President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has portrayed his wife as being acutely sensitive to problems facing ordinary Indonesians, in stark contrast to the first lady’s latest outburst over a critical comment on social media.
Speaking in Jakarta on Tuesday at a meeting to discuss the management problems at Surabaya Zoo, where dozens of animals have died under suspicious circumstances, the president said citizens’ concerns about the zoo were among the many issues conveyed to him from the public through Ani Yudhoyono, via her various social media accounts.
“My wife never sleeps,” he said at the meeting attended by a handful of cabinet ministers, Surabaya Mayor Tri Rismaharini and East Java Governor Soekarwo. “There are so many problems that she conveys to me, in the hope that the messages will be delivered to me.”
Yudhoyono’s description of Ani as being strongly attuned to popular sentiment flies against the popular perception of the first lady as being particularly intolerant of personal criticism, as manifested in the latest online fracas last week that played out over her Instagram account.
Responding defensively to a comment by the user @zhafirapsp that she was busy updating her account while all around Jakarta people were experiencing flooding, Ani questioned why the wives of Jakarta Governor Joko Widodo and Deputy Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama were not being asked to do more in response to the disaster.
“Where’s Mrs. Widodo and Mrs. Purnama? Why is the anger directed at me?” she responded to the comment last Wednesday.
She later explained to a gathering of the wives of cabinet ministers why she had lashed out.
“I was annoyed when somebody wrote ‘it’s flooding out there, why are you busy with Instagram.’ I was so annoyed, because it’s as if I’m not taking care of the flood,” she said last Thursday. “Sometimes they do not understand. They think the president or the first lady has power and that everything has to be taken care of by them, when in fact everyone has their own role.”
Since opening an Instagram account last year, the first lady has earned notoriety for her social media outbursts.
In October, she labeled as “stupid” a comment on a picture showing the first family at a beach, in which the commenter questioned the choice for all present to wear batik.
The president and first lady have constantly expressed their discontent over criticism directed toward their family.
In his memoir published last week, Yudhoyono said Ani often cried upon hearing criticism and accusations against family members. He wrote that family and friends had often complained of being subjected to public criticism simply because they were related to the first family.
Yudhoyono also wrote that his wife constantly cried over long-running speculation for why their youngest son, Edhie Baskoro Yudhoyono, who is also the secretary general of the ruling Democratic Party, never wore short-sleeved shirts or bared his arms.
Ani has frequently been cited as the most influential figure in the president’s inner circle.
Australian media previously reported that Australian intelligence agencies wiretapped President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s phone and those of his inner circle — including Ani’s — because it was concerned about the country’s national security.
The Australian newspaper reported that Ani’s phone was tapped due to her considerable influence regarding her husband’s official decisions.
It cited information from a US diplomatic cable released by Wikileaks titled “A Cabinet of One — Indonesia’s First Lady Expands Her Influence,” which claimed that Australian agencies had found out Ani was initially planning to run in this year’s presidential election until her eldest son, Agus Harimurti Yudhoyono, was ready to take over the position.
Ani has repeatedly asserted that she was never involved in state affairs and had never even attended a cabinet meeting. The Jakarta Globe