It is perhaps surprising to see the results of some polling that shows that President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono still remains popular after one year in office, despite the impact of the drastic increase in fuel prices.
Why is he still popular?
There are at least four factors at work here.
First, the tough actions of new National Police Chief Gen. Sutanto against gambling, especially togel (illegal lotteries), drugs and street criminals. These acts have created a stronger sense of security in the community.
Second, the sharp fuel hike severely affected people. The situation in the countryside, however, shows an interesting phenomenon. Take, as an example, the case of villagers in North Sumatra. During Idul Fitri, people still made cakes, in particular dodol, a sweet made from sticky rice, coconut milk and palm sugar.
If we ask them, how could they afford to make such a luxurious sweet amid our worsening economic conditions? The answer is surprising: Although fuel prices are up, the prices of oil palm kernel and rubber have also increased at the same time. Apart from this, because gambling has become more difficult, housewives say that their husbands do not waste money buying togel tickets, which means they can save more money.
Most of people in North Sumatra are farmers and many of them have small oil palm and rubber plantations. The rubber price is currently around Rp 6,000 (US$ 60 cents) per kilogram, and palm kernel price Rp. 600 per kilogram. A typical rubber farmer with a small plantation usually sells 60 kilograms of rubber a week, meaning he can earn Rp. 360,000 in a week.
So, his income increases because of the combined effects of the rubber and CPO prices on the world market, and rupiah depreciation against the greenback. In the previous era, even though the prices of rubber and palm oil were high, people in the villages kept buying togel as they dreamed of becoming rich instantly. Now that situation has changed.
Third, people in the villages feel encouraged when observing that government officials, politicians and others are increasingly fearful about committing acts of corruption. They believe that such fear was triggered by Susilo's leadership.
Fourth, many poor people have received cash compensation worth Rp 100,000 per month from the government as part of the government's policy to minimize the impact of fuel price increases.
In conclusion, many people in our village in North Sumatra feel that the drop in popularity of the President and Vice President is not justified.
In many respects, they have gained much advantage from government policies in fields such as law enforcement, security, morality and the economy. And in particular, the popular cash compensation fund (BTL), which is being read as concrete evidence of the government's concern for its people.
Nonetheless, the government needs to fix its distribution of this cash assistance to needy people for the sake of fairness.
Most Indonesians are farmers, and palm and rubber plantations are also extensive in many other provinces besides North Sumatra. People in these provinces may be sharing in the same good fortune as the people of North Sumatra, whose incomes have gone up because of the increase in commodity prices and the weakening of the rupiah against the dollar.
It also shows that government policy should be focused very much on the agricultural sectors. As an agricultural economist and a businessmen respectively, both Susilo and Kalla have in-depth knowledge and experience of this.
Jhon Tafbu Ritonga is a senior lecturer at the school of economics, North Sumatra University (USU), and Mara Untung is a graduate of that university.