As soon as he takes office as the Jakarta governor on Oct. 7, the next battle awaiting Joko “Jokowi” Widodo will not be any easier than the ones he came through during two grueling rounds of electioneering. Now, he will have to deal with politicians at the Jakarta legislative council, who mostly represent parties that were opposed to his candidacy.
This is a potential stalemate that may force him to seek compromise to realize the platforms he offered to his voters during the election. Worse, the “opposition” dominated council may conspire to stall or hold his programs hostage in revenge for their humiliating defeat in the gubernatorial election.
Jokowi and his running mate Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama were nominated by the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) and the Great Indonesia Movement (Gerindra) Party, which altogether hold only 17 out of 94 seats at the council. In the event of a decision-making process involving both the executive and legislative powers, the tiny coalition is no match for the alliance of national parties that joined forces to help incumbent Governor Fauzi Bowo and his running mate Nachrowi Ramli in the Sept. 20 runoff.
Despite the popular support for Jokowi in the election, Jakarta’s realpolitik may bode ill for his administration due to its vulnerability to political harassment. The capital’s tricky playing field is a far cry from the political landscape of his hometown, Surakarta. Under his leadership, the Surakarta city government has barely faced barriers to making its programs work due in part to solid support from all parties represented in the regional legislative council.
But it was Jokowi’s decision to quit this comfort zone that prompted him to rise to bigger challenges. His ascent to Jakarta’s top job mirrors the public’s longing for leaders with integrity, for actions rather than rhetoric, and for the ability to listen rather than to speak — all of which are qualities that the current political elites lack.
Now that Jakartans have entrusted him with the mandate to lead the city to a better place, Jokowi must do whatever it takes to live up to these expectations, with the city council potentially standing between him and his vision of a new Jakarta.
Jokowi is fortunate in that he has the opportunity to learn from the successes and failures of those that have gone before him, including President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono who, like Jokowi, climbed to his throne by beating the incumbent in the process. Jokowi today is reminiscent of Yudhoyono in 2004, the latter being directly elected by the people but having to square off against power-hungry politicians who practically turned the presidential system into a parliamentary form of government.
Despite his powers and popular support, Yudhoyono has tended to prefer consensus to conflict with lawmakers in the House of Representatives, reducing him to an indecisive leader and easy prey to political maneuverings. That he won his second term in 2009 was probably down to voters having no better choice.
Jokowi must not emulate Yudhoyono in his propensity to make deals with political parties for the sake of survival. As evinced in this week’s runoff, political parties do not matter. Voters are looking at candidates and their track records. The Jakarta election has given the political parties a lesson in nominating candidates for executive and legislative posts primarily based on merit.
Jokowi managed to exploit his popular support to cow the resistance of the grand coalition of parties in the election, and he must do the same when facing opposition in the city council. Jakarta’s citizens and civil society groups will stand behind the new governor as long as he works for the good of the city.