INDONESIA - The Education and Culture Ministry said on Tuesday it was investigating an incident in which students sitting the national examinations were reportedly given questions regarding Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) presidential candidate and Jakarta Governor Joko "Jokowi" Widodo.
The controversy emerged as the government claimed that the first day of national exams for senior high school students nationwide on Monday ran smoothly, with only minor glitches such as exam paper shortages, incorrect labeling on exam material packages and the circulation of answer keys in several schools.
The appearance of Jokowi's name on the question sheets in the lead-up to the presidential election in July has drawn widespread criticism, including from Jokowi himself, who suspected the incident was part of a negative campaign against him.
"We are currently conducting an investigation to find out the reasons behind this. We want to know whether it was an intentional move or negligence," Education and Culture Minister Mohammad Nuh said on Tuesday at the State Palace. "We deeply regret it. There are a lot of other figures. They should not have picked one that could potentially cause such controversy."
Jokowi's pro-poor initiatives were referred to on sociology exam papers circulated in Depok, a satellite city of Jakarta, tribunnews.com reported on Tuesday.
The news portal quoted a student from SMA Al-Qudwah on Jl. Margonda, Depok, who said that the questions did not name Jokowi, but mentioned "Jakarta Governor" and Jokowi's "Kartu Jakarta Sehat [KJS] healthcare programme and Kartu Jakarta Pintar [Jakarta Smart Card] programme".
The report came a day after a picture of an Indonesian language exam paper featuring Jokowi's name was circulated on social media.
An Indonesian language exam paper containing Jokowi's name was also found in Semarang, Central Java. It described Jokowi as an honest figure and a hard worker in a biography for a multiple-choice test and had a question about him based on the biography.
Although the ministry has said that the exam materials were produced in July last year, before Jokowi announced his candidacy last March, the minister warned that those proven to have played a role in the incident "will be punished". Nuh said he had already reported the incident to President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and the latter has asked him to investigate it.
National Commission for Child Protection (Komnas PA) chairman Arist Merdeka Sirait said the ministry should be held responsible for the gaffe. "I believe it was an intentional omission by the ministry. They should be more sensitive although they said it was drafted before Jokowi's presidential candidacy," Arist told The Jakarta Post. "Don't take advantage of those high school students. We all know they are mostly first-time voters."
Since January last year, Jokowi has been touted as an ideal presidential candidate by political analysts and various pollsters, despite being Jakarta governor for less than two years.
On Tuesday, Jokowi made it clear that he had nothing to do with the controversy and insinuated that it was part of a scheme to attack his credentials. "Somebody is trying to make it look like I was involved in the making of the question list, whereas I was nowhere near the process. I am perturbed by this issue," Jokowi told reporters at City Hall, emphasizing that he would not remain silent in the face of the issue.
"I will take action on this. Otherwise the culprits will see me as a weak character. They might think 'Oh, he's not going to do anything when prodded,' [but] I'm not going to stand still this time around," he added.