President Jokowi came to power last year with a promise to lead a 'mental revolution' to strengthen the intellect and civic values of Indonesians and the politicians who serve them. This week, the progress of the 'revolution' came under review as Indonesia marked National Teachers' Day, joined the launch of the ASEAN Economic Community, and saw unease spread among political elites over a high-profile scandal.
National Teachers' Day was marked on Wednesday in Jakarta this week with a gathering of around 12,000 teachers from across the country. Jokowi seized the opportunity to promote his 'mental revolution', naming teachers as strategic allies in changing the mindset of the nation. The President also had an unexpected reunion with several of his high school teachers, who remembered him as a quiet, long-haired student who worked hard to gain entry into one of the country's best universities.
National Teachers' Day is marked annually in Indonesia to appreciate the hard work of teachers in educating the next generation. Teachers in Indonesia struggle with low wages, minimal resources and a crowded curriculum that is a constant topic of political debate. Most recently, the Defense Ministry announced a controversial plan to incorporate its civilian state defence program, Bela Negara, into the school curriculum as early as next year. The program has been criticised for its similarities to compulsory nationalist propaganda classes initiated under Suharto's New Order.
A strong sense of nationalism alone won't be enough to prepare Indonesian students for the ASEAN Economic Community, which was officially launched at the association's summit in Malaysia this week. The regional agreement promises borderless movement of goods, services, capital and labour across Southeast Asian member states, starting this year.
Though the economic bloc will take some time to become a reality,today's students will need to prepare for a more competitive market. The most recent test results from the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) in 2012 showed Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand to be among the bottom third for performance worldwide, while Vietnam and Singapore were placed in the top 20. Results of this year's tests are due for release in 2016.
The impact of the 'mental revolution' has also yet to be seen among the nation's political elite. Jokowi on Monday made the fourth call this year for his ministers to show discipline and avoid making inflammatory remarks to the media regarding cabinet infighting. One day later, Coordinating Maritime Affairs Minister Rizal Ramli publicly remarked that a little noise among cabinet members was necessary, and was quoted by the Jakarta Post as saying, 'If there are too many rats in rice fields, we should make noise so the rats run away and the harvest can be reaped as expected'.
His comments were taken as referring to an ongoing scandal implicating the speaker of the House of Representatives that has sent shock waves through all sides of national politics this week.
House speaker Setya Novanto has been accused of having tried to broker a deal with US miner Freeport for shares in the company in the names of the president and vice president, in exchange for assurance of a contract extension. An alleged recording of Setya's conversation with Freeport representatives also mentions the name of Luhut Panjaitan, chief security minister and Jokowi's former chief of staff. The President's Great Indonesia Coalition (KIH) has called for Setya's resignation, threatening a vote of no confidence.
Photo by Flickr user martl84.
Meanwhile, Prabowo's Red and White Coalition (KMP) has pledged support for Setya, calling into question the legitimacy of the voice recording. The non-aligned Democratic Party has taken the position that the case should be properly processed. But with Setya set to face the House ethics council, both coalitions have been moving swiftly to ensure their members are duly represented on the council, indicating that political allegiances will strongly influence the outcome of a council hearing.
Whatever the outcome of Setya's case, the concern shown from all sides of politics suggests that it may take more than the help of school teachers for Jokowi to succeed with his 'mental revolution'.