Candidate for deputy governor of Jakarta Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, better known as Ahok, is no stranger to the capital city. He grew up in Kalibaru in West Jakarta, obtained his degree in geology from Trisakti University and studied at Prasetya Mulia management institute. He gained experience as a businessman in mining and heavy equipment, a professional as a vice-president of a company and was the first ethnic-Chinese Indonesian elected to take up public office as regent of East Belitung. GlobeAsia interviewed Ahok recently on a wide range of issues. Here are some excerpts:
Q: What is the philosophy behind running as candidate for deputy governor?
A: I believe in helping people, especially those who are under-privileged. The underlying philosophy is the ancient Chinese belief that as long as the head is straight, the tail will follow. In other words, if a leader in the bureaucracy is honest, clean and hardworking, his subordinates will automatically follow him. There are a lot of structural mistakes in the bureaucracy and in order to fight corrupt officials you have to be an official and in public office first. Like what Abraham Lincoln believed, you have to hand power first before you can act. Also, I’d like to see a transformation in Indonesia, a transformation that promotes the welfare and livelihood of Indonesians.
Q: What must a candidate possess to qualify as a contender for public office?
A: He must have entrepreneurial spirit. Otherwise he can’t manage the budget – it needs experience. You need to make priority scales because the budget will not always be there at all times. Successful people know where to start. You have to be creative but you also need experience in managing bureaucracy. You must also have a proven character. In our case, both Pak Jokowi (the candidate for governor of Jakarta) and I have that entrepreneurship spirit and we have proven ourselves in managing bureaucracy. Nationalism also counts and we both would like to see a transformation in Indonesia that leads to social justice.
Q: Can you give an example?
A: We must think of a way to make people shift from using motorcycles to buses, or reduce the number of cars entering the city. The problem with Jakarta is, people earning Rp10 million a month buy a car, but have to live on the outskirts of the city because they can’t afford to rent or buy subsidized homes in the city. As a result, too many cars fill the roads. A lot of people spend almost all of what they earn on transportation and little on their own welfare such as education and healthcare. Why not make the lower-income population live in the city and make the rich live in the suburbs instead? We need to be creative. This is only an example. There are many more on education and health schemes. I will tell you more about the initiatives at a later stage.
Q: But don’t you think a businessman’s approach can lead to abuse of power?
A: Yes. That’s why you have to have proven character and deeds. Candidates whom people trust won’t resort to abuse. Candidates who are pro-people’s welfare and fight for social justice. In theory, businessmen like to achieve a lot of things the fast way. They always want to spend little but get as much as possible, and if necessary they resort to bribes. Once they have the power, they will control everything such as mining concessions or land.
Q: They say Jakarta needs strong senior figures such as ex-military commanders to govern with iron fists.
A: That is a wrong perception. Civilians rule supreme. A former military figure is also a civilian. We must adhere to the Constitution. We have a Jakarta Military Command and we have the Jakarta Metropolitan Police. They are the ones handling security in the capital city. Who says a governor must come from the military? Civilians can also be tough, consistent and daring. Many senior military figures are also known to be inconsistent, weak and indecisive. On seniority, let me ask you this question. Which do you prefer – seniority at a time when corruption is rampant or proven character and leadership? It’s track record that counts.
Q: What do you have in common with Jokowi?
A: We won’t be doing what we want to do but what the people want. We will think and come up with ideas. We are a combination of entrepreneurship and professionalism, consultants to serve the people. We must be humble as civil servants. Our chemistry matches. We have no differences even when it comes to work distribution or sharing responsibilities later. We have the same stance on treating the informal sector, preserving the traditional markets and promoting healthcare schemes. We also have common goals in achieving social justice for the people.
Q: What is the toughest challenge that you will be facing?
A: Facing those who feel their rights to fortune have been deprived because we will be cleaning house, disgruntled civil servants losing their jobs, and crazy people who want to kill us. Since we will be spending a lot of time out there in the field, many won’t like it. Because we will be able to pinpoint who is corrupt and not performing. But we believe that as long as we stand firm on our ideals, nothing can get in our way.
Q: Jakarta is a Justice and Prosperous Party (PKS) stronghold, what is your strategy?
A: You mean anticipating the Muslim votes? Jakarta is made up of pragmatic people. They no longer live on their regional or religious dogma. During former governor Ali Sadikin’s time, it was the quasi-Muslim United Development party votes that won. During President Suharto’s era, the Indonesian Democratic Party for Struggle (PDI-P) votes turned Jakarta red because of the PDI-P color. Then in 2004 during President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s rule, the PKS won. But then the PKS was defeated by the Democrats. Let’s just assume that Jakarta has 40% Muslim votes. In East Belitung where I came from, it’s a 93% predominantly Muslim region. But as a Christian I won the race for regent in a Muslim stronghold. As long as welfare is at the forefront, people won’t differentiate between a Muslim or a Christian leader. You know what? I had the good support of the late Gus Dur in all of my political endeavors.
Q: Tell us a bit about your background
A: I grew up in Kalibaru Timur, West Jakarta where my family owned two houses, one of which has been given away to East Belitung where we originate from. I know Jakarta well. I used to catch the big Dodge bus number 802 to Senen in Central Jakarta. I used a lot of public transport in those days, such as the train and bus on my way to university. I was born on June 29, 1966 and have degrees from Trisakti University and Presetya Mulia. I am a geologist. All alumni are known by the way they dress, chequered shirts with the sleeves rolled up and blue jeans. But the idea of the chequered shirts that both Jokowi and I wear, was Jokowi’s idea. I was a member of the House of Representatives (DPR) of the Golkar faction.
Q: How did you come to know Jokowi and Prabowo? Had you known them before?
A: I knew Jokowi through social media. I had never met him before February 9, 2012 at 2:30 pm. It was a friend at intelligence, Major General Anshori Tadjudin who introduced me to him. They had probably run a check on me and my nationalism while searching for a good candidate for public office. I was invited to the National Defense Institute (Lemhanas). Then on February 24, 2012, Prabowo Subianto wanted to meet. I had never known him before either. Then I was offered to be a candidate for public office. I accepted after I was convinced that we share the same idealism and that the intentions were sincere.