Achmad Zaky, founder and chief executive of Bukalapak. (B1 Photo/Herman)

Bukalapak in PR Disaster After CEO's 'New President' Tweet

BY : HERMAN

FEBRUARY 15, 2019

Jakarta. Bukalapak, one of Indonesia's four unicorn startups, is facing a public relations disaster after its founder and chief executive, Achmad Zaky, expressed his grievance on Twitter over the country's sluggish spending on research and development.

The disaster started on Wednesday when he took to his personal account @achmadzaky to post unspecified data from 2016 that highlighted the low spending by Indonesia on research and development, compared with some developed nations.

However, it was the part where he wrote that he hoped the "new president" would raise state-budget spending on research and development that drew widespread condemnation by netizens, who said it sounded like he was hoping for a defeat of the incumbent, Joko "Jokowi" Widodo, in this year's presidential election. He later deleted the controversial tweet, but a screenshot went viral on social media and messaging platforms.

#UninstallBukalapak

Not long after his tweet, the hashtag #UninstallBukalapak started trending on social media, along with calls for a boycott of the e-commerce giant. Many accused Zaky of not so subtly expressing support for presidential contender Prabowo Subianto. This was soon followed by various creative memes and videos mocking Bukalapak.

Despite issuing an official apology, the incident appears to have sunk an ongoing campaign by the e-commerce giant, which drew support from the widely popular president. Jokowi's presence at the company's ninth anniversary celebration in January received massive media coverage, especially his statement that the nation needed more unicorn startups like Bukalapak to help micro, small and medium enterprises.

Official Apology

In an official statement received by the Jakarta Globe's sister publication, Beritasatu.com, Zaky said his intention with the troubled tweet was not to support any of the presidential candidates, but rather to call for joint action to develop the nation by pushing for more spending on research.

"I, Achmad Zaky, in my personal capacity and as one of the founders of Bukalapak, would herewith like to express my most sincere apology for my statement on social media. I truly regret my unwise action and I ask for your full forgiveness," he said in the statement. 

Riding the Wave

Supporters of Prabowo and his running mate Sandiaga Uno were quick to capitalize on the controversy, creating the hashtag, #UninstallJokowi.

In response to the heated discussions sparked by Zaky's tweet, Kastorius Sinaga, one of the leaders of volunteer group Relawan Jokowi, or ReJo, asked supporters of the incumbent president to not allow themselves to be too easily provoked and to keep their cool. He said the controversial tweet was simply poorly worded and thus irrelevant.

"Achmad Zaky's observation in his tweet was quite emotional. It was made without considering the current [political] context and potential public reaction," Kastorius told Beritasatu.com on Friday.

He said the Jokowi administration has shown a strong commitment to supporting technology-based startups and that the jargon of the so-called Fourth Industrial Revolution was already deeply embedded in the long-term roadmaps of various government agencies.

"The way I see this, Achmad [Zaky] was just wrong in his choice of words to express his disappointment," Kastorius said. He reiterated his call to Jokowi supporters to remain calm, adding that there was no need to slam Bukalapak, and even less for a call to boycott the company.

"Bukalapak chief executive Achmad Zaky has publicly apologized for his incorrect choice of words in his tweet," Kastorius said.

However, he admitted that amid the rising political tension ahead of the April legislative and presidential elections, any comments, especially by high-profile figures, need careful consideration.

"One thing that must be understood, is that politics is tough," he said. "One must think of any possible collateral damage that can result from one incorrect statement."

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