‘Onion farmer’ cries about low prices to VP candidate Sandiaga Uno at campaign event, KPU says he’s a former commissioner

VP candidate Sandiaga Uno (Left) speaking with an onion farmer at a campaign event. Photo: Twitter/@sandiuno
VP candidate Sandiaga Uno (Left) speaking with an onion farmer at a campaign event. Photo: Twitter/@sandiuno

VP candidate Sandiaga Uno has made traveling around the country and meeting with the downtrodden  — particularly those who say they feel economically hard done by by President Joko Widodo’s administration — one of his main campaign strategies. In his campaign’s apparent bid to evoke emotional reactions from voters, he has posted numerous videos showing his encounters with these people. But one of the latest videos is being accused by many as staged.

On Monday, Sandi tweeted to his Twitter account a video from his recent campaign trail trip to Brebes, Central Java. In it, he invited an onion farmer on stage who was “holding back his tears” as he complained about the slump in onion prices, meaning he had to take a loan from the bank just to be able to harvest his crop. He says he had to put his father’s house as collateral to take out an IDR15 million (US$1,070) loan, and that many of his friends had become widowers after their wives left them to find work as domestic helpers abroad.

“I am actually crying here, sir,” the farmer tells Sandi at one point in the video.

In a follow-up tweet, Sandi promised that if he and presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto were elected, they would ensure that onion farmers won’t have to take out loans for harvest.

But questions quickly arose about whether or not the onion farmer was a struggling farmer after all (his watch is pretty spiffy, after all). Netizens who did some digging online soon found out that the farmer, a man named Muhammad Subhan, was actually a former commissioner of the General Elections Committee (KPU) in Central Java — a fact that was confirmed by KPU itself.

“When we verified with KPU Central Java, he was actually a member of the KPU during the last election period. So he’s not a KPU member for this period,” KPU Commissioner Ilham Saputra said, as quoted by Merdeka.

Had Subhan been a current KPU commissioner when his video with Sandi was taken, he would have broken the law as KPU members are prohibited from participating in political campaigning.

That said, KPU says it doesn’t know if Subhan is actually a struggling onion farmer at the moment.

Momma’s boy’s “Sandiwara”

The onion farmer video certainly did not reflect well on Sandi, particularly in the midst of hashtags bearing a play on word Sandiwara (meaning acting) that has gone viral over the past week or so.

The label emerged after netizens accused Sandi of staging several other encounters with the downtrodden in recent weeks. One notable example was when he posted photos of his meeting with a victim of the flood-tsunami in Makassar, South Sulawesi. In the photos, the victim looked to have his entire body covered by mud, but photos taken by other people from alternative angles showed that he seemed to have applied the mud on himself, as his back was still clean.

After Sandiwara went viral, Sandi’s mother, Mien Uno, demanded that those who called her son by his new nickname apologize to her directly.

“I want to face those people. If someone now says ‘Sandiwara Uno’ they have to apologize to his mother, who gave birth and educated Sandi,” she said, as quoted by CNN Indonesia on Monday.

Mien’s warning proved to be somewhat of a PR disaster for Sandi as well, as many netizens mocked him for being a pampered son (and therefore unfit to be the country’s vice president) using highly popular hashtags such as #SandiwaraAnakMami (Sandiwara is a momma’s boy).

The campaign team for President Joko Widodo and running mate Ma’ruf Amin criticized Sandi for bringing his mother into the campaign. But Sandi’s campaign has hit back saying that it’s within the right of Mien to defend her son (this after they accused President Jokowi of exploiting his young grandson for his campaign).

“If I were attacked by people, surely my parents would step forward to defend me. That’s a normal thing,” Prabowo-Sandi campaign spokesperson Andre Rosiade told reporters yesterday, as quoted by Detik.

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