What's happening at the
Tuesday 11 Dec 2018 | 05:41 | SYDNEY
Tuesday 11 Dec 2018 | 05:41 | SYDNEY

Indonesian election: The power of parody



13 June 2014 14:39

For any Indonesian speakers out there, here's a good little sketch comedy act doing the rounds on social media this week. For anyone following Indonesia's presidential election, it's also a good indicator of the typical criticisms being laid against each of the candidates.

The video was posted by wedding photography studio/comedy group Cameo, and opens with a disclaimer that it is not intended as a campaign for or against either of the candidates, Joko 'Jokowi' Widodo and Prabowo Subianto. In a media environment in which just about every outlet is aligned behind one or the other, it's a refreshing balance.*

At the risk of killing a joke by explaining it, I'll let you in on some of the points made in the video (with approximate translations) and what they say about public opinion.

As we saw in this week's televised debate, Prabowo's alleged role in the abduction of student activists in 1998 is a touchy subject for the presidential hopeful. Some of the students were never returned to their families, presumed dead, and were commonly referred to by the cautious press as having 'disappeared'. The Cameo sketch shows that Indonesia's younger generation is aware of the incident: when a group of friends are discussing their voting preferences, one mentions Prabowo. 'Don't talk about Prabowo, you'll disappear!' his friend warns. And, well, he literally does.

Turning the focus to Jokowi, one of the biggest criticisms he has faced is that he's alleged to be little more than a puppet for former president Megawati Sukarnoputri and her Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P).

Unlike Prabowo, who is the founder of his own party, the Greater Indonesia Movement (Gerindra), Jokowi has intra-party politics to deal with, not least coming from Megawati as chairwoman. As a popular and high-achieving mayor in Solo, Central Java, he was carried to the Jakarta governorship by both Megawati and Prabowo to boost their approval ratings as advocates of clean governance. Jokowi's popularity then overtook both presidential hopefuls, eventually forcing Megawati to name him as her party's presidential candidate. However, many believe he still has debts to pay.

In one segment of the video, the Jokowi puppet hits a glitch in an interview and has to have his programming disc replaced. In another, the friends order a Jokowi doll over the internet, only to find a waving Megawati when they open the box. 'What, her?' they complain. Upon calling the customer service line, they are told, 'We've already checked with the warehouse, and it turns out there was no mistake. When you order Jokowi, you get Megawati.'

On foreign policy, a pair of sketches shows the contrast between how Prabowo and Jokowi might deal with a conflict with a neighbouring country, such as Malaysia. A survey by the Soegeng Sarjadi School of Government (SSSG) last week showed that voters considered Jokowi to be a more honest candidate, but still admired the assertiveness of Prabowo as a prospective leader. An entertaining piece on New Mandala in May questioned the voter appeal of the strongman image, purported by the Prabowo camp to be an essential component of his leadership. The SSSG survey confirmed that assertiveness is not necessarily preferred over honesty in a leader, with Jokowi maintaining 42.65% support against Prabowo's 28.35%, and another 29% undecided. This split of voter support varies greatly among different surveys, possibly due to political affiliations, but this one is useful to compare results for 'preferred leadership qualities' and 'preferred leader' within a single survey.

The comedy sketch shows the predicted reactions of Jokowi and Prabowo as president to news that Malaysia has 'stolen' an iconic Indonesian textile, batik (believe it or not, ownership of the textile is an actual ongoing matter of debate between the two countries). 'That's not my concern,' the Jokowi figure replies noncommittally. 'In my hometown, there are many factories that make batik. We'll just make some more. Aku rapopo (I'm fine).' Meanwhile, 'Prabowo' takes an entirely different course. 'Malaysia? What's that?' he asks. 'Malaysia, sir,' the aide replies. 'It's right here on this map...it's disappeared!'

* Correction: This is the same comedy group that produced videos to support Jokowi's campaign for governor in Jakarta in 2012, so it's likely the group has a political affiliation in the presidential election as well. Jokowi's running mate at the time, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, is from Prabowo's Gerindra party. It's unclear which side of politics the group has aligned with in this election. Cameo did not respond to calls for confirmation on this issue.

Update to correction: The group has denied any political affiliations in the presidential campaign.

You may also be interested in...