Jakarta – President Joko Widodo has denied allegations widely discussed on social media that a minister resorted to violence during a policy dispute in a Cabinet meeting.
Rumours had been circulating on social media in recent days that Defence Minister Prabowo Subianto resorted to strangling and slapping Deputy Agriculture Minister Harvick Hasnul Qolbi before the limited Cabinet meeting at the Presidential Palace started.
Responding to questions from reporters on Tuesday during a trip to a traditional market in Jatinegara, East Jakarta, Mr Widodo, popularly known as Jokowi, said with a chuckle that, "as far as I know, there has been no incident like that. How come (there was) strangling?"
The president went on to say that the public should always verify information from social media before drawing their own conclusions, particularly ahead of the 2024 general election.
"In political years, there is indeed a lot of this kind of (mis)information," he said. "So please cross-check (the information). Don't take all news at face value."
The rumours began making the rounds on social media after a video clip, entitled "Did a presidential candidate slap a deputy minister in the meeting room?" was published earlier in September by the Seword opinion blog on its YouTube channel and went viral.
In the almost 12-minute-long video, Seword director Alifurrahman Asyari claimed, without naming any names, that he had heard about a minister strangling and slapping a deputy minister prior to a Cabinet meeting.
Mr Alifurrahman said he received the information 10 days ago from a source who attended the meeting and witnessed the alleged incident. He referred to the minister as a presumptive candidate in the upcoming presidential race.
The minister was alleged to have been furious with a colleague, who heads another ministry, because the latter failed to show up for the Cabinet meeting and was "unhelpful in assisting a cross-ministry project mandated by the president", Mr Alifurrahman said in the video.
The minister was alleged to have taken out his anger on the deputy minister who came on behalf of his boss.
Another rumour then began swirling that the minister in question was Mr Prabowo, who has announced his third presidential bid for the 2024 election, and the deputy minister was Mr Harvick.
Asked by reporters about the allegations, Mr Prabowo refuted the allegation by saying that he had never met Mr Harvick in person.
"I haven't even met the deputy minister. I've never met him, it has always been the minister I meet with," Mr Prabowo said on the sidelines of a visit to state-owned weapons manufacturer PT Pindad in Bandung, West Java, with Mr Jokowi on Tuesday.
Gerindra Party's central board executive Sufmi Dasco Ahmad said it was not the first time its chairman, Mr Prabowo, had been hit by unfounded rumours.
It called on the public as well as party members to "not be provoked" by misleading information.
The Agriculture Ministry said in a press statement that the rumours were "untrue".
It stressed that Mr Harvick had not been recorded in the ministry's official schedule attending a limited Cabinet meeting at the palace on behalf of the agriculture minister in the last 10 days.
– The Jakarta Post/Asia News Network