Jakarta Governor Joko Widodo or Jokowi is a rising star in the Southeast Asian region. While Burmese President Thein Sein may be grabbing the most headlines of any Southeast Asian leader, Jokowi’s rapid ascent up Indonesia’s political ladder deserves more attention than it is given by the international media.
Who is Jokowi and why is his name being considered in the 2014 presidential race in Indonesia?
Jokowi is a former mayor of the central Javanese city of Solo who became famous because of his outstanding performance as a public servant. As city mayor, he eased business procedures, improved delivery of basic health services, reduced traffic congestion, and improved the living conditions of poor communities. In a country like Indonesia, where many citizens have grown accustomed to officials underperforming, Jokowi’s record of accomplishments is considered remarkable.
Jokowi received the largest number of votes in the first round of Jakarta’s gubernatorial election last July, and went on to defeat the incumbent in the second round of voting the follow September. Jokowi’s victory was particularly impressive in light of the lack of support he received from the major political parties who all invested their resources in his rivals.
Jokowi relied primarily on his credentials as a successful city mayor to win the support of the electorate, presenting himself as an ordinary person with the necessary political will to deliver quick results. Jokowi’s victory thus rested on a platform of hope and change that resonated strongly with the electorate and easily propelled him to victory over the unpopular previous administration.
His decision to partner with Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, a Christian and ethnic Chinese, was initially seen as controversial in a country that is predominantly Muslim and Malay. Ultimately his decision proved to be far-sighted, however, as the duo received much of the minority votes.
During his first week as governor, Jokowi made surprise visits to a number of government offices and quickly reprimanded those that were not providing services to citizens. This act earned Jokowi widespread praise from the public although some derided it as a publicity stunt. Still, Jokowi managed to convey the seriousness of his effort to improve residents’ interactions with their government.
Governor Jokowi appears intent on replicating some of the programs that proved to be successful during his tenure as mayor of Solo. For instance, he has started distributing health cards which grant beneficiaries free access to medical care. The government has already allocated Rp 800 billion (U.S. $83 million) for the program for this year alone. By next year Jokowi hopes to have 4.7 million Jakartans enlisted in the program.
Jokowi has also signaled his determination to reduce Jakarta’s notorious traffic congestion by developing a better mass transit system. He has further pledged to refurbish the city’s public vehicles, and plans on building low-costing housing options in commercial areas to reduce commuting distance.
But Solo is different from Jakarta and the latter’s problems are much more complex. To succeed in Jakarta Jokowi must do more than merely import the agenda that suited him so well in Solo.
Still, if he is successful he will continue to win new admirers among the people and media, positioning himself as a serious contender in national elections.