JAKARTA (Reuters) - Indonesians, who welcomed Barack Obama as one of their own two years ago, now want a statue commemorating his Jakarta school years to be removed, a sign the U.S. president’s global appeal may be waning.
The statue of Obama as a 10-year-old was installed in Menteng park in central Jakarta in December 2009 to mark the four years he attended a local primary school there while living in Jakarta.
A month later, a campaign to pull down the statue has gathered momentum in the world’s most populous Muslim nation which not so long ago embraced Obama almost as a native son.
By Wednesday, a Facebook group called Take Down the Barack Obama Statue in Menteng Park had attracted over 55,500 members and local newspaper the Jakarta Post this week reported the group had filed a lawsuit to have the statue removed.
“Barack Obama has not yet made any important contribution to Indonesia and, if we may say, Obama has only ever eaten and defecated in Menteng,” the Facebook group’s page said.
Obama, due to give his State of the Union speech on Wednesday, is facing plenty of challenges at home, from a daunting budget deficit and a sluggish economic recovery to overhauling the healthcare system.
Struggling in U.S. opinion polls, Obama still has some fans in Indonesia. A spokesman for Friends of Obama, the group that funded the statue, said he believed the Facebook group members did not understand the intent of the statue.
“We are not giving him credit as a president, we are using his figure as an inspiration for Indonesian kids,” the group’s spokesman Rom Mullers said on Wednesday, adding local authorities should also erect statues of Indonesian heroes.
“The problem is that is the only statue in the park, and so they feel ‘Wow, he’s got a park to himself’,” he told Reuters.
Young Indonesians queued by the dozen this week to have their photo taken holding the bronze hand of Obama, who is scheduled to visit Indonesia this year.
“If they do take the statue down then I want to have memories of it here in Menteng,” said Puri Diah, a 19 year-old student.
Additional reporting by Chatrine Siswoyo; Editing by Neil Chatterjee and Miral Fahmy