Flower Wreaths and Jakarta Politics

It’s a different kind of protest

Thousands of flower wreaths displayed in Jakarta City Hall Courtyard

More than 4,000 flower wreaths are being displayed in the courtyard of Jakarta city hall per April 28, 2017. All those flower wreaths addressed to the current Governor and Vice Governor of Jakarta. Basuki Tjahaja Purnama and Djarot Saiful Hidayat or also known as Ahok and Djarot.

It first started on April 26, 2017, in a small number of wreaths display. Then several people follow suit when other people in a community WhatsApp group invited them. After that, Numbers of flower wreaths grow to a dozen. Public and mass media then started to notice the rather “Uncanny” news and started airing it. This phenomenon then becomes a viral movement, followed by Jakarta citizens and Ahok-Djarot supporters across Indonesia.

What was a dozen of flower wreaths became thousands in a few days after it became viral. The City Hall courtyard is becoming an impromptu flower garden, pleasing the eyes of those waiting to get a photo with the Governor. Or to those who were passing by the City Hall, creating traffic slowdown in the process. Those flower wreaths even have to be placed on the pedestrian road. Other wreaths that didn’t get space in the courtyard have to be lined up along Medan Merdeka Selatan Street. It is also seen circling around the National Monument (Monas) fence which located just in-front of the City Hall.

This wreath suggesting Ahok-Djarot supporters to Move On and Support Oke Oce which was Anies-Sandi core program used in their campaign. It was later destroyed by a mob of angry Ahok-Djarot supporters in the city hall

Usage of flower wreaths to support a lost gubernatorial candidate has never happened in the history of Indonesian politics and in the world. Before this phenomenon, flower wreaths in Indonesian culture are only meant to congratulate someone over their achievement. It is also often used in consoling grieving families over someone who has died. In this case, it’s an n appreciation expressed by Jakarta citizen for their outstanding work in leading the Mega City. It’s also a form of grief over losing their dearest Governors as their period is ending in approximately 6 months starting from April 2017.

It’s all started from a “mouth slip” or misunderstanding of the Governor’s speech when he’s visiting Pramuka Island in the Thousand Island region located north of Jakarta. He was talking about the Grouper Fish culture farming program that will continue even if he’s not elected as a governor. The controversial “mouth slip” by Ahok happened when he was talking about his past experience regarding the abuse to the Holy Verse of Al-Quran. The mentioned verse is Al-Maidah 51, a verse that is often used by his political rival to tackle him. The problem then rose when a video of his visit is edited and uploaded to YouTube by Buni Yani where it is then became trending on YouTube and gone viral trough social media. That speech had lead to various street rallies nicknamed “Al-Maidah Picnic” by several Indonesian media.

The “picnic” started on 14 October 2016, several weeks just after the video had gone viral. the protest was with a goal to jail Ahok on behalf of Blasphemy to their religion. The unsatisfied mob then conducted many more chapter as a continuation of their original protest. The series of peaceful rallies then named with catchy numbers representing date and month of the protest 411, 212, 112, 212 Reborn, 313 for example. Presumably many more to come if their demand is not fulfilled.

2 December 2016 (212) peaceful rally mob which was praised as the biggest rally in the whole Al-Maidah picnic

Jakarta political situation is currently so heated and emotionally exhaustive. It made the general population spliced in half. Social media has become a battleground for political stances between supporters. Random talk in random coffee shops is also not free from discussions about the election. Several political analysts think that what happen in Jakarta could dictate how will the 2019 Presidential election takes place. It will be a major move to be able to gain a foothold in Jakarta as it is the center of Business, Government, and Politics. Jakarta Governor seat recently has become valued as it seen as a big leaping stone to the Presidential seat. That is because Jakarta past Governor, Joko Widodo did that and won the seat.

“Jakarta is a political miniature for the 2019 Presidential Election”
Donal Fariz — Indonesian Corruption Watch.

Ahok’s controversial policies in eradicating flood and corruption that has become a tumor in Jakarta for a long time is also what made him a hate and love figure in the eye of Jakarta citizens. People that hate him is often viewed by his supporter and foreign media as radical Islamic conservationist. Holding progress while abusing their majority power by creating pressure to minorities. All achieved trough series of big rallies fueled by old corrupt political regime that want rule again. In the other hand, people that love him is often viewed as damned upper and middle class progressives. That will destroy old established slum communities in the name of order, progress and aesthetically pleasing cityscape. All without taking into account of the poor living in slums.

That claim is quite aggressive for the general public to grasp. But it is what I view when trying to look at the other side of the coin, maintaining a neutral stance in the heated Jakarta election. It is worth noting that Indonesia, especially in Jakarta wealth disparity is quite high. Take a look at a report by Al Jazeera in 2014, addressing Indonesia Inequality while also showing the disparities between Upper, middle-class and poor in Jakarta.

According to the Statistics Centre Bureau (BPS), per September 2016 Jakarta Gini Ratio is 0.397 on a scale of 0–1. “0” is when Inequality is Non-Existent and “1” is when the society is extremely unequal. It’s a better number compared to last year’s report (September 2015) sitting at a worrying number of 0.421. Even though it has gotten better it’s being badly defeated by Ahok’s home province, Bangka-Belitung which sitting at 0.288.

To order those beautiful decorated flower wreaths from a florist. One’s need to have a deep pocket to reach in. A standing 200 x 125 cm flower wreaths could cost up to 500.000 IDR (first picture in this article shown a whole field of this type of flower wreaths). And the biggest one could cost up to 6.000.000 IDR. Imagine how much would 4.000 of those flower wreaths valued at. It could be Billions of Rupiahs spent for only showing gratitude, thank (and also sometimes for trolling).

It is surely not a kind of thing that could be pulled off by the poor in Jakarta. 500.000 IDR is worth of a salary worthy for 1-month of living to the poor. Even more if it’s 6.000.000 IDR, that would cost 2-month salary of regular worker that reflect the life of many Jakarta citizen living with an average wage. Yes, I know that many of those wreaths were bought by groups or company. But still, it has become an event of a sort to send it to the City Hall as a prove of their group existence (and probably power).

Jakarta citizens flooded the city hall, giving thank and express their gratitude to their dearest Governor

It has been long taught to Indonesian middle class in schools and subliminally trough mass media. Rallying up and forming a mob to protest in the streets is rather “uncivilized” “unnecessary” and also “useless”. If they want to protest they should follow the “civilized” way. And it’s by writing intellectual protest article, entering the board of elites to change their policies or maybe trough Internet memes, debates, and flame-war.

Flowers in the other hand has been used and popularized since 1960’s. Commonly used by group of an alternative lifestyle in The USA as a symbol of peace. Flower has also been used by various Indonesian street campaigner in Jakarta traffic. Some of them use flower for persuading people to donate to their charity campaign in exchange to a Red Rose.

Mobs of people flooding Jakarta City Hall to show their gratitude. Florist that kept coming and go, sending flower wreaths. Is a new form of protest by the silent majority of upper, middle-class Jakarta citizen. They are the one that always remain silent but noisy in social media when the election took place. Believing that their dearest candidate and also Governor will win and order will be restored again. But now, after the result came out they got immediately got shocked really hard. After contemplating how this could happen, they got nobody to blame that is worthy of street rallies.

By sending grandiose flower wreaths and also visiting the City Hall in a large number. The deep pocketed silent majority starting to flex their muscle and show the Nation that they still have power. And that is trough their first big subliminal protest in Jakarta politics. Proving that they also could speak up, but in a very different and elite way if compared to the mob of white sorbans. Even though they have conducted numerous chapters of politicized protest in defending their religion.

Will those silent majority speak up again in another form of civilized subliminal protest? Or will they be cocooned again with their own bubble maintaining pacifism? Nobody knows…

Don’t ask about those other groups though, they will do what they could do to achieve their goal. Let them be, right?!

Note: Several link in this article is written in Bahasa Indonesia and some others is in English.