If even the slightest non-verbal gestures can have great significance in political communication, then it’s easy to see why this incident has been interpreted as nothing less than an absolute humiliation.
On Saturday, Jakarta’s soccer club Persija overcame Bali United to claim the President’s Cup (oh my god, we finally won!) on home turf Gelora Bung Karno Stadium. Aside from the match itself, the main talking point of the evening was the trophy presentation ceremony, and for good reason:
In the video, which was originally posted by a spectator on Facebook before going wildly viral over the weekend, President Joko Widodo can be seen in the red Indonesian National Team top stepping down from the VIP podium followed by senior minister Wiranto, Cabinet Secretary Pramono Anung, and Sports Minister Imam Nahrawi. Trailing behind them was Jakarta Governor Anies Baswedan, who was prevented from joining Jokowi by a member of the Presidential Security Detail (Paspampres) before walking back to his seat in silent incredulity.
After the video went viral, many speculated that Jokowi deliberately barred Anies from giving the trophy to Persija players due to the well-documented bad blood between them, with the president’s supporters lauding the decision as they believe it serves Anies right while Jokowi’s critics branded it as an immature act not fit for a president.
But the Presidential Palace rebuffed such insinuations. Bey Machmudi, deputy for the Presidential Press, Media, and Information Secretariat said there was “absolutely” no instruction from Jokowi to bar Anies from the trophy ceremony.
“The Paspampres only allowed those whose names were mentioned by the organizers to accompany President Joko Widodo,” Bey said yesterday, as quoted by Kompas.
Anies, too, played it cool, avoiding to directly respond to the media’s questions about the incident.
“What’s important is that Persija won. Where I was is not important. What’s important is Persija won, and I’m proud,” Anies told reporters yesterday.
Anies also tweeted photos of himself and Jokowi during the match to show the camaraderie between them.
Malam ini, #PialaPresiden2018 telah tuntas. Terima kasih kepada Presiden @Jokowi atas perhelatan besar ini. Juga kepada seluruh panitia yang memastikan kelancaran seluruh kompetisi. Terima kasih kepada @BaliUtd untuk pertandingan yang seru di final ini.#PersijaDay pic.twitter.com/jZOFGtNUeh
— Anies Rasyid Baswedan | Sudah #VaksinDulu (@aniesbaswedan) February 17, 2018
But some aren’t willing to let the matter rest, such as deputy chairman of the House of Representatives from the opposition Gerindra party and vocal government critic Fadli Zon.
“Jokowi needs to be asked why [Anies] wasn’t asked to come along [to give the trophy]. It’s strange because [Anies] is the governor of the host team,” he said, as quoted by CNN Indonesia yesterday.
Fadli also pointed out that in previous President’s Cup finals, Jokowi invited former Jakarta Governor Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama to the trophy ceremony, footage of which re-emerged online recently.
Ahok is indeed a strong political ally of Jokowi’s, but the same can’t be said about Anies. While Anies played a big role in Jokowi’s presidential campaign in 2014 and was eventually appointed as education minister, their relationship is believed to have deteriorated after Jokowi had Anies replaced as the ministry’s head in July 2016. Anies then went on to ally himself with the opposition and Islamic hardliners in the 2017 Jakarta gubernatorial election against Ahok, who was backed by Jokowi’s PDI-P party. Anies capitalized on Ahok’s controversial blasphemy charges (which he was eventually given a two-year sentence for) during the campaign and then won the election.
Anies’ victory in Jakarta signals hope for the opposition and the governor could yet play a huge role in the 2019 presidential election. In fact, political analysts believe that there is a strong probability that Anies could be chosen by Gerindra to campaign as vice president for party chairman Prabowo Subianto (the losing candidate in 2014) in next year’s election.