05 October 2009

Is SBY a Walking, Talking Trigger for Natural Disasters?

You know what they say, "small things amuse small minds". There is nothing amusing about the recent earthquakes in Padang, and the more than 1000 lives lost there, or the tsunami that devastated Aceh in 2004. However, the idea of linking the current president, Mr. Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono or SBY, to the regular natural disasters that confront Indonesia is. It is not only amusing, but reeks of political opportunism. When politicians and others must be focused on disaster response and then putting into place appropriate disaster response mechanisms to ensure that aid and assistance gets to where its needed most and fast.

The recent Padang earthquakes has once again highlighted how under-prepared and ill-equipped Indonesia is with respect to responding to natural disasters. This is no longer a simple case of passing a little bit of legislation here and there, and pumping out a few ministerial regulations. It is now a matter of ensuring that the provisions of the laws and regulations as they currently stand are given the amount of resources required to guarantee that they function.

There will always be disasters that one cannot prepare for, or no manner of preparation will be enough. The tsunami in Aceh is evidence of that. Yet, there are still initiatives that can be undertaken to minimize the tragic outcomes.

Anyways, back to the original intent of the post; is SBY to blame for the earthquake?

It seems a little far-fetched to suggest that SBY is responsible for the earthquake. He might have been re-elected by 60% of the population however this is hardly a mandate to shift tectonic plates. SBY might even think that he is God-like, but there is a big difference between God-like and God.

The whispers persist though that SBY is an unlucky man. He was born on an unlucky day where the date and the stars were aligned against him being lucky. Now, for an unlucky man, he has certainly been pretty lucky when all things are considered; rising through the ranks to general, a stint as a cabinet minister, and now a second term as president. Most Indonesians would consider that to be pretty lucky.

Then again, there have been a litany of natural and man-made disasters during his tenure. So many, in fact, that there is an old joke that SBY stands for "selalu bencana ya". The translation of which is 'always disaster yes', which sort of loses its impact as a play on the president's initials.

Permadi, is a politician that was originally associated with the Indonesian Democratic Party for Struggle of Megawati, but who of more recent times has shifted allegiance to Gerindra, the party of Prabowo. Permadi is known as a practicing mystic. He is also known for his penchant of wearing all black clothes, allegedly the "all black" theme includes his underwear. Now, according to Permadi, the Primbon is pretty clear that the numbers in the president's date of birth are unlucky. They are numbers that will always attract natural disasters to Indonesia.

So, for Permadi, the best option is that SBY step down from the presidency and focus on other things. It is clear, to Permadi, that if SBY refuses to show heart and step down a bigger and more devastating natural disaster will befall Jakarta. Is this irresponsible fear-mongering, political opportunism, or a genuine belief that the president is an unlucky man? It is a bit of everything, but that said, it hardly seems likely that the president is going to resign from office because people think he has been born under an unlucky alignment of stars.

What is a little more bizarre for me is that the president gives this idea credence by addressing it. A couple of years ago in an address to local officials in West Sumatra he broached the topic and said something along the lines of, 'just because I am president does not give me the power to command the forces of nature'. I guess there is nothing like feeding the fire.

My condolences to all those who lost family, friends, and colleagues in the devastation wrought by the two earthquakes last week. May you find the strength to rebuild your shattered lives and may the government get its act together enough to assist you through the challenges you face.

(Photo courtesy of Reuters)


Ben said...

You wrote:

"It is now a matter of ensuring that the provisions of the laws and regulations as they currently stand are given the amount of resources required to guarantee that they function."

You got that right.

Rather than calculating SBY's luck,I would like to point out one thing:

Earthquakes don't kill people. Buildings + landslides kill people.

We can't prevent (or predict) earthquake. But we can build stronger building and we can calculate the risk of landslide.

And this is where we fail. After the earthquake in Jogja, people talked for a while about how to build stronger house so when they rebuild they don't build the same old. Some say it actually does not cost a lot more. (if you start from scratch as many people there would anyway since their houses were destroyed).

What happen then? The same old, same old.
So the next time earthquake strikes the city again (God forbid), the same thing will happen. Again. And again.

If SBY wants to change his luck, this is something he should look into. Start with state schools and hospitals. Build it up to the standard. Make them stronger to withstand average earthquake.

Or he will be stuck with disaster recovery all the time.

Sure, it won't prevent casualty 100%. But when's the last time we hear an earthquake killing thousands in Japan? This is a country with daily earthquake.

If Permadi says SBY should step down, I'd say SBY should step up.
Step up to the plate Sir, and make the call. Because it only takes one decision to save thousands of lives.

Rob Baiton said...


Thanks for dropping by and commenting on this one.

To a point, I would agree on the earthquakes not killing people. Sometimes they do.

However, a much larger majority of earthquake-related deaths would be preventable if the provisions against shoddy workmanship in buildings were enforced.

Similarly, with respect to environmental management to lessen the likelihood of landslides and their deadly and tragic consequences.

Agreed. Always, same old same old. Is there an accountability problem there? Should the electorate hold their elected members more accountable in cases like this? Or should they go after the bureaucrats?

Yes, SBY should step up to the plate. This is particularly so as this next five years are going to be his real legacy defining years.

I am not holding my breath though (but I live in Australia so whether he steps up or not does not impact me the same way as it does my Indonesian family, friends, and colleagues).

rima fauzi said...

A guy told me that SBY 'main dukun' and that his 'dukun' is very very 'kuat' but then he will have to provide 'tumbal' hence the thousands that died during his presidency.

I think it's a load of crap, but you know the majority of Indonesians think. And they will most likely believe this. Do I think their belief in this is better than believing that this is what God wants cos he's so pissed at us? No, I think both are equally dumb, but still, it's really sad to know there are people out there who believe in this shit.

Sedih ya rob..

Rob Baiton said...


I really find it hard to visualize a vengeful God sitting around all day trying to figure out what sort of havoc and mayhem he can wreak today.

Then again, on the unlucky front. There would be plenty of Indonesians out there who wish they had half the man's luck. Not everyone gets to be president.

I agree with Ben that earthquakes don't kill people (unless you are like Lois Lane and get swallowed up in the big crack that opens up in the ground), shoddy workmanship and a lack of law enforcement kill a whole lot more.

So, I tend not to ascribe these natural disasters to either God or luck.

therry said...

Here's my next prediction of SBY's next moves:

1. Do nothing. Visit Ground Zero, show some sympathy, and then go home to his huge, comfy house in Cikeas.

2. Do nothing.

3. Do nothing.

4. More earthquakes. Still nothing.

5. Give some advice about some stupid irrelevant subjects.

6. Guess what? Nothing...

Rob Baiton said...


Now, now there, tell us what you really think ;)

Yep, he will turn up, do a few photo ops, say a few words about how someone is trying to kill him (I guess this time it was God seeing I am pretty sure terrorists haven't mastered the ability to conjure up earthquakes yet), and then go back to the creature comforts of the palace.

Sounds like the life of a really unlucky fella, doesn't it?

It seems that great minds, yours and mine, think alike :D

Enjoy your Sunday.

site said...

The chap is completely right, and there's no skepticism.