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The new Jakarta governor against the triad of dark forces

Publication Date : 09-10-2012


The biggest prize in Jakarta politics has been captured by the charm of sheer ordinariness. The reason for this spell is unmistakable: Joko "Jokowi" Widodo is the antithesis to the present political class both at national and local levels. Being an antithesis is not, of course, what principally makes good leadership. But his golden triumph deserves to be cherished even if it has not changed an iota of Jakarta.

What made his electoral rise unstoppable? It was sheer ordinariness as political cachet. Red-and-blue checked shirts as his distinguishing outfit, cool in bodily gait, charming in his simplicity and humble in manner, Jokowi fits the bill. Graced with a running-mate for deputy governor, Basuki "Ahok" Tjahaja Purnama, whose persona defies sectarian prejudices, makes the win acquire a patina of unreality.

Now that they have officially been declared governor and deputy governor of Jakarta, the struggle for the real begins in earnest. Precisely because the victory was so luminous, we must be prepared to bear a certain degree of disenchantment. This precariousness comes less from the personal qualities of the two new leaders than from their being subverted by a triad of dark forces.

First, the forces of capital that have overrun even the noblest ideas of Jakarta's city planning. This can easily be observed from the way Jakarta’s green areas have been destroyed by real-estate developers, civic spaces by mega-shopping malls and commercial centres, and the need for public transportation systems thwarted by automotive and oil industries. It is worth emphasising that the problem is not capital itself; indeed, we need more for urban infrastructure development.

Rather, the problem is the capture of urban policy by the forces of unbridled capital. The chaotic nature of Jakarta’s development during the past few decades makes it clear that the future of the city cannot be entrusted to the invisible hands of the market or left in the hands of unscrupulous business groups. Again, we know only too well that the issue is not law but, rather, the capture of the legal apparatus by the power of the purse. Even if the dictate of money can be curbed by legal fiat, it is no longer a secret that big business powers in Jakarta have formed a frightening underworld with their own mercenaries and gangsters. All this will haunt the new Jakarta governor from the start.

Second is the imminent prospect of reprisals by defeated political parties. Jokowi's win has no doubt introduced a new calculus among the losing political parties, including the ruling Democratic Party and its coalition members the Golkar Party, the Prosperous Justice Party and the United Development Party, which between them account for the majority of seats in the Jakarta City Council. The fact that the PKS was in the losing coalition, for instance, does not necessarily mean it will oppose Jokowi's programmes. But we must be prepared for the possibility of sabotage via legislative manoeuverings by these parties in the council.

It is to be hoped that the overwhelming support for Jokowi during the electoral process is cultivated into some sort of people power. I wouldn't be surprised if there are some grave moments when Jokowi’s struggle for Jakarta's common good forces him into a showdown with political cabals on the City Council. At such critical moments, some sort of people power should be called upon to safeguard the governor's policies from being thwarted by these legislative cabals; in a similar way to how ordinary civilians instantly flocked to defend the integrity of the Corruption Eradication Commission from the acts perpetrated by desperados from the National Police on Oct. 5.

Third is the barbarous tribalism of religious bigots. Only another bigot would deny that the growing incivility in Jakarta was not connected, among other things, with the ubiquity of religious bigotry. Of course, religious bigotry is a matter of degree. While the overall climate of religious fanaticism has clearly increased, particular attention needs to be paid to the types of religious bigots that seek to take over Jakarta with their marauding violence and rampages.

These religious bigots not only augur ill for a more intolerant Indonesia but they could also frustrate the new governor in developing Jakarta to become a suave, law-abiding and civilised place. With the country's President still muted over the virulent growth of religious bigotry, which is right under his nose in Jakarta, the new governor will be forced to prevent the country's capital from being ruled by religious zealots. Religious zealots never make good citizens.

No doubt, there are many factors that will shape the successes and failures of the new governor. Some of his good programmes won't be achievable if they are too fanciful from the start, while others will be accomplished only with dogged determination. But I bet that this triad of dark forces will be the principal stumbling blocks for Jakarta's new leadership.

Indeed, a few months ago Jakarta was dazzled and besotted with a non-Jakartan called Jokowi. It was through infatuation with sheer ordinariness that he was luminously catapulted into the political inner sanctum of Jakarta. Infatuation is always the triumph of fantasy over reality; now is the moment for him and his deputy, as much as for Jakartans themselves, to descend from nirvana.

It is this struggle for the real that will make them the sort of leaders who come along once or twice in a century. Or, they will simply slip into becoming random passersby, dumbfounded by Jakarta's perpetual ambivalence between elegance and decadence.

The writer is a lecturer on the postgraduate programme at The Driyarkara School of Philosophy, Jakarta.


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