Jakarta – Officials should refrain from engaging in public spats to avoid sparking already inflamed tensions amid the prolonged COVID-19 health emergency that has triggered a multi-dimensional crisis, independent experts have said.
The admonishment comes following the recent barbs traded between Coordinating Political, Legal and Security Affairs Minister Mahfud M.D. and West Java Governor Ridwan Kamil, who also goes by the nickname "Emil".
Regional Autonomy Watch executive director Robert Endi Jaweng said that the two high-ranking officials should keep air their disagreements out of the public eye.
"We are still recording a high number of [COVID-19] cases. It is inelegant to showcase this debate in public, and doing so could even make the public angry [at the government]. It would be different if the pandemic was being handled effectively," Robert told The Jakarta Post on Friday.
The spat between Mahfud and Ridwan emerged in connection to the alleged violations of the COVID-19 health protocols at last month's gatherings involving the Islam Defenders Front (FPI) and its leader Rizieq Shihab, following the controversial cleric's return from self-proclaimed exile in Saudi Arabia.
The issue was exacerbated when the police launched their investigations into the violations that allegedly occurred during the wedding reception for Rizieq's daughter at his house and a commemorative event to mark the Prophet Muhammad's birthday (Maulid) at FPI headquarters, both in Petamburan, Central Jakarta.
The police are also investigating another event that attracted thousands of people at Rizieq's Islamic boarding school in Megamendung district of Bogor regency, West Java.
Ridwan and Jakarta Governor Anies Baswedan were questioned separately in connection with the investigations, which led to the replacement of the Jakarta and West Java Police chiefs.
Speaking after he was questioned by the West Java Police on Wednesday, Ridwan blamed the chief security minister for an earlier statement as essentially "giving permission" to Rizieq's supporters to gather at Soekarno-Hatta airport to welcome the cleric home on Nov. 10.
"In my opinion, all of this protracted uproar started since Pak Mahfud's statement that allowed [people] to welcome [Rizieq]," Ridwan said as quoted by kompas.com.
Mahfud stated on Nov. 9 that Rizieq had a right to the state's protection like any Indonesian citizen did in deciding to return to his country.
"That statement was interpreted by thousands of people that going to the airport, as long as it was in a peaceful and orderly manner, was permitted," said Ridwan, adding that Mahfud's statement was taken to mean that the chief security minister had overruled "the large-scale social restrictions (PSBB) in Jakarta and West Java".
Mahfud then took to Twitter to respond to Ridwan's claim, saying that he took full responsibility for his Nov. 9 statement.
"The government's discretion was given to welcome and escort [Rizieq] until he arrived in Petamburan. The events that were held [afterwards] were outside of the discretion that I announced," he tweeted on Dec. 16.
He also said that he permitted people to welcome Rizieq as long as they followed the COVID-19 health protocols, and that this only applied from the airport to Petamburan.
Siap, Kang RK. Sy bertanggungjawab. Sy yg umumkan HRS diizinkan pulang ke Indonesia krn dia punya hak hukum utk pulang. Sy jg yg mengumumkan HRS blh dijemput asal tertib dan tak melanggar protokol kesehatan. Sy jg yg minta HRS diantar sampai ke Petamburan. https://t.co/GKHJuyEleW – Mahfud MD (@mohmahfudmd) December 16, 2020
The spat continued as Ridwan responded promptly on Twitter, asking why the West Java administration seemed to be shouldering the lion's share of responsibility over the alleged health protocol violations, and not the central government.
"Why is it always the regional leaders that keep being asked to take responsibility?" the governor tweeted on Wednesday.
Siap pak Mahfud. Pusat daerah hrs sama2 memikul tanggung jawab. Mengapa kerumunan di Bandara yg sgt masif & merugikan kesehatan/ekonomi, tidak ada pemeriksaan sprt halnya kami berkali-kali. Mengapa kepala daerah terus yg hrs dimintai bertanggung jawab. Mhn maaf jika tdk berkenan. https://t.co/jne5l8Bthg – ridwan kamil (@ridwankamil) December 16, 2020
Robert of the KPPOD said that the highly public spat highlighted the need for better internal policy communication between the central and regional governments during the health crisis, and suggested that the central government sit down with local administrations to discuss their respective roles.
Communications expert Irwansyah from the University of Indonesia echoed this view.
"The Twitter responses from Mahfud M.D. and Ridwan Kamil actually showed a lack of communication between central government, as represented by the chief minister, and the regional administration, as represented by the governor," he said on Thursday as quoted by kompas.com. (mrc).