2018 has been a tough year for Jokowi’s government. Recent disasters have provided the opposition with an opportunity to erode Widodo’s popularity.
By Angelo Schneider
The crash of Lion Air flight JT610 on Monday, 29th October 2018 marks another unfortunate incident to hit Indonesia. The country recently mourned after a disastrous earthquake in Lombok and the Tsunami in Palu. Now it is doing so once again.
The aircraft crashed into the ocean just 13 minutes after taking off from Jakarta airport. All 189 people on board died in the accident.
Joko Widodo’s political opponents voiced their criticisms against his handling of recent disasters. The opposition is urging president Jokowi to take action against Lion Air, with some calling for the total ban of the airline. As the presidential election creeps up, Joko Widodo’s next move could be crucial for keeping his popularity high heading into 2019.
The opposition see Jokowi’s leadership as weak
During the disaster in Sulawesi, the opposition criticized Jokowi for not allocating enough resources that could have minimized the earthquake and tsunami’s effects.
Jokowi’s response to the disaster was also considered to be a failure. The government was not able to adequately maintain critical components of the Tsunami alert system. The looting that followed the disaster also demonstrated weak law and order from Jokowi’s government.
Now, the Lion Air incident has pushed Jokowi’s disaster response under the spotlight once more. With Jokowi ahead in the polls, the incident is an opportunity for the opposition to showcase Jokowi’s weak leadership once more.
So far, Jokowi’s response has solely focused on the rescue mission. The facts and information about the crash are still being collected and analyzed. Therefore, no sanctions against Lion Air have been decided.
Initial investigations have suggested that the jet’s sensor was replaced the day before it crashed, and that may have triggered other problems. Such fatal negligence will create hostility from the public if Jokowi and his government don’t act accordingly.
There is a conflict of interest
It is common in Indonesia for businesspeople to also be involved in politics. Lion Air owner and founder, Mr. Rusdi Kirana is also a politician from the PKB party, part of Jokowi’s coalition. Jokowi also appointed Mr. Kirana as Indonesia’s ambassador to Malaysia in 2017.
This strong connection between the two could prevent Jokowi from taking a firm stance against the company. Mr. Rusdi Kirana has also reminded the government that closing his business could affect over 30,000 jobs.
Lion Air’s safety record raises questions about its future
Lion Air is one of the cheapest airfares in the region. It also has one of the highest accident rates in the nation.
The government has enforced an airline ban before. In 2008, Indonesia’s Adam Air had to close its operation due to re-occurring accidents and poor management practices. During its operation from 2002-2008, Adam Air had a total of five accidents, where one was fatal.
Lion Air has now had 10 major incidents since 2001, with JT610 crash being the deadliest. An additional incident in 2012 saw two of Lion Air’s pilots sacked after they were caught with crystal meth in their possession.
Senior members of the Gerindra opposition party believe that the JT610 flight crash is enough to justify a ban on the airline. Given Lion Air’s safety record is significantly worse than Adam Air’s was before the ban, the argument is compelling.
Gerindra is calling for the minister of transportation to revoke Lion Air’s flight permit and audit all Indonesian airline companies to ensure safety regulations are updated to prevent future accidents.
A politician from the Gerindra Party, Fary Djemy Francis emphasized that Lion Air’s poor safety record is a threat to the lives of Indonesians. Fary explained, “Lion Air’s permit can be revoked because the accidents and regular complaints have shown that it had violated the law”.
What comes next?
The exact cause for the crash is yet to be determined. Rescuers have found the black box, but it will take some time to collect all the data. If there is a violation in safety procedure from Lion Air, strong measures must be put in place if Jokowi wants to prove to the public that he is capable of effective crisis management.
A regulation preventing airline companies from selling fares too cheaply could be one such measure. This would give customers more choice and push airliners to compete on the quality of its services and safety regulations.
A reform on safety regulation and stricter flight permits must be applied to regain the confidence and trust of the people. The government must prioritize the safety of the customers over political interest.
In a fragile democracy and disaster-prone nation such as Indonesia, the response to disasters can make or break a government. Jokowi needs to bounce back from his handling of the earthquake. Taking action against Lion Air could be a chance to redeem himself.