Editorial: A Case For Anies Baswedan

Editorial Omong-Omong

10 min read

As Indonesians are being strangled by the spike in living costs to a point where most of them will slowly be out of breath sooner than later, outgoing Jakarta Governor Anies Baswedan, the strongest potential candidate to win the Indonesian presidency in the 2024 election, has eloquently showcased his leadership credentials, which could be the solution to many of the nation’s chronic problems, including the combination of the twin evil issues of people’s low income and high prices of goods on the one side and rising income gap on the other.

It’s precisely in these most complicated problems, Anies, an economist by training who receives his PhD in the United States, has demonstrated his adept understanding and knowledge that sparked hope and expectation that as a president later he will have been prepared to come up with creative solutions without having to choke people – those who vote for him – slowly to death like what President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo has done when he lazily and arbitrarily raised the fuel prices without considering how unjust it is for Indonesian people – most of whom voted for him to presidency – when underperformed Pertamina, the state firm oil company responsible for the problems, paid his directors and commissioner billions of rupiah per month even when the company keeps on losing money year in year out.

For as long as people remember Pertamina has never been profitable. This year alone, the company lost nearly 200 trillion rupiahs. However, the company’s top brasses continue to have their salary raised. The president commissioner, for instance, receives 3.2 billion rupiahs per month, a stark contrast to average salaries of Indonesian in general who only gets less than 3 million per month. It means he receives more than a thousand times bigger salary than an average Indonesian is receiving. The president commissioner is hardly alone in getting that compensation for unclear jobs as Pertamina has dozens of executives at his salary level or more.

The spike in fuel prices that pushes up the prices of other commodities, especially food and transportation, to unbearable levels to almost 200 million people from low income families appear more and more unjust considering that such an increase only allows the government to save 50 trillion rupiahs. Such a relatively small amount compared to the suffering it has caused, and especially compared to the value of many Jokowi’s projects, for instance, the projects of the nation’s capital (IKN) and Jakarta-Bandung speed train both of which costs the state 500 trillion rupiahs and more than 100 trillion rupiahs respectively.

So, why not stop both projects rather than shift the burden caused by the government’s inefficiencies to millions of low income families? Whom are both of the projects for actually? Who benefits from the projects? Certainly, not millions of Indonesian low income families.

To mask reality that more and more people in Indonesia are become poorer during Jokowi’s period, the Statistics Indonesia (BPS) has set that a person who spends above 508,000 rupiahs per month is not classified as poor. This means that a family of three will be considered poor if they combine to spend around 1.5 million rupiahs. But which family can live with 1.5 million rupiahs per month? Imagine that sum of money should be used for food, school fees, transportation costs, gas, pocket money, motor cycle and housing rental fees.

Even with this low bar or decreasing poverty line, the government announced early this year 26.16 million people live in poverty.

But the poverty line according to the World Bank as of 2017 is US$2.15 or 32,000 rupiahs per day or 960,000 per month per person, or and this is an extreme poverty line, or in other words, people live below this line mean they live in extreme poverty, not just poor but extremely poor.

If Indonesian government uses the $2.15 per day bar, then the number of poor people will be doubled to more than 50 million, or more than a fourth of Indonesians live in extreme poverty.

That’s just the poverty. What about income gap? Poverty rates are seven times higher in Papua than Jakarta, while the four richest Indonesians have more wealth ($25 billion) than the poorest 100 million ($24 billion).

What about corruption, which worsening in the wake of weakening the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK)? Why not investigating those state officials (military and police officers, ministers and lawmakers) who have fat bank accounts hoarding billions of people’s money and luxurious houses and apartments inside and outside the country before raising the fuel prices?

What not trying again, harder, to increase tax income, especially against super rich families, before raising the fuel prices? Indonesia’s revenue from tax is only less than 10 percent of its GDP, the lowest among Southeast Asian countries not name Myanmar, and lower than the average for least developed countries.

It just shows that this is a lazy and uncreative administration who is only looking for an easy way out, and how arbitrary most of decisions and policies it has taken.

Fortunately, Indonesia possibly already has a leader fully equipped with knowledge and wisdom to deal with its problems.

Wisdom, Knowledge and Data

In his lecture at Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy on Wednesday, Anies demonstrated his full understanding of Jakarta’s condition and problems, from the standpoints of historic, economic and sociological big pictures right down to the small and technical details supported by his mastery of knowledge, data and science, and accordingly put into practice policies and solution to solve such problems during his five-year term as the governor of the country’s capital, wowing the attending Indonesian and the city state’s intellectuals alike in the process.

While he was all style, his charisma mostly rested on his mastery of substance, strong logic, adeptness and articulateness.  He, for instance, convincingly argued that the number one problem for Jakartans, and certainly, Indonesians in general, is unbearable and ever rising living costs. And then the second is housing and the third is mobility, or transportation. Considering what is happening right now in Indonesia, it’s hard to argue otherwise.

“Behind every public policies, there are sociological reasons,” referring to his vision of uniting and make equal opportunity to all Jakartans, regardless of the status, in his public policies.

The one-hour time allocated for the lecture quickly passed with enthusiastic audience seemingly not wanting to stop listening and throwing him questions.

When Plato coined the term Philosopher King in his Republic, he refers to a hypothetical ruler in whom political skill is combined with philosophical knowledge (for modern world, it is all sciences and human knowledge) that allows him or her to create an ideal state that ensured the maximum possible happiness for all its citizens. As an economist, scientist and researcher as well as former rector of Paramadina University, one of centers of moderate Islamic teachings in Indonesia, and established by his teacher Nurcholis Madjid, one of Indonesia’s biggest figure in Islamic moderation, inclusivity and tolerance, Anies is as close as resembling a person who possesses what Plato calls as absolute knowledge to govern.

In a democratic republic like Indonesia, it will be the best of both worlds of having a president – rather than a king – with a philosopher-like capacity. The nation will not depend on personal knowledge wisdom alone but a system that will watch the ruler.

In its introduction to the lecture, the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public School, Asia’s top public policy school, states Anies has been widely praised for the transparent, science-based, and data-driven leadership during the pandemic, especially in the early days when many policymakers (including Jokowi and his ministers) were not aware of the magnitude of the crisis.

“He believes that those principles (transparency and science/data-driven leadership), combined with upholding institutionalization and collaboration in implementing policies, are critical to make sure that all the lessons learned and the meaningful progress that are achieved during his tenure can help enable more sustainable development in Jakarta.”

So, nothing is and will be arbitrary under him. Every decision he made and every policy he takes will be based on proper knowledge and science as well as sound data.

The prestigious school also praise Anies’ strong leadership and for him to have for successfully implemented public policies in the capital city of the world’s 4th most populous country, with all its dynamics and diversity, stating that fact that Anies’ term in office, Jakarta won more than 50 awards for innovations, breakthroughs, and effectiveness of government on all issues, ranging from public health, inclusivity, smart city system, to urban planning initiatives.

Jakarta was the first city in Southeast Asia to receive the globally acclaimed Sustainable Transport Award in 2021, after finishing as the previous year’s runner-up. Under Anies’ watch, the coverage of public transport in the city has doubled from 40 per cent in 2016 when Jokowi was still a governor, to almost 90 per cent presently. His administration has so far reduced carbon emissions by 26 per cent, just a hair’s breadth away from the targeted 30 per cent for Jakarta by 2030.

If he is to hold Indonesia’s top job come 2024, such a lecture has provided an early picture of his style and policies.  At the very least Anies will guarantee the country a leader who can stand toe to toe not only with other elder leaders in ASEAN, such as Cambodia’s Hun Sen, Brunei’s Hassanal Bolkiah and the upcoming ones in the region – such as Singapore’s Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong or whoever comes out as Malaysian permanent prime minister – but also any leaders the world over.

With his fluent English – even more fluent than former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono – and his smooth delivery, Anies will quickly charm the region, allowing him to directly address any leader and talk informally and intimately with them, a key capability in negotiation and diplomacy among leaders that can assure success in international relations.

In this aspect, few, if any, previous leaders are even close as Anies is on his own league. And it seems unfair to even compare him to other leaders in the post Soeharto era. The last time Indonesia had scientist cum president was around 25 years ago when Habibie managed to drag Indonesia out of chaos and division.

Doubts and Criticism

All of these lead us the biggest criticism against him.

First, he has been criticized to have used sectarianism politics on his way to win the gubernatorial election in 2017, utilizing and entertaining the conservative and fundamentalist Islamic groups in the process. Many have expressed fear, especially big proportion of Jokowi’s supporters, that his partnership with the Islamic conservatives will allow the groups to dominate the capital, putting minority groups in danger.

Then Jakarta Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama or Ahok became the victim of this politicization of religion. He was brought to court and subsequently jailed for insulting Islamic clerics.

But Anies has proven that it has not been the case during his governorship. There have been no reports of him supporting intolerance against minority groups during his term, or it is so difficult to find news about discrimination against minority groups or violence done by Islamic groups against other religions in Jakarta in the last five years. It’s even much easier to find such cases during the previous administrations. Even more surprising, there have been very few, if any, no road blocking because of gathering of Muslims anywhere in the capital.

Despite these facts, Anies’ conservatism partiality is still exaggerated, thanks to what happen in the 2017 election. Most of people who support Jokowi seemingly still find it difficult to forget the defeat of Ahok, and how he was criminalized and jailed.

Many people, including the so-called experts, have forgotten that Anies has been trained and educated in moderate Islamic tradition with Islamic scholar Nurcholis Madjid as his teacher and patron. Above all, he is too smart to fall into the trap of conservatism, let alone fundamentalism. He knows much better about the danger of fundamentalism than most, if not all, of his detractors.

In fact, in his lecture in Singapore Anies stated all most of his policy aimed to achieve unity and equality among people in Jakarta, narrowing gap between the rich and the poor as well as erasing segregation based on race, religion and economic status, or segregation between the slump and luxurious areas.

The second allegation is that he has failed to deal with floods in Jakarta. While to some extent this is a valid allegation, to be fair flood happens in any administration and to all governors, and none of them has been successful in preventing such a natural disaster from happening in the capital year after year. As Anies asserts, the water coming from its surrounding areas through its rivers is just too much for Jakarta’s capacity to absorb it.

So for Anies, the flood is something Jakartans has been living with as it is a once-a-year event. The Jakartans has not even included the flood problem as their top 5 priority concerns, with Anies claiming that as flood mostly affects the slump areas, it is those who are not affected that complain the loudest.

Still A Long Way to Go to Presidency

After his lecture and still in Singapore, Anies told Reuters that he is ready to run for presidency in 2024 election, an announcement welcomed by many in Indonesia.

But while Anies is undoubtedly the most popular and capable potential candidate, a number of issues could derail his path to the nation’s top job. First, and the most dangerous of them all, is an allegation of corruption in Formula E held in the capital on June 4.

Formula E is a single-seater motorsport championship for electric cars. It’s part of global drive to reduce the use of fossil fuel vehicles. It’s this drive that apparently attracted Anies to hold the race in Jakarta to promote the use of green energy for vehicles, and part of his vision to reduce Jakarta’s dependence to fossil fuel, and thus reducing the pollution in the city.

While the race was a success by any standards, with FIA (the governing body of world’s motor sports) praising as the most watched Formula E in the history of the race, Anies’ foes at the Jakarta Representative Council (DPR) immediately accused him of breaking a number of regional regulations, and potentially causing state losses, and soon enough the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK), who was well respected previously by many accused it now has become a political tool for some ruling elites in Jakarta, launched an investigation into the allegation. Anies came to provide his explanation after the KPK summoned him. While the KPK has yet to find anything or named a suspect in the case, many have expressed fears that this is part of ‘witch hunt’ just to prevent Anies from running.

It is relevant here to compare the Formula E with Jokowi’s Mandalika circuit in Lombok, West Nusa Tenggara.

While Formula E reportedly has costs of some 500 billion rupiahs, Mandalika’s costs have not been clear. Finance Minister Sri Mulyani has stated that the circuit has costed the state of Rp 2.5 trillion rupiahs but some reports mentioned that the total costs are more than 5 trillion rupiahs, and even then, many local land owners whose lands are used for the circuit have complained they have not been paid properly or even have not been paid at all, inviting the United Nations to question Indonesia’s practice against the local people and environment as the development of the circuit has created massive environmental destruction causing floods to the surrounding villages.

Despite these much larger issues and costs, no investigation has been made into Mandalika project.

If Anies survives the allegations, he still has to find political parties willing to support him to run. He needs a coalition of political parties who garnered a combined 20 percent votes in the 2019 elections.  So far, three parties have expressed intention to support him: The Prosperous Justice Party (PKS), former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s Democrat Party and business tycoon Surya Paloh’s Nasdem Party. The three parties will be enough to carry him the contest.

As in all politics, it’s now the questions of who gets what, when and how. While trying to satisfy these three parties, their chairmen and supporters will have Anies’ plate full, Anies should pull this off. The tricky question is who will finance it? It’s actually not a problem of who because once it’s clear that Anies will have enough support to run, everybody will jump in. The question is how much future sacrifices to get this support?

Another question is who will be Anies’ running mate? PKS will possibly have no problem, but will Paloh accept Agus Yudhoyono Harimurti (AHY) as Anies’ running mate? How much Paloh will ask in return? Will popular West Java Governor Ridwan Kamil, the ideal running mate for Anies, have a chance also?

Some survey organizations have wanted to challenge Anies, pitting him against Central Java Governor Ganjar Pranowo by boosting the latter’s popularity through recent surveys to convince the ruling Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), Ganjar’s party, to back him, or at last pairing him with Puan Maharani, daughter of Megawati Soekarno Putri, chairwoman of the party. But PDI-P, despite can nominate a presidential candidate on its own, seems reluctant to go alone, opening door for Prabowo Subianto, chairman of Gerindra, the runner-up in the last election, to pair with Puan, leaving Ganjar out of the race.

If Prabowo teams up with Puan then any other parties are likely to support them, resulting in only two pairs to compete in the 2024 presidential race: Anies Baswedan-AHY (or Ridwan Kamil) versus Prabowo Subianto-Puan Maharani. Giving the fact that young voters will dominate the 2024 election, and Prabowo’s popularity hit among his own supporters due to his move to become Jokowi’s minister, as well as Puan’s low electability and doubtless capacity, the result will have been clear.

For once in decades, why not giving a chance to reason, science and data over arbitrariness, hoaxes and lies?

Editorial Omong-Omong

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