As we all know, the COVID-19 pandemic is not only affecting the global health and economic situation, but it has also tested the political leadership of all countries no matter what their political system is.
When the first case announced in Indonesia, our democracy was in a relatively mature stage. President Jokowi has just re-elected and new cabinet members have just been working for not far than 100 days. Jokowi was also in a very strong position with a solid government coalition in the legislative body. However, the COVID-19 has made a different story. President Jokowi’s political leadership is now being tested.
Before the COVID-19 outbreak in Indonesia, the government has planned its ambitious infrastructure development, including a new capital in Kalimantan. Some of new ministers have also brought up more agenda to achieve the vision of Jokowi in the second term. The Foreign Ministry for instance has an initiative in an attempt to advance the concrete cooperation in implementing the ASEAN Outlook on Indo-Pacific (AOIP) and enhance the economic diplomacy as the top priorities of our diplomacy through the signing of more free trade agreements this year.
On top of that, the political leadership is a core of how the COVID-19 will be ended. We have seen several world leaders who have relatively successful in battling COVID-19. Just recently, New Zealand just declaring itself as COVID-19 free nation. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has played a strong leadership in her effective containment measures. With no health background, but with well-built political and communication experiences, she is undoubtedly capable to lead the process in dealing with this health crisis.
In South Korea, President Moon Jae-in’s successful measures and policies in handling the COVID-19 crisis has turned-out into high votes. The people’s trust towards the government shown from the last recent general election on 15 April 2020.
Comparably, in the United States, Trump’s approval rating plummets and has strengthened Joe Biden’s position to win the November election. The recent survey by CNN found that 55% of voters would vote for Biden if the election were held today, while 41% would favor Trump.
How about Indonesia?
Since the early times of this pandemic, we can see some worrying characteristics and patterns which are the unreasonable denial of government towards COVID-19, the inconsistency of decision, the lack of coordination between central and local government and the soaring trade-off between economic and public health perspective of the COVID-19 pandemic.
We still have four years from the next presidential election. Nonetheless, Jokowi needs to contemplate the effect of this crisis politically. The ability to solve this crisis will be recalled and it will significantly affect the political trust of Indonesians to the ruling government. Public was so critical of government’s handling of pandemic, a poll by the Institute for Development of Economics and Finance (INDEF) found that 67.7% of conversations on Indonesian social media reflect negatively on the government's COVID-19 mitigation policies.
President Jokowi cannot distract the attention of the population with another political strategy other than his success story in combating COVID-19. The public dissatisfaction will be an inevitable challenge for Jokowi’s presidency in the foreseeable future, and it should be anticipated.
Several things should be improved. First, good communication strategy. Effective public communication delivered to the citizens is critical and influencing the public obedience over government policies. It is clear that Jokowi’s government has made uncountable backfires and blunders during this pandemic. Second, the government needs to be more acceptable on public discord and debates, especially if it is coming from the key stakeholders. Third, government policies that are based on data or scientific consideration should be intensified, no longer based on individual preferences. The government has to come up in the opposite way from what has been captured by the public disappointment during the pandemic. Fourth, a short term solution perhaps a cabinet reshuffle. My suggestion to President Jokowi is to make a new year speech to re-affirmed the government priorities and agendas vigorously after COVID-19 and bring up a clearer narrative on what would be “new normal” plans. The government should also focus on the long term solutions instead of just short ones - which is less likely to be public health investment.
Moreover, the most intriguing competition of influence in the foreseeable future is on vaccine development. Indonesia always reiterated the importance of equal and accessible vaccines in particularly for developing nations. Just recently, Indonesia has signed a cooperation with China who affirmed its commitment to support vaccine development. China and Indonesia have even conducted collaboration in developing vaccines through the work of Sinovac and Bio Farma. President Jokowi’s leadership in securing vaccine for its people is crucial.
COVID-19 has clearly “told” us a message on the importance of science, research and its applications on our policies. The intention of President Jokowi to develop our human capital in his second term should be applied along with the advancement of our knowledge. The knowledge in not only using the products of science, but also behind the process of developing them.
The politics of aid in terms of medical supplies and health technology of major powers in the region is real. In the future, to be a consequential power in the region should be based on technology. We can see how Singapore and Vietnam have used it very well during this pandemic. I do believe President Jokowi understands our weaknesses and circumstances. There is a hope of shifting our science ability into a better direction.
The energy of the populations has been exhausted caused by the COVID-19 crisis, it is even exacerbated by the unnecessary political incidents during the pandemic. The nation needs to rise and Jokowi as a leader is the main actor to lead the way in lifting the spirit of Indonesians. We still remember the last words said in his inauguration speech last year, “My sail is flying, my helm is mounted, together we move toward an advanced Indonesia!”. Looking forward to that! (Noto Suoneto)