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Hurdles in way of new Jakarta governor

Publication Date : 02-10-2012


It has been interesting to observe the reaction and fallout from populist Solo mayor Joko Widodo's convincing victory in the Jakarta gubernatorial elections - a poll which he himself wasn't even resident-qualified to vote in.

Joko and ethnic Chinese running mate Basuki Tjahaja Purnama - Jokowi and Ahok as they are known to nickname-mad Indonesians - were such media darlings throughout the two-round campaign that any other outcome would have been unthinkable.

But amid all the euphoria, few people seemed to wonder how the mayor of a Central Java city of 520,000 would be able to do anything different with a chaotic metropolis of 10 million where traffic congestion and flooding are growing progressively worse.

Or how he would deal with the sharks in the local Parliament where his two main political backers, the Indonesian Democratic Party-Struggle (PDI-P) and the Great Indonesia Movement Party (Gerindra), control only 17 of the 94 seats.

Then, factor in the valid argument that little can be done to solve the capital's problems without better cooperation from the Bogor mayor and the governors of Banten and West Java provinces, whose jurisdictions make up Greater Jakarta.

Tempo magazine called Joko's triumph a victory for democracy, and boldly said it had changed the power configuration in an Indonesian capital usually dominated by the elite and "backed by the force of their wealth".

But once ensconced in City Hall, just down the street from the American Embassy and across Merdeka Square from the presidential palace, Joko will be on his own and ostensibly at the mercy of the old guard.

So the first few months will determine whether he takes what has become the standard approach and caves in, or whether he mobilises the civil society groups who supported him during the campaign and digs his heels in.

He does have some leverage. Facing re-election in 2014, politicians from the Democratic Party and the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) who control half of Parliament will have to deal carefully with a populist who has promised to focus on the urban poor.

There is little doubt Joko was ably helped by his opponent, incumbent Fauzi Bowo, whose handlers foolishly indulged in primordial tactics that backfired with voters who generally feel religion should not have a place in politics.

For a start, Joko's running mate, Basuki, may be Christian, but his wealthy trader father was well liked by the Muslims of the island province Bangka-Belitung for building mosques as a gesture of gratitude to his adopted country.

Exit polls showed only 12.6 per cent of voters, most supporting Fauzi, made their choice based on a shared religious belief. That percentage conforms with those who always vote for syariah-based parties in national elections.

But what a lot of commentators ignored is that while Muslims may have kept an open mind, almost all ethnic Chinese voters cast their ballots for Joko and Basuki - just to show that a preference for race and religion does work both ways.

And if any other reminder is needed, look back to 1971 when the now long-defunct Catholic Party won 81 per cent of the vote in Sikka in Christian-populated Flores, handing then president Suharto's Golkar Party (9 per cent) its worst defeat at the polls.

Electoral analyst and devoted Indonesianist Kevin Evans has a good point when he notes that in a melting pot like Jakarta, there is no such thing as a majority. That, in itself, makes primordialism a fraught and risky exercise.

Fauzi may have appealed to his fellow Betawis, native-born Jakartans. But thanks to the drift from rural to urban areas over the past two decades, they are now in the minority behind ethnic Javanese.

Right there is a split in the Muslim vote.

One of the other interesting sidelights to the election is whether the PDI-P-Gerindra partnership can be seen as a dry run for the 2014 presidential race or simply a marriage of convenience between two parties on the left of the political spectrum.

PDI-P leader Megawati Sukarnoputri and Gerindra party patron Prabowo Subianto are both leading in the popularity polls, but only Prabowo has declared his intention to enter the race so far - even if it is not strictly official.

At this early stage, Prabowo appears to need a major party to get over the threshold of 20 per cent of parliamentary seats required for a party or coalition of parties to nominate a presidential candidate.

PDI-P may still fit that bill better than any, but it all depends on Megawati and whether she wants to make a third bid to recapture the presidency, perhaps with popular former vice-president Jusuf Kalla as her running mate.

She may also share the fears of many in PDI-P who believe that getting into bed with a man of Prabowo's forceful personality could lead to the subjugation of the party and its leaders and everything it stands for. Even Gerindra members seem to understand that.

In saying "we have learnt our lesson" from the Jakarta election, Megawati's businessman husband, Taufik Kiemas, has made it clear that if it was up to him - and it won't be - PDI-P will be leaving Prabowo well alone in 2014.

Certainly, Prabowo has taken much of the credit for Joko's win. Not only did he push Megawati into getting the PDI-P candidate to run in the first place, but he also brought Basuki on board to free himself of his anti-Chinese reputation.


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