Indonesia: Popular new Jakarta governor raises hopes of the poor

November 17, 2012
New Jakarta Mayor Joko Widodo (centre) with supporters.

It is an extraordinary thing for thousands of ordinary people to mob an inauguration ceremony for a new governor of Jakarta. Yet this is exactly what happened on October 15, according to the progressive Indonesian publication Berdikari Online.

It reported that thousands of people ― among them many from Jakarta's urban poor communities ― braved the scorching heat to welcome the incoming governor Joko Widodo (better known as Jokowi) and his deputy Basuki Tjahaja Purnama.

Green Left Weekly's Peter Boyle interviewed Dominggus Oktavanius, secretary-general of the Peoples Democratic Party (PRD), about this new development being hotly debated in the Indonesian left. Translation was provided by Rebecca Meckelberg.

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Why is the Jokowi-Basuki team so popular? What were Jokowi's achievements in his time as mayor of Surakarta/Solo?

Jokowi, in particular, is a special figure in the political theatre in Indonesia today. He is seen as a figure of simplicity and humility. He has never indicated that he sees himself as above ordinary people. He also works by getting down to the grassroots himself, coming directly the poorest kampungs (villages), to speak to people and listen to their complaints. This took up more than half of his time as the mayor of Solo.

Asking the people and involving many people in decision-making and implementing policies is a totally new political method in our country. Maybe unconsciously, Jokowi seems to be is putting into practice a model of direct democracy, or participatory democracy a bit like what we have seen in a number of countries in Latin America.

Jokowi has also implemented several policies that are very different from those implemented by figures who have previously held power in Indonesia.

For example, when there has been a relocation of street traders from a strategic street to a new location, Jokowi has not sent the police to evict them. Instead, he invited all the street traders to come to the mayoral office to have a dialogue and dinner together.

He did this not just once or twice, but as many as 54 times in Solo. He has also reformed the bureaucracy, the results [of] which include ending the long delays in issuing identity cards (KTP). Previously the processing of an application for the identity card would take as long as one month. After Jokowi's reform of the bureaucracy, the processing of the KTP only takes one hour.

Jokowi has also sided with the small market traders. He has restricted the permission for the development of malls and supermarkets. He allocated a large budget to renovate 34 local markets and to build new local markets.

He has been innovative in the development of the automotive industry. While it is still far from a success due to the cost limitations, however this is a very good start for a country still completely dependent on the imported product.

Some free health and education programs have been implemented in many regions, but the implementation in Solo (under Jokowi as mayor) has been easier and more practical for the people. These are concrete achievements that have been generated in Solo but they are far from perfect. There are still many deficiencies that must be fixed. But this is why he is popular.

What is Jokowi and Basuki's political and class background?

Traditionally, Jokowi is not a longtime member of the Indonesian Democratic Party ― Struggle [PDIP ― led by Megawati Sukarnoputri]. He was a businessman (making household furniture) that was successful in leading the furniture entrepreneurs association in Solo. He nominated himself through the PDIP in 2005 along with the chairperson of the PDIP in Solo who has now become the deputy mayor.

Basuki is also an entrepeneur from a small island province of Bangka Belitung. In his region he is well known as a philanthropist. Because of this, even though he is from a minority ethnic group and a minority religion, he won the elections in his regency, Belitung Timor. He also became the first part-Chinese Indonesian to become a regent there.

While he was the regent, Basuki became well known as an anti-corruption figure and one who tried to implement some pro-people policies, even though he was not as successful as Jokowi in Solo. After that he nominated in the legislative elections in 2009 and was elected as a member of the DPR through the Golkar Party.

Politics in Indonesia after the toppling of the Suharto dictatorship in 1998, saw many people enthusiastically diving into politics. But there have only been just a few people who have done anything good in electoral politics.

Ideological consolidation has never occurred in the political parties in Indonesia generally, thanks to de-ideologisation (de-politicisation) for decades under Suharto's New Order. So most people entering the political arena tend to choose whatever party they think can be used as a tool ... rather than choose a party on the basis of ideology.

Which parties supported Jokowi-Basuki team in the gubernatorial election in Jakarta and which opposed him?

The parties that nominated them were PDIP and Gerindra. Also, there are several small parties that support them including, among others, the Reform Star Party and the PRD. Meanwhile, there are quite a lot of parties that oppose them including all of the large parties such as the Democrat Party, Golkar, the United Development Party, the Peace and Justice Party, National Mandate Party, Nation Awakening Party and the People’s Conscience Party under the leadership of General Wiranto.

What are the specific promises that Jokowi has made to the people of Jakarta? Do these promises threaten a clash with the powerful interests that rule Indonesia?

There are many specific promises that have been conveyed regarding respective problems that are very complex in Jakarta. Starting from the improvements to slum kampungs, improving the management of citizens administration, free education and health, including rejuvenation and increases in ... public transport.

We predict that there will be a conflict with the interests of business people that are stronger. Because of this, we will keep watch and support every one of these government programs that are in the interests of the people.

The PRD was part of the Jakarta People's Coalition for Social Justice that mobilised people for the inauguration. Who is in this coalition and what is its objective?

This coalition consisted of people’s groups that had worked to support the victory of Jokowi-Basuki in the recent election with a certain programmatic agreement. Our objective is to ensure that the programs that have been promised or signed in the memorandum of understanding are implemented by this new government.

So as we said earlier, we will keep monitor and support these programs through extra-parliamentary activities.

There has been some debate in the left in Indonesia about whether to support Jokowi or not. Can you explain these arguments?

The main argument made by left groups that reject Jokowi or who are critical is because he was supported by the Gerindra party, which is led by Prabowo Subianto. These groups argue that supporting Jokowi is the same as supporting Prabowo, a former general that was involved in a number of human rights abuses in Indonesia and East Timor.

We see the human rights argument made by these left groups as just adding to the same campaign by elite parties opposing Jokowi’s politics. The issue of human rights is used hypocritically to attack other groups even while their own groups are not free of human rights abusers. The issue of corruption that is similarly exploited in the narrow interests of political competition while not seriously addressed.

We need to be consistent. The issue of human rights and corruption since New Order came to power in 1965 needs to be investigated and opened up in its entirety so that the subjugated economic and political condition of Indonesia, that underlie these problems, now can be explained clearly.

For a small group of people, Gerindra's endorsement of Jokowi [and] Basuki is considered important. But it does not influence the evaluation of many people of Jokowi and Basuki.

For the PRD itself, the Indonesian people's main objective now is to free itself from the grip of neoliberalism. The problem of addressing human rights is part of an agenda for change, but can only succeed if Indonesia becomes a sovereign state and is no longer dictated to by the imperialists powers (led the by the superpower of the US).

We learn from history, that the rulers in the imperialist countries in an indirect way caused then violation of human rights in Indonesia since 1965 [in] Timor Leste, as well as Aceh and Papua. So resolving the problem of human rights cannot be separated from the problem of economic and political sovereignty.

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