Protesters liken prez to water buffalo

JAKARTA: Enraged by protesters likening him to a “big and stupid” water buffalo, Indonesia’s president has ordered the beasts banned at street rallies, a decision some Indonesians said shows their leader can’t handle criticism.

The ban, issued yesterday by the police in Jakarta, applies to all animals and follows a rally last week in which protesters — who accused President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono of failing to fight rampant corruption — tried to parade a water buffalo with president Yudhoyono’s name painted with spray on it through the city’s main traffic circle.

Police removed the creature from the rally, which was one of a slew of protests held across the nation to mark the first 100 days of the president’s second term.

Yudhoyono was not exactly thrilled with the comparison with a water buffalo, calling it unethical.

“They (protesters) said that I am like a buffalo — big and stupid and slow in moving,” he told reporters on Tuesday in the West Java town of Cipanas.

“That statement is not ethical or moral, and to

use a buffalo can violate other regulations, like traffic laws.”

Yudhoyono has been the longest-ruling democratic leader since the end of Indonesia’s dictatorship in 1998.

But Yudhoyono’s spokesman, who acknowledged the president ordered the police to ban the animals, denied the new buffalo ban was undemocratic.

People are still free to protest, he said — provided it’s done with common courtesy.

“In the present day, we have a total liberalism and total (freedom to) express your opinion,” spokesman Julian Pasha said today.

But “so many people think that they do and they say anything without any consequences, without any responsibilities. I think there’s something wrong with the perception of democracy today in this country.”

Desmond Mahesa, a lawmaker from the opposition party Gerindra, called the ban an overreaction and said it proved the president is a weak leader.

“I think he is not a dictator, as long demonstrations are allowed in this country - but he too often complains about people’s protests and critics against his administration,” Mahesa said.

“He always feels persecuted to draw people’s sympathy and it made people sick and tired of his complaints, because a leader should show toughness and strength.”

Political analyst Hilmar Farid of the National University of Singapore said

the president is too concerned with his image

and should be focusing instead on more pressing political issues.