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Do You Know Who I Am?

What's Wrong With Indonesia's Overly-Entitled Elites?

A doctor threw a tantrum after realizing he had to pay to park his car.
Illustration by Diedra Cavina

Indonesia's elites keep behaving badly. A civilian doctor at a military hospital recently pulled a gun on a parking attendant at a fancy South Jakarta mall and fired off one round in a state of rage. What got him so fired up? Having to pay a Rp 5,000 ($0.37 USD) parking fee like the rest of us.

"He was offended when the parking staff said he had to pay," Iwan Kurniawan, South Jakarta's Police Chef, told Kompas. "He started punching the staff, pulled out his weapon, and fired a shot into the air."


The whole thing was caught on CCTV and it quickly made the local news. The doctor eventually apologized and said that he thought there was a regional bylaw that said that cars with military plates didn't need to pay for parking. No idea why he thought being in the military would get you a free pass at the mall, but whatever.

The problem here is that none of this is new. Members of the Indonesian elite have slapped airport security staff for making them walk through a metal detector more than once and slapped them again for asking them to take off their watch. They've pulled a gun at a pricey Central Jakarta restaurant because a waiter had the audacity to charge them for their meal and even kidnapped multiple restaurant staff at gunpoint because their favorite table was taken.

Why does this keep happening? And why does every incident involve some government official and their family? We never hear about a celebrity throwing a tantrum over being treated like the rest of us—and at least celebrities are easily recognizable, more so than, say, a police officer's wife. Do government officials just think they deserve special treatment everywhere they go?

The root of this entitlement stems from the way elite members of the government were treated during Gen. Suharto's New Order regime, said Yusar, a sociologist from Padjajaran University. "When someone has power, that person tends to abuse it for trivial matters," Yusar told VICE. "We can see how there's a social hierarchy—an asymmetrical power relation at play."


During Suharto's 32 years in power, the military occupied the top rung of Indonesian society. Suharto himself was a military man, and nearly every president the country has had since then have been connected to old power structures in some way—aside from President Joko Widodo. Police officers and government employees were next in line of importance during the Suharto years, and together they all enjoyed a level of entitlement far beyond that of the average Indonesian.

Well, old habits die hard and today, many of these same people still think they're above the rest of the population. "We have to admit that government officials have more power than regular civilians," Yusar said. "This value is passed down from generation to generation. Even though we've gone through the Reformasi era, phenomenologically speaking, these values about power are still passed down. So this phenomenon is a historical product of power itself."

You can see this everywhere in Indonesia, but in the capital it's most-common representation is the motorcade. Jakarta has terrible traffic, some of the worst in the world, and every single day you find some powerful person out there making it worse with a police-escorted motorcade. They shut down intersections, take over the busway, and cause traffic to snarl for kilometers all so they can live a life above the rush hour grind the rest of us have to deal with twice a day, every day.

But, of course, not every powerful person is an asshole. Former US President Barack Obama was known to happily wait in line to get his favorite fast-food cheeseburger. And even Indonesia's own President Jokowi flew economy with his family on a personal holiday. During the flight he was treated just like every other passenger—metal detectors and all. When he recently hit a traffic jam, the president didn't force everyone else to pull over. He got out and walked.

In fact, President Jokowi's modesty has now reached an almost legendary status in Indonesia, probably because it's such the opposite of what we've come to expect.

So what's the lesson here? That power and money doesn't always mean someone needs to act all entitled. But far too often they do. So maybe the government needs to print up some posters reminding everyone to ask themselves "What would Jokowi do?" Hell, we could all probably use the exercise anyway.