Moving Forward: Joko Widodo’s election to the presidency is an interesting move away from the political elites who have traditionally dominated leadership towards a people-focused governance
By Jakarta Globe on 12:10 am Oct 20, 2014
Jakarta. The majority of Indonesians knew little about Joko Widodo, the mayor of the small Central Java city of Solo, before he grabbed the national media’s attention in early 2012 with his championing of a locally produced car.
In footage aired repeatedly on TV at that time Joko was seen driving an Esemka sport utility vehicle, saying he had purchased it for use as his official car, to promote locally made vehicles and support the industry.
While little is heard of the Esemka now — except for political opponents questioning the fate of the cars and accusing Joko of using it for image building.
People soon learned he was highly popular in Solo. Joko was re-elected as mayor in 2010 after winning 90 percent of the vote, thanks to a number of achievements — including a successful rebranding of Solo as the “Spirit of Java” and the city becoming a member of the Organization of World Heritage Cities.
Joko was named the world’s third-best mayor in 2012 by international think tank the City Mayors Foundation for successfully turning “a crime-ridden city into a regional center for arts and culture, which started to attract international tourism.”
“There is a long list of positive testimonials and genuine and very enthusiastic praise for the mayor, most particularly for his honesty and refusal to be corrupted — apparently an exception in Indonesia. He is a simple and humble guy who pays lots of attention to less fortunate people,” the foundation said.
Soon, his trademark “blusukan,” a Javanese word loosely translating into impromptu visits of grassroots people usually by leaders, became a popular term nationally.
A few months after his Esemka promo, Joko declared his intention of running for Jakarta governor with running mate Basuki Tjahaja Purnama.
The ticket was supported by a coalition of Joko’s Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) and Basuki’s party, the Great Indonesia Movement Party (Gerindra).
The pair won with 53.8 percent of the vote in the election runoff against incumbent Fauzi Bowo.
Joko was elected as Jakarta governor on Sept. 29, 2012.
After the implementation of a number of popular policies — including kicking off the construction of Jakarta’s Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) network and the launch of Jakarta Health Cards and Smart Cards — his popularity continued to rise so much that PDI-P chairwoman and former Indonesian president Megawati Soekarnoputri, who had been pursuing another term as president, finally gave up the pursuit to Joko.
To boost the PDI-P vote ahead of the April 9 legislative election, Megawati mandated Joko to run for the presidency, although he was not even part of the PDI-P’s elite circle. Joko announced he would run for the presidency in March.
Megawati’s decision to nominate Joko as the PDI-P’s presidential candidate angered her main coalition partner, former Army general Prabowo Subianto, the founder of Gerindra.
Prabowo, also a former son-in-law of late president Suharto, accused Megawati of breaching the so-called Batu Tulis deal, in which she supposedly agreed that the PDI-P would support Prabowo’s presidential bid after he was Megawati’s running mate during the 2009 presidential election.
This ended the coalition between the PDI-P and Gerindra and after the former’s win in the April election, with 18.95 percent of the vote, Prabowo’s party began a deeply fractious campaign period ahead of the July 9 presidential election, where Joko, supported by five political parties, faced off with Prabowo, supported by seven parties. Joko recruited former Indonesian vice president Jusuf Kalla as his running mate, while Prabowo ran with National Mandate Party (PAN) chairman Hatta Rajasa.
The months leading to the election were marked by deeply emotional rivalry affecting, and dividing, many Indonesian voters.
While contestants and their official party backers fought and argued at the more intellectual level, at least in the series of presidential election debates organized by the General Elections Commission (KPU) and broadcast live on TV, at the grassroots the fights between supporters took a nasty turn.
Smear campaigns were launched against each other’s candidates, with those targeting Joko evidently more effective, as seen by his quickly declining popularity despite initially leading by more than 30 percentage points according to popularity surveys ahead of the election.
The KPU eventually announced the Joko-Kalla candidate pair as the election winner with 53.15 percent of the vote, with only 6.3 percentage points more than their rivals. The Constitutional Court upheld this outcome when it rejected a lawsuit by Prabowo challenging the election result and accusations that the KPU of orchestrated “massive, structured and systemic” fraud in favor of Joko.
To more than half of Indonesian voters who voted for Joko, his past might sound simple and humble — that he was born 53 years ago, studied forestry at Yogyakarta’s Gadjah Mada University and then ran his own furniture business before joining the PDI-P and contesting the election for mayoral of Solo in 2005. He has three children with his wife Iriana.
A biography of him written by late journalist Yon Thoyrun, published in 2012, said Joko had come from a low-income family. He has three sisters. His late father sold wooden materials for buildings, and his shop often fell victim to dismantling by city officials in Solo.
The humble background has brought Joko closer to ordinary people and probably inspired his pro-people approach when dealing with public order, Yon said. This contributed much to his rapid rise in popularity in a nation where the political stage is dominated by elites that have always been close to power, but who have been mostly seen as detached from the people.
Joko’s rival Prabowo, for example, is the son of Sumitro Djojohadikusumo, a finance minister under Indonesia’s first president Sukarno, while Megawati is Sukarno’s eldest daughter.
On the other hand, Joko’s relatively unknown background made him vulnerable to smear campaigns during the election.
Messages broadcast daily via cell phones and social media in Indonesia, postings on shadowy websites and even a print tabloid called Obor Rakyat spun the tales of his past and background — spreading smears that Joko lied about his Muslim identity, that he was actually a Chinese Christian, that he was a Western capitalist agent and at the same time a communist, Jewish and Vatican agent, and many more.
In a predominantly Muslim nation such as Indonesia, despite the majority being moderate Muslims, these smears proved to sell well, costing Joko his popularity in the weeks leading to the July 9 election — although analysts also have attributed that to the PDI-P elite’s half-hearted support of him in the election campaign.
To date, doubts or even hatred over Joko’s religious background still linger among some conservative members of the Indonesian Muslim community.
“Vengeful politics” exercised by his political opponents — grouped under the opposition coalition that supported Prabowo’s presidential bid — are viewed by analysts as one of Joko’s main challenges in the five years of his presidency.
Prabowo’s Red-White Coalition has managed to stay united despite previous predictions of falling apart.
And in what analysts see as a retaliation for their presidential race defeat, together they have swept the speaker and deputy speaker posts at both the House of Representatives and the People’s Consultative Assembly, while scrapping direct elections of regional leaders, seen as an attempt to extend their oligarchical grip on supposedly autonomous regions.
Joko’s attempts to lure some Red-White Coalition members to his side haven’t been fruitful so far, although this also has largely been attributed to the PDI-P’s poor political communication and Megawati’s indifference toward other parties’ approaches.
Although Joko has continued denying that he will become a mere puppet president to Megawati — as his opponents have often accused him of, it’s unfortunate that it is fairly evident that he barely has power over his own party.
If this situation continues in the current direction, Joko’s central policies may face ongoing challenges from inside the House, and his policies in the regions may face major hurdles from regional leaders and legislative councils.
In the financial markets, Indonesian stocks have been on a declining trend in the past month over these looming prospects.
Joko, though, regardless of any emotional turmoil he might have inside, looks as relaxed and easygoing as usual.
Recently, Prabowo’s brother Hashim Djojohadikusumo was quoted by Reuters as saying that “we will use our power to investigate and to obstruct,” promising to dig dirt on Joko during his time as mayor of Solo and governor of Jakarta — although Hashim later denied using the word “obstruct” and accused the Indonesian media of misquoting him.
Joko responded to this, when speaking to the press, by saying, “Does my face look like I’m worried? It doesn’t, does it? So we do nothing to anticipate this obstructing thing. I only want to hear people and be close with people.”
Joko does still look like his usual self despite a lot of homework left by his predecessor, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, and hurdle after hurdle he will surely face ahead.