Pedestrians in Jakarta's Sudirman central business district on April 16. (Antara Photo/Akbar Nugroho Gumay)

Indonesian Netizens Critical of Gov't Handling of Pandemic: Study

BY :NUR YASMIN

APRIL 28, 2020

Jakarta. A big data study by the Institute for Development of Economics and Finance, or Indef, found that 67.7 percent of conversations on Indonesian social media reflect negatively on the government's Covid-19 mitigation policies, including its mudik exodus ban, large-scale social restriction and pre-employment card unemployment benefits program.

"The government has not been able to mobilize positive public sentiment toward its policies," Indeft director Didik Rachbini said in the report.

Indef analyzed over 470,000 online discussions on Covid-19 involving 397,200 Indonesian users of social media. The data were gathered from March 27 to April 25. Social media influencers were excluded from the research.

Around 79 percent out of the 171,000 discussions on the large-scale social restriction reflect negatively on the measure. Key topics include the government's indifference on supplying basic goods to people under the semi-lockdown, irrelevant martial law and the ineffectiveness of the measure. 

"The netizens think the government has been too ambiguous – on the one hand, the president's spokesman said people could go on the Idul Fitri exodus as long as they self-quarantine once they arrive in their hometowns, but then another cabinet minister said the exodus would not be allowed," Didik said.

More than 80 percent out of 64,000 conversations on company layoffs during the pandemic suggested the policy was unfair. The rest of the conversations were on collection donation for people who got fired.

Around 56 percent of netizens also think the government's social safety net and relief package are not targeting the right people. 

There were nearly 45,000 conversations on the mudik exodus ban, with 54 percent thinking that mudik should be allowed for the vulnerable or unemployed. The rest think the government should issue a warning for mudik, not a ban.

"The president said mudik is not allowed, but going back to one's hometown [pulang kampung] is, this is a very confusing statement. Lives are at stake. The president shouldn't have made vague or contradictory policies and statements," Didik said.

There were nearly 25,000 discussions on the release of petty criminals from Indonesia's crowded jails to save them from coronavirus infection on April 1. 

Indonesian netizens were divided on this issue, with 54 percent thinking it was a positive and humane move by the government, while the rest thought it might lead to public unrest.

The netizens were also against the government giving remission to corruptors.

There were 1,092 conversations on the government's decision to waive electricity fees for some Indonesians, with 94 percent thinking the move was a positive one.

The government ban on insulting the president during the pandemic was also a popular topic, with over 15,000 conversations recorded. Almost 90 percent of the comments reflect negatively on the government, mostly saying that the "government is allergic to criticism."

"The ban on insulting the president was not directly related to Covid-19, but there were over 15,000 conversations on the topic. Most people disagreed with the ban and thought it was anti-democratic and authoritarian," Didik said.

"We will continue the study until May. I think mudik will still be a popular topic because the government seems to be still in a bind about it," he said.

Negative Perception of Cabinet

Beyond government policies, Indonesian netizens also expressed negative sentiment against the cabinet. 

"The media was awash with unscientific comments from cabinet members about the coronavirus. According to a study by LP3ES, there were at least 37 controversial statements by cabinet members [about Covid-19] that got quite a lot of traction in local media, most of them about alternative cures [for coronavirus], for example drinking horse milk," Didik said.

President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo attracted the most number of conversations with 22,000, 68 percent of them showing negative sentiment.

The conversations were mainly on his recently launched pre-employment card and his much-hyped millennial staffers.

"The president shouldn't be worried about his popularity. He's not in the middle of a campaign. We need our leader to be firm," he said.

The Coordinating Minister for Maritime Affairs and Investment, Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan, attracted 86 percent negative sentiment in over 1,000 conversations mainly on his handling as acting transportation minister of online motorcycle taxi licensing and of public transportation operation during the pandemic.

Justice and Human Rights Minister Yasonna Laoly was the second least popular member of the cabinet with 81 percent of netizens developing negative sentiment against him mostly for his decision to release prisoners, which he said at first might include corruptors.

Meanwhile, Health Minister Terawan Agus Putranto, who was widely criticized for making light of the threat of Covid-19 early during the pandemic, attracted 79 percent negative sentiment from the netizens. 

"There aren't so many conversations on the health minister now since he so rarely appears in public or the media," Didik said.

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