this is why the criticism against Jokowi are relatively muted these days. Perhaps many people have already given up on him, but do not have any alternative to turn to.
Ennui also because things are spiralling out of control so much that it sometimes feels like lunatics are running the asylum. How then can one account for anti alcohol laws that does not stop at banning the sale of beer at convenience stalls but making drinking alcohol illegal all together?
Or mining laws that are seemingly designed to kill the very goose that has laid the golden eggs of revenue fort the government. This is a time when, faced with declining commodity prices and a global economic downturn the government has to raise enough money to finance its massive infrastructure plans so that it can meet the campaign promise of 7% GDP growth?
Or that stubborness to execute drug offenders and piss of investor countries for the totally unsubstantiated and willy thinking that executions would help prevent drug abuse in Indonesia.
Why is all this happening? Unspun’s theory, formulated over lunch chatter with a client and a journalist, is that the apparatchik in Indonesia have always harboured a devil-may-care nationalistic attitude. Given the chance they would enact nationalistic laws and show the rest of the world that they bow to no one, even when they have to cut off their noses to spite their faces. Fortunately, however, Indonesia has been blessed by fairly open-minded, pro-business and pro-investment leaders. Suharto certainly, to a smaller extent Habibibie, Megawati and Gus Dur and certainly SBY (except for the Hattanomics he had to endure). They were no Einsteins or Keyneses but they had enough authority to keep the apparatchik in line and keep a lid on the destructive nationalistic impulses.
Now comes Jokowi. He’s isolated in his own government. His closest advisors Rini Sowandi and Arief Widjajanto are as alienated from the politicians than he. Together they have no power base in any political party. Then there is Luhut Pandjaitan, by all accounts a solid chap but he’s also a military man, and there is feeling that military men – apart from those wielding great authority like Suharto – cannot make the Government bureaucracy work. And then there is, of course, Megawati who thinks she’s royalty and deserves to be treated as such.
So the result is a president that is ineffective and a bureaucracy gorging itself on its newfound freedom to exercise its long-latent nationalism. Nobody seems to be directing this spate of events, not least the anti-investment, anti-foreigner legislation that we’ve been seeing lately.
So nobody’s home. The lunatics are running the asylum and a dark and heavy ennui is descending over us all. Will we succumb? Or will we, like Indonesia has done so many times before in the pass, muddle through and find a solution to the current malaise?