Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Is the Indonesian Presidential Race already Won?

When Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) leader Megawati Soekarnoputri and Jakarta Governor Joko Widodo visited Blitar in East Java last week, this was no ordinary event. The two visited President Sukarno’s tomb and prayed for Indonesia’s founding father. Most Indonesians knew this joint visit was a sign that Megawati would finally appoint Jokowi, as the PDI-P’s candidate for president in this year’s election.

Two days later, after Friday prayers, at the house of the legendary hero Si Pitung in Marunda, North Jakarta, Jokowi announced that he had just been ordered by Megawati to formally join the presidential race. Dressed in Jakarta ethnic garb and peci (traditional headware for Muslim men), Jokowi declared that he was ready to carry out the task he was given by his party.

Jokowi’s declaration at the House of Si Pitung, the historic residence of the man sometimes described as Old Batavia’s Robin Hood, who fought Dutch rule but helped the poor, was an extraordinarily symbolic message: the Indonesian people may soon have a leader who will work with their interests at heart.

The declaration caught Jokowi’s political rivals by surprise and crushed their hopes. They gasped in awe as they had all hoped Megawati would run for president herself — and lose. Not to mention the elitist analysts who always claim that they are the smartest of all and regard Megawati as dumb. They were wrong after all.

Jokowi’s popularity is unbeatable, even with the ongoing propaganda campaign against him. He has been called a puppet of Megawati and an inconsistent politician. But as the old wisdom says, any fool can criticize. The popularity ratings of all the other presidential aspirants combined don’t match Jokowi’s.

To many, especially for the majority Javanese, it now seems that the race is over. They will all rally behind Jokowi. There will be no need to encourage people to vote. Thanks to Jokowi’s candidacy, they will all come to the polls without having to be told — whether they are vegetable vendors, laborers, meatball sellers, housewives, taxi drivers, the youth, middle class office workers, and even senior citizens.

Jokowi has given the people new hope. They see him as sincere, trustworthy and without false pretenses. Not just on Java, but from Sabang to Merauke people see him as the coming man. An old woman in East Nusa Tenggara had only seen Jokowi on TV and she wants him to become the next president. In most households all over the country, people talk about Jokowi.

Only moments after Jokowi’s announcement, politicians, businessmen and the military scrambled to seek ways to court him. They don’t want to be left out if indeed he becomes the nation’s No. 1 leader. Businessmen will be anticipating his policies while the military is anxious to find out what it would mean to have this man calling the shots.

And what will be Megawati’s next move? Will she forge a coalition with another political party to achieve a majority? Her confidante Sabam Sirait has suggested that the PDI-P do so, as it can’t govern alone. Then, who will be Jokowi’s running mate? Jokowi might want somebody young, but Megawati will decide. She has two options in mind. A nationalist former military commander who embodies the unitary state of Indonesia (NKRI) and a former confidante in government whom she trusts would represent people outside Java.

It wouldn’t matter much whether Jokowi’s running mate is a former soldier, a businessman, a politician or even a technocrat. In the end, real politics in our modern democracy require all players to manage the country well and put the common good of the community first.

The new Indonesian government will have to address the basic concerns of the majority of people: providing quality education, affordable health care, housing, skills, better infrastructure, business opportunities, and — most importantly — good governance and a way to root out corruption.

Yanto Soegiarto is the managing editor of Globe Asia, a sister publication of the Jakarta Globe.


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