It’s June 21, a day before Jakarta marks the 485th anniversary of its founding, and hundreds of people have turned out at Fatahillah Square in the Old Town district for another celebration.
“Today is Pak Jokowi’s birthday,” says Risnandar Achmad, who came with his wife and two sons from East Jakarta.
“We came here today to celebrate his special moment.”
Joko Widodo, the mayor of Solo popularly known as Jokowi, turned 51 on this day, and his campaign team sent out invitations by text message for supporters to take part in the celebration in the historical square.
A campaign official later informs the people, many of them dressed in the trademarked checkered shirts sported by Jokowi and running mate Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama, that the mayor is in Solo and won’t be able to make it to Jakarta.
Ahok is at hand, though, and the crowd gives him a rousing welcome.
Calls of “Pak Ahok!” and “Salam metal!” ring out as people thrust their fists skyward, with thumb, index finger and pinky extended — the salute that the pair has popularized to denote their No. 3 position on the ballot.
“Our family will vote for Jokowi-Basuki,” says Risnandar, who calls the pair “down-to-earth leaders.”
“They are the people who will change Jakarta. Both of them have proven track records in Solo and East Belitung.”
The candidate and his running mate have touted their executive experience as giving them the edge over the other hopefuls looking to win the July 11 gubernatorial election in Jakarta.
Jokowi has won plaudits for his work on public transportation and accommodating street hawkers in Solo. Last year he was named by the Home Affairs Ministry as the best mayor in Indonesia, and he is currently in competition for the title of world’s best mayor.
A successful furniture retailer, he didn’t have any political experience prior to winning the election for mayor in 2005.
Ahok’s record as head of the East Belitung district in Bangka-Belitung province has also earned praise.
He slashed the development budget put out to tender in a move to reduce corruption from rigged bids and drastically scaled back the administration’s travel budget.
Ahok plowed the savings into health and education programs designed to guarantee that all residents had access to health care and schools.
His efforts won him recognition in 2006 by Tempo magazine as one of the Top 10 Indonesians affecting change in the country. He was also named an anticorruption champion in 2007 by the Indonesian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (Kadin), the Transparency Indonesia Society (MTI) and the State Ministry for Administrative Reform.
Jokowi and Ahok are now promising to build a “new Jakarta” — one that is modern and better-organized.
Presenting his campaign platform in front of the City Council last weekend, Jokowi said he would make better use of Jakarta’s annual budget, projected to be about Rp 180 trillion ($19.1 billion) a year during the next five years.
“[Jakarta should] be free from the perennial problems of traffic jams, floods, slums and trash,” he said. “[We will] guarantee the availability of public space and affordable housing, and lead a clean and transparent government.”
He also presented the “Healthy Jakarta Card” and “Smart Jakarta Card,” both of which he said would be distributed to residents, particularly those unable to access health and education services.
Several polls have placed the pair in second place behind Governor Fauzi Bowo, but closing in fast. Still, analysts contend the popular duo faces an uphill battle against the incumbent, largely because of the parties backing each ticket.
Siti Zuhro, a political analyst at the Indonesian Institute of Sciences, points out that the programs they are offering are characteristic of the pro-poor programs espoused by their political backers — the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) and the Great Indonesia Movement Party (Gerindra).
She argues that in a city like Jakarta, they cannot afford to ignore the sizeable urban middle-class or educated voters.
She also points out that the PDI-P and Gerindra only have a combined 17 seats in the 94-seat City Council, fewer than the 32 seats held by the Fauzi-backing Democratic Party, and the 18 seats of the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS), which is supporting Hidayat Nur Wahid.
“Their mass base is not really significant here compared to the Democrats and PKS,” Siti says. “They will have to rely on swing voters — voters who previously voted for Fauzi.”
But that will not be easy, given their apparent weaknesses, she continued.
“Some people have the impression that these candidates are turncoats, in that they haven’t finished serving in one place yet are trying to move to another,” she says.
Hanta Yuda, a political expert from the Indonesian Institute, says that while he believes the pair could make it to a runoff vote, the candidates’ real challenge will be getting the vote of the educated class.
He also argues that voters may write off the ticket’s experiences in Solo and East Belitung as irrelevant to a much bigger and more complex city like Jakarta.
“Although, the fact remains that Jokowi and Ahok have a good branding as leaders who are relatively clean [from corruption],” Hanta notes.
Another potential obstacle is the fact that neither is a Jakarta native, although Ahok spent 31 years in the capital and previously worked with Sutiyoso, Fauzi’s predecessor, on development programs.
“I think they’re targeting the same voters as Faisal Basri and Biem Benyamin,” Hanta says, referring to one of the two independent tickets.
Taking it to the next level
Wa Ode Herlina, the Jokowi-Ahok campaign team coordinator, insists the candidates are trying to appeal to all voters, not just the low-income residents that they have long championed.
“We’re also looking at the urban, well-educated people very seriously,” she says.
She says they understand the dynamics of the city and can apply their previous experience on the larger scale.
“If someone has made tremendous progress at a certain level, don’t they deserve to move to the next level?” Herlina asked. “Conversely, should we let someone move on to the next level if he has failed to make any progress?”
For a self-professed PDI-P loyalist like Wani, a 39-year-old seamstress, electing a PDI-P-backed candidate is a no-brainer. Especially when the candidate has a proven track record and is graft-free, she adds.
“I believe Jokowi will solve our problems here, just like he did in Solo,” she says. “I have faith in Jokowi and Ahok.”
For Abdullah Utama, a public relations worker, the question of whether Jokowi and Ahok can repeat their small-town successes in Jakarta is hard to overlook.
“Also, I’m bothered by the fact that the pair are backed by Prabowo, who has a track record of serious human rights violations,” he says, referring to the former Army Special Forces (Kopassus) commander who co-founded Gerindra.
“I think this is one of Prabowo’s ways to gain votes for the 2014 [president election],” Abdullah adds.
But Ahok says there should be no cause for concern about the people or parties behind him and Jokowi, arguing that they are tested leaders beholden only to the people, not to party leaders.
“Would you prefer Jakarta to discard an honest leader just because you don’t like Prabowo? I’d say that’s excessive,” he says. “Don’t you pity the people of Jakarta who haven’t got their social justice yet?”