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Jokowi for President in 2014 Battles Continue as his Popularity Rises in Indonesia
Jakarta Governor Joko Widodo, famously known as "Jokowi" among Jakartans. Jokowi is the most famous candidate for 2014 presidential election in Indonesia. Photo: Mario Saad

Jokowi for President in 2014 Battles Continue as his Popularity Rises in Indonesia

Current Jakarta governor Mr. Joko Widodo,  famously known as “Jokowi” is no doubt the most famous politician in Indonesia as a crowd favourite for the next president. Various presidential polls consistently favour Jokowi for president in 2014 to replace President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono in presidential election held in July 2014.

But why is he so popular? A big part of it is because Jokowi is just different.

Unlike most Indonesian leaders or politicians who sit behind their desks, Jokowi humbly roams the streets and meets people directly; he listens to what they have to say, trying to understand their complaints as well as struggling to find suitable solutions.

The meet-the-common-people strategy includes lunching with Jakartans who oppose his policies. Through the lunching and munching, he wins their hearts and minds, increasing his chances for a “Jokowi for president in 2014″ campaign.

Lunches has softened not just the stomachs but the hearts of people who illegally occupied several Jakarta reservoirs and refused to move, as well as those who are affected by floods. Several lunches also successfully moved illegal traders who occupied the streets of Tanah Abang area which is notorious for its traffic.

However Jokowi consistently refuses to comment on his popularity for the presidential race in 2014, saying “My business is to fix Jakarta’s traffic and flood,” telling journalists to direct questions about his future political career to none other than Ms. Megawati Sukarnoputri, head of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P).

It is no secret that Jokowi spends a lot of time with Ms. Megawati. The two talk during breakfasts, lunches or dinners. Some say, this is part of “being an apprentice” in future leadership. However the skinny governor dismisses details of their conversation and said that the former president is merely feeding him good food, “She wants me to gain more weight,” Jokowi said to reporters, giggling.

But politics is never a bed of roses. After a period of constant oohing and aahing from the public over Jokowi, the time has come for the former mayor of Solo in central Java to brace for some challenges and criticism from his political opponents.

The first attack comes straight from veteran politician Mr. Amien Rais, a retired Professor from Gadjah Mada University in Yogyakarta who is also a former chairman of the People’s Consultative Assembly. Mr Amien Rais is well known to the Indonesian public for his blunt criticism of the late President Suharto in the late 1990s, as well as for being a “king maker” who successfully installed the late Abdurrahman Wahid  into the presidency, despite PDI-P’s winning the 1999 election.

Mr. Amien Rais has recently questioned Jokowi’s nationalism. Due to his status as Megawati’s political brain child, Amien Rais started to remind Indonesian public how Megawati ran the country and what kind of policies she made during her short presidency from 2001 to 2004.

“Nationalism” by the way, is the most important rallying point in Indonesian politics, and when someone presses this hot button, things can get really sour for politicians.

Mr Amien Rais reminded the public that under Megawati’s presidency, among other things she sold 41.9 per cent of state-owned telecommunication company PT Indosat shares to Singapore Technologies Telemedia (STT) as an effort to finance Indonesia’s 2003 state budget, a move which was strongly criticised as un-nationalistic. Megawati was also blamed for exempting debts of several “black list entrepreneurs” after the crisis.

What Amien did was to basically point out the fact that Jokowi is not the head of PDI-P, and therefore not a decision maker.  Basically he is “a puppet on a string”, and that if he is ever to win the presidential election, he would be merely a  Megawati proxy.

There was no response coming either from Ms. Megawati or Mr. Jokowi to Amien’s attack, and it seems that there is enough love for Jokowi that most Indonesians decided to ignore his comment.

Another attack came straight from the central government. As Jokowi is biting his nails trying to find solutions for the city’s notorious traffic, the Yudhoyono’s administration flooded the Jakarta streets with the so called the cheap “Low Cost Green Car” (LCGC) that seems to be a direct move to sabotage efforts to unclog Jakarta streets.

It is projected that the LCGC policy would boost car sales by 50,000 from a target of 1.1 million this year. PT Astra International aims to sell 30,000 LCGCs by the year end. It has already received orders for 10,000 Toyota Agyas and 8,000 Daihatsu Aylas.

Jokowi sent Vice President Boediono an official letter, questioning the central government’s car policy, which he said would undermine his administration’s move to cut the number of private cars and promote mass rapid transportation. “Indonesia’s traffic-clogged capital needs a comprehensive mass transit system, not cheaper cars,” he said.

Responding to Jokowi’s letter, Mr Boediono said that it was not necessary to restrict car sales as there are other ways to fight traffic.

Industry minister M.S. Hidayat accused Joko of over-reacting by the policy saying “Please tell Jokowi this is intended for the lower- and middle-income people, the people who also love him,”  Mr Hidayat said. “He should allow them to have the chance to buy low-cost cars.”

“I’m annoyed by this policy,” Jokowi said publicly.

Traffic and floods in Jakarta will indeed become a test to determine Jokowi’s capability for higher office in the Jokowi for president 2014 unofficial campaign. However popular he may be, Jakartans and Indonesia’s middle class would like to see whether these two chronic problems can be resolved, or else Jokowi will be remembered as a governor with no achievement.

While Jokowi is working to fight his battles, his political opponents for the 2014 election will likely to continue to throw barbs at him in their own political battles.


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Dewi Kurniawati

Dewi Kurniawati

A multi award-winning journalist from national and foreign media for more than a decade. Graduated Cum Laude from International Relations Department, University of Indonesia in Jakarta (M.Sc), majoring in the Study of Terrorism in International Security on a full funded scholarship from The British Council Indonesia.

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