In less than a year, precisely on February 14, 2024, Indonesian citizens will be given the power to elect the country’s political leaders for 2024-2029 period. As a result, 2023 will be a year full of political dynamics both for businesses and public relations (PR) professionals.

This dynamic will be a great opportunity for companies that thoroughly understand the current political situation. On the other hand, it can be a challenge or even substantial risk for companies that treat this moment in ‘business as usual’ manner.

Understanding Current Conditions

There are at least four things can happen in 2023. These include the acceleration of several legislative processes in the first semester, the acceleration of infrastructural and other national strategic projects, treating projects milestones and KPI achievements as political commodities, and noisy contention on social media platforms.

First, the acceleration of several legislative processes have been starting to show at the end of 2022. There were three major pieces of legislation that was issued nearly at the same time. Revision of Criminal Code Law and Law on Development and Strengthening of the Financial Sector was passed during the last Plenary Session in December while the Government Regulation in lieu of Law on the Job Creation Law was issued on December 30.

A similar trend can happen again in the first half of 2023 due to the shifting focus both from executive and legislative branch towards election campaign that will start in November 2023. This will result in more uncertainty for legislation and regulatory issuance’s schedule. A bill that is seemingly close to finalization may be postponed indefinitely, and those that are still in early stages of deliberation process can be completed instantly.

Second, the acceleration of infrastructural development and strategic projects. This is closely related to the third point that is treating projects milestones and KPI achievements as political commodities. Construction of large-scale smelters, public transportations, restructuring of state-owned enterprises, investments agreements, factories/ports/airports opening, and new capital city (IKN) progress are some of the projects that will be scrutinized and targeted for acceleration, not only for public accountability’s reasons, but more as a ‘commodity’ of government’s success story from past, current, and ongoing projects.

As a result, companies involved in these projects need to be prepared for sudden changes in timeline, project’s leadership or management, and budgets that can occur at any time. Although these do not align with principles of good governance, it is the reality one must accept, especially nearing a political election.

Fourth, the social media, TikTok and Twitter in particular will become platforms for battles of discourse that is on par or even noisier than what we saw in 2019 election. This is exacerbated by the ease of disseminating disinformation that is met by low digital literacy level among Indonesians in responding online political debates.

Ethics: Business Orientation during Political Year

So what will happen if there are prospective clients or partners from the political sphere? Would it be an opportunity or a challenge? For more than 15 years, Kiroyan Partners has assisted clients from several ministries/state agencies and State-Owned Enterprises (SOEs) several times. However, we have never provided services for public officials as individuals/electoral candidates, to avoid conflicts of interest.

Ministries/state agencies often need assistance in communicating a policy or regulation to the public. SOEs nowadays also increasingly need to strengthen their sustainability practices and reputation as business entities. Under these scenarios, there is a need for an effective public affairs. Thus, cooperation can be legally carried with clear scope of work.

It is a different story if, for example, the prospective client is an individual who wish to become a Member of Parliament, is also concurrently serves as SOE executives or high-level official in ministry/state agency. There will be conflict of interests between organizational interests (targeted ministry/SOE), the public (society), political affiliation, and the individual interest (the candidate).

There will be a confusion under this scenario: Does our service have to be aimed at winning the candidate, communicating the person’s organization performance, promoting public’s interests, or what?

In the midst of this scenario, businesses need to hold on to ethics. Franz Magnis-Suseno in Fundamental Ethics (1987) stated, ethics is a means of orientation that seeks to understand about how a person (including a business) should act and why said action should be taken. Without ethics, business will run without orientation prone to unsustainable practices.

On the other hand, businesses grounded in ethics will tend to have clearer attitude during this political year. In fact, PR businesses with ethics can enjoy a greater chance of having a unique value proposition in front of its stakeholders. Ethics, a thing that seems naive nowadays, can actually become a key differentiator for a business’ survival in the midst of political storm.

Strategic Steps That Can Be Taken

Against this backdrop, there are several strategic steps that can be done to avoid getting trapped in short-term political interests. First, strengthening issue monitoring function, both in mainstream and the social media, so that business can better distinguish between real, important issue and “noise”.

Second, improving sustainability practices in the broadest sense. This is important so that a business can have more resilience in dealing with various changes brought by the election. Especially, changes in regulatory landscape, policy direction and industrial sector prioritization, while consistently committed to the SDGs.

Third, improving the quality of stakeholder engagement and CSR practices. Accurate engagement and CSR are critical this year to maintain stakeholder support for organizational activities and strengthen business positioning as a government partner in developing the country and creating real, positive impacts on society.

Lastly, accurately communicating business’ performance. This means that positive organizational performance must be communicated appropriately in two-way manner, empathetic and sensitive to current situation. Instead of adding the noise, companies can design their communications to be something inspiring and educative for their stakeholders. These four things, conducted with strong sense of ethics, are keys for businesses to navigate safely during this political year.

Beringin Kusuma
Lead Consultant, Kiroyan Partners

This article has been published in PR Indonesia magazine 95th edition issued on February 2023, page 52-53.

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