The Confounding Decline of SBY

The Jakarta Post
10 June 2011

Wimar Witoelar


In tennis you have a let down syndrome after winning an important first set. There is a sense of relief after winning the first set and the winner relaxes, while the adversary stays at a high level concentration. Very often after starting the match by winning 6-3 you trail 0-4 in the second set.  Instructors say to avoid this you have to be aware that the first set is history and this set is the beginning of a new match. The first term for President Yudhoyono, and his total election victory, was like his first set.


President Yudhoyono won by a huge electoral margin, 60%-plus in the largest direct presidential election the world has ever seen. Now that he is the president with more control in his hands, he should have ample support as he coasts to the 2014 election finding his legacy, as he is not eligible to run another time. Yet a polling survey on SBY public approval showed him down to 48.9% in May 2011 from an August 2009 post-election high of 90.4%. Informal opinion in the noisy media shows him in a desperately defensive position. We do not know exactly why. Is it media bias? Is it the voice of public opinion rallied by an unfriendly media? Maybe orchestrated by political parties and parliamentary rivals? Or is it largely the result of unforced errors?


It seems so long ago that we said this: President Yudhoyono is off to a strong start on the world stage with his acclaimed performances at the G-20 meeting in Pittsburgh and address at Harvard University. In his Harvard address he waxed lyrical to say the G-20 “is not just an economic powerhouse -- it is also a civilization powerhouse," thus claiming Indonesia’s place as a civilization heavyweight. This seemed to be the new destiny of Indonesia and the start of a new career for SBY as world statesman. He was poised to be instrumental in saving the globe from climate change, not to mention his potential as a peacemaker of Islam in the political world, in juxtaposition of President Obama’s position as first expressed in his Cairo speech. SBY is easing himself onto the world.


Then he became weaker and we do not why. It reminded me of a random paragraph in a website on plants: ‘Decline in blueberry plant vigor without visible plant symptoms is very difficult to diagnose. Many possible causes exist, most of which will lead to visible symptoms over time.’


The first symptom was detected when we saw than Cabinet he composed was not composed of people who could make our hopes come true by good  government, but a crew based on political bridge-building, totally uncalled for after a landslide victory. He recruited bright stars of professional people like Sri Mulyani, Mari Pangestu, Gita Wiryawan and Kuntoro Mangkusubroto. But then he stands by and allows Sri Mulyani to be clobbered in the parliament and on television. The charges ranged from manufactured to outright falsehoods, but they stuck in the public mind until today. Instead of sticking to his best choice for the cabinet, he let her go albeit with great respect, and in a shock move embraced her antagonist. The political maneuver was made even more confusing by the media who seem to enjoy playing up complicated.  


It does not help the President that the free press and open internet makes no excuses to choose news value over public education. Any story is spun in the morning talk shows and social media by propagandist media having no qualms about misinforming the innocent public, eager to have their voices heard on twitter. We cannot overlook the fact that the smoke of misperception is often fueled by actual. The latest is the case Nazaruddin, just dismissed as treasurer of SBY’s Democrat Party on ground of suspected bribery. He escaped to Singapore the day before he was due to receive a travel ban. The President ordered his party to bring him back for investigation, but the suspect stays in hiding for more than two weeks.


The gap between strong words and strong action has become more striking as more issues supersede previous unresolved challenges. Politically driven criminal acts stretch out from the Lapindo Mud Disaster to the Gayus Tax Fraud case to the ongoing tug of war between national interests and business-political collusion over Newmont. On the other hand, antidotes against crime led by the KPK and his own crime busters are inadequately supported by the President. Public disruption by extremists using religious symbols are ignored in the blackest period of flaunting disregard for the nation’s pluralist foundation.


It could be argued, certainly with strong foundation, that the President has delivered successes that are not being sufficiently appreciated by the public. We certainly are impressed by government handling of terrorists, disasters and clear accomplishments like rescuing hostages held by Somalia pirates. Unfortunately these feats are not presented well. They are like rain falling on scorched land.


I don’t think anyone, friend or foe, should take satisfaction in the mishaps of SBY. He is our democratically elected President and no one stand to gain from his failure except the narrowest of antisocial types. But please Mr President, respond the challenge, recognize your friend, and distance yourself from those who do you disservice.


terbit juga di Malaysian Insider

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  1. From abdillah muhammad on 13 June 2011 11:06:43 WIB
    it's called postpower sindrome, I do't know what will be happen to Indonesia if SBY doesn't change his style.
  2. From Snowy on 20 June 2011 00:54:04 WIB
    Hey, youÂíre the goto exerpt. Thanks for hanging out here.
  3. From Deejay on 31 July 2011 07:43:04 WIB
    Great post with lots of ipmortant stuff.

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