Tuesday September 25, 2012
Solo mayor Jokowi is the local hero
By KARIM RASLAN
There are many local leaders — bupatis (regents) and walikotas (mayors) — who are cutting their teeth on the ground, connecting to the people and in the process, earning records that can propel them to higher office.
THREE years ago, having tired of the political elite I was meeting in Jakarta, (whether from the legislative or the executive), I decided it was time to look elsewhere for the next generation of Indonesia’s leaders.
The power-brokers at the centre of the republic seemed to me to be all the same: tedious, self-important and insincere.
Whilst they were articulate and persuasive, they seldom appeared to actually do anything.
Needless to say, as corruption and mismanagement mounted, their rhetoric sounded increasingly hollow.
More worryingly, they seemed to be divorced from Indonesia’s realities: ignoring the republic’s very real inequalities.
Saddened, I decided to do what I always do: hit the road. I would venture out of Jakarta, to the regencies (i.e. roughly equivalent to Malaysia’s districts) and cities of Java, Sumatra and Kalimantan.
I was on the look-out for local leaders – bupatis (regents) and walikotas (mayors). I wanted to get a sense of what their agendas and priorities were.
I should explain here that Indonesia since 2004 had implemented regional autonomy, allowing for greater powers to its regents and mayors. These offices were also to be voted positions, whereas during the New Order they were directly appointed by Jakarta.
As I’ve noted in my previous writings, this initiative has had a tectonic shift in Indonesian politics.
Meeting with various local leaders, I got a strong sense that they had to be more in touch with the realities of everyday life.
In the East Javanese city of Probolinggo, a beca-driver told me straight-forwardly:
“Pak, it doesn’t matter to me who is president. A good, honest bupati who cares for the little people (the ‘wong cilik’) like me will make a big difference to my life.”
Indeed, the Indonesian men and women voted to local government now have unprecedented powers to directly impact the lives of people, including powers to regulate business, healthcare and education in their areas.
True, many have proven just as useless as some of the parliamentarians and ministers above them, or have succumbed to corruption and nepotism.
But there are just as many Indonesian local leaders who are cutting their teeth on the ground, connecting to the people and in the process, earning records that can propel them to higher office. Those who cannot deliver are routinely booted out by voters.
This shift has had its apogee with the electoral victory on Sept 20 of the PDI-P Mayor of Solo, Joko Widodo (called “Jokowi) and his Gerinda running mate, the bupati-turned-parliamentarian Basuki Tjahaja Purnama (“Ahok”) in the Jakarta Gubernatorial elections.
In their campaign, both men stressed their people-centric achievements in local government.
Jokowi and Ahok pulled off a major upset in July when they topped the incumbent Governor of Jakarta, the ruling Democratic Party’s Fauzi Bowo (“Foke”) and his running mate, Narchrowi Ramli (“Nara”) in the first round of polls.
After this stunning development, the Jakarta establishment swung into action, as much to squelch the rise of Gerinda’s controversial leader, Prabowo Subianto (who strongly endorsed Jokowi) as to save Foke.
President Susilo Bam-bang Yudhoyono’s (SBY) ruling coalition (including Golkar and PKS) joined together to annihilate the enormously popular “little man” from Solo.
More distressingly, race and religion were continuously brought up — both subtly and blatantly — against Jokowi and Ahok’s candidacies, particularly towards the latter who is Chinese Indonesian and Christian.
Such moves however have obviously backfired in light of their victory and also exposed the desperation, as well as ideological bankruptcy of the Jakarta’s establishment.
Indeed, racism and sectarianism are truly the last resort of the South-East Asian political scoundrel.
Jokowi’s victory demonstrates that popular support is now shifting to populist and service-based local leaders.
SBY’s Democrats and their coalition may have triumphed in the 2009 elections, but they have clearly failed to create a capacity to directly engage with voters unlike local strongmen like Jokowi and his compatriots, including Surabaya’s Mayor Tri Rismaharini, also of PDI-P.
These local politicians represent a distinct but important part of Indonesia’s future.
In this respect, the republic’s politics will start looking increasingly like America’s — where bright local leaders emerge from the heartlands of Arkansas and Illinois (read Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, respectively) to seize the helm in Washington DC.
The Jakarta establishment no longer has the monopoly on power. Regional autonomy has given voters a sense of their own value and as Indonesia moves closer to the 2014 presidential and legislative polls, the candidate and party that can harness this new force will undoubtedly secure Istana Merdeka.