Central Java’s popular governor Ganjar Pranowo hit the headlines this week, after footage of his angry outburst at a trucking weighbridge in Batang regency went viral. Ganjar found that the officials running the weighbridge were extorting bribes from the drivers of overweight vehicles, rather than issuing formal fines to be deposited in government coffers. Film from the incident shows an increasingly irate Ganjar entering the front office of the weighbridge to demand an explanation for an extortive transaction which he has just witnessed taking place. He then removes an envelope of cash from a table drawer, slams it down in exaggerated fashion, and then embarks upon an impromptu search of the room for more evidence of crooked activity. The action begins at the 1m15s mark in this video:

Over a few days, the footage has garnered more than 200,000 views on YouTube, with a dozen or more separate uploads. Ganjar was later reported as having told Surabaya’s mayor, Tri Rismaharini (popularly known as Risma), of his shock that “everyone” had now seen the video, though there had been only one camera present at the scene. There is no doubt that Ganjar’s indignation was absolutely genuine: he had run his 2013 gubernatorial bid on a tagline of “no corruption, no dishonesty” (mboten korupsi, mboten ngapusi), and is seen as a clean leader who has made genuine strides in tackling bureaucratic mismanagement and inefficiency.

Yet it is also undeniable that public displays of anger at bureaucratic malpractice provide a sure-fire popularity boost for contemporary Indonesian leaders. Given the widespread public perception of Indonesia’s bureaucracy as comprising uncooperative and self-serving officials, a burst of justified anger directed at bureaucrats can deliver significant traction for the country’s burgeoning generation of populist politicians.

Basuki Tjahaja Purnama (or Ahok), the deputy governor of Jakarta, was arguably responsible for the growth of in viral videos in which politicians rail against members of the public service. Ahok’s reputation for taking Jakarta’s poorly-functioning officialdom to task is in part due to a string of videos filmed and uploaded with his encouragement, which show him scolding and humiliating inefficient or lazy staffers and bureaucrats. In one memorable episode, Ahok shames a man for taking notes with a pen rather than a laptop:

Ganjar’s party colleague and Indonesia’s presidential frontrunner, Joko Widodo, has adopted a less direct approach during his unannounced inspections of government offices as governor of Jakarta. Upon discovering a number of public servants had failed to show up for work, or were playing computer games during office hours, Jokowi kept his cool in front of the cameras before announcing that the individuals in question would be sacked:

What is clear is that, for many Indonesians, the voyeuristic viewing of direct and decisive action by politicians against what they perceive as a culture of bureaucratic malpractice and indolence is a cathartic experience. Ordinary citizens have little power to change the way public institutions operate, but populist politicians can strike a chord with the public by dressing down the individuals who run and staff those institutions.


Tom Power is a PhD candidate at the Department of Political and Social Change at the Australian National University.