Just as the fallout from the infamous hoax perpetrated by Ratna Sarumpaet was starting to fade, opposition candidate Prabowo Subianto’s campaign is now facing another PR disaster over a joke the Gerindra chairman made during a speech in Boyolali, Central Java.
The speech, delivered on Tuesday at the opening of a new campaign office in Boyolali and addressed to a crowd of his supporters, concerned the growing difficulties facing the poor in Indonesia.
At one point in the speech, Prabowo talked about how there were many places in Jakarta that the poor couldn’t access, such as the luxurious five-star hotels. He told the crowd that he was sure most of them had probably never entered such hotels.
“Maybe if you did you’d get kicked out. After all, you don’t look rich, you have the look of Boyolali people, right?”
As can be heard in the video, the crowd of supporters laughed at the joke and, by all accounts, nobody seemed offended at the time. But after video of the speech made its way online — specifically a short clip of just the joke — the general reaction from the people of Boyolali can best be summarized as pissed off.
The Boyolali backlash started boiling over on Friday. That’s when the hashtag #SaveMukaBoyolali (#SaveTheFaceOfBoyolali) started trending in reaction to Prabowo’s joke, marking tweets that took offense at his comment and clapping back at its implication that people from Boyolali look poor.
Dear Prabowo, though we are unworthy of The Ritz-Carlton @RitzCarlton, St. Regis @stregishotels, etc. But, we offer our hearts to Indonesia and the world, so that everyone could deeply feel the love we share.#SaveMukaBoyolali pic.twitter.com/4eh8SpCfNU
— Mimbar Orasi (@mimbar_orasi) November 2, 2018
PRABOWO IS THE BIG FAT MAN AND BIG MOUTH WITH LESS BRAIN !!
WE SUPPORT MR. JOKOWI FOR PRESIDENT IN 2019.
— ☕CoffeeholiquerzKonoha🇮🇩 (@coffeeholiquerz) November 3, 2018
This Indonesian President Candidate "Again" producing HOAX
— Dr. Fell #NemoMovement (@sugi_0706) November 2, 2018
But the backlash against Prabowo went much further than a viral meme. Also on Friday, the presidential candidate was reported to the Jakarta Police by a man named Dakun who claimed to be originally from Boyolali. Dakun accused Prabowo of violating Indonesia’s controversial Law on Information and Electronic Transactions (UU ITE) which potentially criminalizes any speech deemed offensive online, as well as related hate speech statutes.
It’s not clear yet whether the the police will act on Dakun’s report (though it seems unlikely) but the anger from Boyolali’s citizens was made very clear on Sunday when a crowd reportedly containing thousands of protesters (including Boyolali regent Seno Samodro) took to the streets to demand that Prabowo apologize.
— Ora Et Labora (@kurniawandkj) November 4, 2018
Despite their demands, Prabowo and his campaign have so far refused refused to apologize. An official statement from campaign spokesman Sriyanto Saputro said that an apology was not needed because it was not offensive in the context of his entire speech and none of the people in the audience at the time had been offended.
Prabowo, while not specifically addressing the backlash over his joke, made reference to it during a speech yesterday to Islamic scholars in Jakarta, saying that these days it was impossible to make jokes because they could easily be twisted into controversy.
Despite denying any wrongdoing, Prabowo’s campaign said the former general was ready to face the law and would cooperate with any investigations into reports made against him.
This is the second major PR blow to Prabowo’s campaign after one of his former senior campaigners, Ratna Sarumpaet, was found to have lied about being beaten by mysterious assailants. Photos of her swollen face in fact turned out to be the aftermath of a facial liposuction procedure she had undergone. Prabowo and his campaign were widely ridiculed for buying into Ratna’s lie, which was quickly unraveled by police upon investigation.
With Prabowo already down by around 20 points against President Joko Widodo in most recent polling, this faux pas will likely make it even harder for him to catch up with the incumbent. Unless the Gerindra chairman gets a gamechanger in his favor, and soon, this election is going to be over long before April.