Jakarta's new governor Anies Baswedan gets flak for 'racist' comments on his first day in office

Jakarta Governor Anies Baswedan stands during a swearing-in ceremony at the Presidential Palace in Jakarta, Indonesia on Oct 16, 2017. People took issue with his use of the word pribumi to describe himself, who is of Arab descent.
Jakarta Governor Anies Baswedan stands during a swearing-in ceremony at the Presidential Palace in Jakarta, Indonesia on Oct 16, 2017. People took issue with his use of the word pribumi to describe himself, who is of Arab descent.PHOTO: REUTERS

JAKARTA - Jakarta's newly-installed governor Anies Baswedan came under fire over his choice of words in his inauguration speech on Monday (Oct 16) that some said harked back to the racially charged gubernatorial race, whose outcome still divides the capital.

Many took issue with his use of the word pribumi, which historically refers to the indigenous people of Indonesia, to describe himself, who is of Arab descent.

Mr Anies, speaking after he was sworn in at the Istana, also suggested that it was time for promises made to Indonesians to be fulfilled, and for the people to regain control of the country from foreigners.

"In the past, we pribumi were oppressed and defeated; now we are independent, now is the time for us to be masters in our own country," he said in a 20-minute speech at City Hall on Monday (Oct 16).

According to The Jakarta Post, the term pribumi was coined by the Dutch to describe native Indonesians in 1854.

The colonial masters then placed the pribumi at the bottom of a three-tier classification, after the Europeans, and non-European races such as Arabs, Chinese, and Indians, who were already in Indonesia.

The use of the word was banned in 1998 after the fall of former president Suharto and the collapse of the New Order regime.

Mr Anies' speech, which also contained anti-colonial slurs, did not go down well with many people, including some who took to social media to accuse him of trying to stoke hatred against minorities again, particularly the Chinese.

According to CNN Indonesia, the local youth wing of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) in Banten province and the Pancasila Movement on Tuesday lodged a police report against Mr Anies for his pribumi remark.

The PDI-P is the leading party in the ruling coalition, while Pancasila refers to Indonesia's national principles that promote pluralism and tolerance.

The police confirmed they received the complaint and will be looking into the matter.

Mr Anies' election victory in April over former governor Basuki Tjahaha Purnama, a popular Chinese-Christian politician, was marred by racial and religious tensions, in what used to be a tolerant city.

His election victory in April over former governor Basuki Tjahaha Purnama, a popular Chinese-Christian politician, was marred by racial and religious tensions, in what used to be a tolerant city.

Muslim hardliners, like Islamic leader Bachtiar Nasir, who had backed Mr Anies, also tried to incite dissent against minorities by saying that the wealth of Chinese Indonesians was a problem and there should be affirmative action programs for indigenous Indonesians.

The governor's spokesman did not respond to queries from The Straits Times on Tuesday (Oct 17), while Mr Anies was quoted by local reports as accusing the media of misconstruing his words, which he said were only meant to describe Jakarta during its colonial days.

But by Tuesday afternoon, the hashtag #Pribumi was trending on various social media platforms, with many criticising the new governor, calling him a racist, on his first day of work at City Hall.

"@aniesbaswedan you should've known better. #Pribumi," Tweeter user @cliffcharito said in a post.

Another user, Dee Lestari, tweeted: "Waking up and feeling so pribumi. Not".

Others like Bimo, who uses the handle @bimm3ll, had harsher words: "Why you have to use the word of pribumi? @aniesbaswedan .. obviously you are not pribumi #Pribumi."

Senior Indonesian officials weredrawn into the fracas online, with many urging Mr Anies not to incite divisions among races, and between religions.

"Let's not dichotomise, and have pribumi or non-primbumi groups here," said Coordinating Minister for Maritime Affairs, Mr Luhut Pandjaitan, when asked to comment on the governor's speech.

Still, there were others, such as Vice-President Jusuf Kalla, who came to Mr Anies' defence.

"He was talking about colonialism," said Mr Kalla. "So the context is history... he is not being discriminatory."