Mudik or No Mudik
The ambivalent policy of the president regarding the annual exodus to villages, or mudik, in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic shows a lack of resolve in dealing with the crisis.
PRESIDENT Jokowi Widodo’s decision to not ban the 2020 end of fasting month Lebaran holiday mudik at the time when Covid-19 is spreading shows the government is lacking resolve in its handling of the pandemic. Advising the people not to return home but not banning it is an ambivalent stance: afraid of being wrong but lacking the courage to take risks.
For ordinary people, as well as it being a tradition, the mudik perhaps gives a sense of security. For them, life in the hometown is better than hanging on in the capital at this difficult time. But they should realize that the Lebaran mudik might make matters worse because it has the potential to cause an explosion in the number of people infected. The government’s advice for those making the mudik journey to isolate themselves for 14 days after they arrive in their hometowns is likely to fall on deaf ears—it will be difficult to monitor and is highly likely to simply be ignored.
At a meeting at the State Palace on Monday, March 30, Jokowi did say that the mudik could increase the risk of the coronavirus spreading. He asked regional heads to explicitly ban it. Coordinating Minister for Maritime Affairs and Investment Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan later said that mudik was allowed for economy reasons.
The policy of not banning the mudik is at odds with Government Regulation No. 21/2020 on large-scale social distancing. The annual mudik always sees large crowds, lines of people, congestion and extensive social interaction. Last year, at least 23 million people traveled back to their hometowns. Most of them came from Jakarta—the epicenter of the coronavirus.
The ‘misspeak’ by presidential spokesperson Fadjroel Rachman added to the confusion. Fadjroel’s statement that the government was not banning the mudik was subsequently corrected by State Secretary Pratikno, who said that the government advised people not to go ahead with the mudik. Fadjroel and Pratikno might both be right or wrong. What is certain is that they were both basing their statements on the same ambiguous decision from their boss.
It is not yet too late for the President to correct himself. The corona pandemic can only be overcome with strong leadership that is resolute in making decisions, that enjoys public trust and that is able to bring about social solidarity.
The President should invite all the regional heads to work together. They must dismiss any thoughts about using this pandemic for short-term political gain. If there are any regional heads thinking along these lines, the President must not hesitate to act and remind them that the central and regional governments are working together to save the people.
Jokowi needs to ensure his team closes ranks. Two days after the central government issued a regulation on large-scale social distancing, the ministry of health released an implementing regulation. It is time for the ministry to respond swiftly and in a non-bureaucratic manner to provinces’ request. Without firm and clear guidelines, no one knows as to which regions can apply regional quarantines and which cannot.
All ministries should work together shoulder to shoulder. Tardy ministers should be fired. The President may well have confidence in a number of ministries—including the ministries of health, of foreign affairs and of state-owned enterprises—regarding their handling of the Covid-19 pandemic, but the substandard performance of other ministries must immediately be addressed, if Jokowi does not want to be accused of failing to manage his own subordinates.