Indonesia: Jokowi wins brings hopes for change

Jokowi's promises include free public healthcare, education, clean and efficient government and tackling human rights abuses.

Joko Widodo, or “Jokowi” as he is popularly known, was confirmed by Indonesia’s electoral commission on July 22 as the winner of the presidential elections.

Jokowi defeated, sacked Suharto-era general Prabowo Subianto, by 57% to 43% of the nearly 130 million direct votes cast on July 9. Prabowo has sought to challenge the result.

However, supporters of Jokowi, whose campaign aroused enthusiasm among ordinary people hoping for change from elite-dominated politics, are intent on defending what they see as a chance for significantly more democratic reform.

“Many activists have vowed that this is just the beginning,” Dr Vannessa Hearman, a lecturer in Indonesian Studies at the University of Sydney, told Green Left Weekly.

“Jokowi’s victory is good news, but the hard work of ensuring that there is enough pressure on Jokowi and his team to deliver on their promises is only beginning. Activists' support during the election does not mean a carte blanche in government.”


Jokowi's promises include free public healthcare, education, clean and efficient government and tackling human rights abuses.

“He has promised the revitalisation of the agricultural sector by stopping certain imports such as rice and onions. He has promised to ease the course of investment projects to create jobs, cutting red tape,” Hearman said.

“But this will cause conflict if the interests of the poor are just ignored and they are affected by these investment projects.

“But managing Indonesia is a huge task and there is a lot to be repaired (public confidence, tackling corruption, basic infrastructure, industrial development), as well as to be created anew. In only five years, that’s a major task in anyone’s book.

“This is a government that wants to be many things to many constituents, so I think it will be subjected to a lot of pressure from all sides. Indonesian activists need to get organised in their respective sectors to press their demands.”

Data Brainanta, one of quite a few Indonesian socialists who backed Jokowi, told GLW that the new president is taking public suggestions for who should be in his cabinet. He is posting these on a publicly accessible Google document.

Brainanta said it was a sign of a new more democratic and transparent style of politics that Indonesia desperately needs.

Similar moves were made by Jokowi as governor of Jakarta, a position he won in 2012 with the support of an unprecedented electoral mobilisation of Jakarta's poor communities and parts of the middle class. This built on his record as a “clean” mayor of Solo, another major city on the island of Java.

Jokowi adopted a new style of governorship in Jakarta, including publishing YouTube videos of meetings that were previously kept from the public eye and going out into communities to speak to ordinary people.

“My expectation is that Jokowi will keep doing what he has been doing in local government, which is to open up the administration, remain incorruptible, and listen to and work for the public,” Brainanta said.

“My even higher expectation is that he will open up the way to institutionalise the government’s transparency and participatory democratic practice into a habit and written legislation.

“I know that changes like these cannot rely on him alone, but need a strong public participation and people's movement to enforce them. But based on what Jokowi has done in the local government, he will be able to provide this space for the popular movement.

“It depends on how the movement plays this out. When the dialectic between a democratic government and active public participation is created, I believe that progressive programs, be it education, health, environment, economic, human rights should be championed and implemented.

“There are some aspects of his programs that must be criticised and the political map ahead will be dynamic and might involve some compromises with the elites. The movement just needs to respond with the correct perspective and priority.

“It needs to put the struggle within the framework of the human versus profit logic. In a way, a stress on a human-oriented mindset or ethic can be said to be in line with Jokowi's program for a 'mental revolution' that aims to create productive, hard-working, and morally incorruptible citizens.”

Jokowi's record

Dr Ian Wilson, a research fellow at the Asia Research Centre at Murdoch University, has written critically of Jokowi's record as Jakarta governor, which he described to GLW as “mixed”.

“Jokowi has made a big impact on many people because of his open style. He is personable and he talks to people.

“You can't underestimate what a change this was in Indonesian politics, where governors are always aloof and hostile to poor and working-class people. So there remains a lot of goodwill towards him.

“In the campaign for governorship, Jokowi made a lot of campaign promises which he should have realised he could not easily deliver. One of these was to grant tenure security to long-standing informal urban communities. Jakarta is full of neighbourhoods that have no formal tenure.

“So many people expected that he wouldn't be evicting people from these non-tenured informal communities and this made them participate in the vote, which they usually don't participate in. After all, from their point of view why would they want to vote for arsehole A over arsehole B.

“What happened when he became governor was that he came up against the reality of very deeply entrenched interests totally hostile to any such reforms. So politically, he just wasn't able to deliver this reform.

“He had a little support from within his party for this reform, but generally he did not have the organised popular base with the power to push it through.

“So the concession he offered was to try and continue evictions, but provide alternative accommodation in the form of low-cost, state-subsidised apartments for the people being evicted from these informal communities.

“I think Jokowi already knew he was going to run for presidency, and a lot of this urban policy was a form of extended campaigning.

“So he had some pet projects where he put people in new apartments and he got a lot of media attention. But if you look at the statistics, most of the people who got evicted did not get any accommodation.

“A lot of the promised alternative accommodation hasn't been built yet. So he's been evicting people without having the places for them to move to.”

Wilson said, before the election, the urban poor settlements were often blamed for making Jakarta's chronic floods worse, but they were actually the greatest victims. What was contributing to flooding was the inadequately regulated building of large-scale developments like malls and luxury apartments.

Powerful and entrenched interests want such developments to continue, so they are happy to encourage the media and the middle classes to blame the urban poor for flooding.

“Jakarta's poor also get blamed for traffic congestion, but traffic congestion comes from too many cars, which the poor don't have, and also the lack of an effective public transport system.

“I was disappointed particularly by Jokowi's hard man in the Jakarta governorship, Deputy Governor Basuki 'Ahok' Tjahaja Purnama, who is from Prabowo's party Gerindra, playing the same game of blaming the poor for these problems.

“The middle classes are an important constituency for Jokowi and they are always happy to blame the poor for problems that are the result of chronic corruption and poor planning over decades. So this was a bit of a political cop-out on Jokowi's part.

Jakarta after Jokowi

“Ahok is now acting governor and when Jokowi becomes president, Ahok will take over as governor. Because of this, some poor communities in Jakarta were planning to vote for Prabowo in the presidential elections because they didn't want Ahok to become governor of Jakarta.

“These people see Jokowi as being essentially on their side but being constrained by entrenched interests. But in Ahok they see a more aggressive form of the old type of governor.

“Ahok puts a lot of emphasis on legality when he deals with housing, but this is ridiculous because in Indonesia 80% of housing is informal or self-help based. In a system dominated by the rich and corrupt, the poor’s 'illegality' is structurally underprivileged.

“So there are serious concerns about Ahok becoming governor of Jakarta. I heard a rumour, however, that if Jokowi becomes president, he may offer Ahok a post in his administration and this would open the Jakarta governorship to a new election.”

While many people see Jokowi as a democratic reformer, GLW asked Wilson if there is a chance his kind of reform may eventually result in a more efficient and more thorough neoliberal political regime.

“In many respects, Jokowi's pitch is: 'I am not a politic[ian], I am just a manager' which is classic neoliberal, technocratic doublespeak.

“But this is not an argument to support Prabowo. It could be a reason to reject both of them as different faces of the same coin but it is not an argument in favour of Prabowo.”

[This is the second part of a two-part series. You can read the first part here. Dr Vannessa Hearman will be the guest speaker at a Green Left forum in Sydney on Tuesday August 5 which will discuss what this election means for the struggle for democracy in Australia's largest neighbour. More details here.]

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