JAKARTA (AFP) – Indonesia’s new President Joko Widodo caused a stir this weekend by opting to fly economy class to watch his son’s high school graduation in Singapore, drawing both praise and criticism online.
Skipping the usual heavy security protocol for heads of state, Widodo and his wife Iriana queued for check-in at Jakarta airport like ordinary passengers before taking their economy seats.
Widodo is known for his common touch, and his family have maintained a modest lifestyle since he became leader of Southeast Asia’s biggest economy last month.
The presence of the president, known by his nickname Jokowi, caused a buzz at Jakarta’s airport as passengers shouted and clamoured to shake his hand, with some taking selfies on their phones.
Some, though, thought it was a publicity stunt.
“Why should he go through the metal detector, join the queue, etc? Sir, stop polishing your image, just act natural,” Rangga Aditya commented on news portal Detik.com.
Harry Azet tweeted, “Living a fake life is difficult: Jokowi went to Singapore flying economy but slept in an expensive hotel.”
Widodo stayed in a five-star hotel on Orchard Road, Singapore’s shopping mecca, an Indonesian embassy spokesman in Singapore told AFP.
But his choice to fly economy also won widespread praise, with many urging other government officials to follow suit.
“Jokowi sets a good example by flying economy. Hopefully other officials can follow in his footsteps,” tweeted Anita Tobing.
Widodo said he did not use the presidential private jet or the VIP terminal because he was travelling for personal reasons.
“I am going for family matters, a private agenda, not a state visit – so why should I use the facility?” Widodo told reporters.
The president and his wife were in Singapore to see their youngest son, 19-year-old Kaesang Pangarep, graduate from the Anglo-Chinese International School on Friday evening. The couple have two other children.
Widodo had breakfast with Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong before flying back to Jakarta on Saturday morning.