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Every Jakartan who voted for the winning pair in the capital’s gubernatorial elections last week knew exactly what they were doing. On the one hand they rejected the incumbent, a son of the city, angered by the many failures that have made living in the big city a misery for many. On the other, they recognized Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s successes in Surakarta (Solo) and pinned their hopes for a better Jakarta on the man who has kept his promises.
Most Jakartans have never been to Solo and most never will. But everybody knows success breeds success. At least they hope so. And, by endorsing his ethnic Chinese running mate Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama as well, Jakarta sent another message to all of Indonesia.
A stronghold of conservative Islam, Jakarta’s overwhelming majority of Muslims looked beyond race and religion to support the senior-most Chinese official ever to be elected to public office in this new democracy.
The capital’s infamous race riots that marked the end of a dictatorship seem well and truly forgotten. This is a major milestone, a social triumph that heralds a new beginning for a new Indonesia.
In just a few days, the electoral victory will be announced officially. Then will begin the difficult task of addressing the tasks voters want fixed, urgently. On top of that list of urgent “Things To Do” must sit the visible mess that is strangling Jakarta. Like most of Indonesia’s big cities, traffic congestion is an everyday nightmare. It has a negative impact on productivity, the environment and health. We know that a metro rail system is essential, but even if it were to magically appear across the city tomorrow, it wouldn’t be enough to resuscitate the choked city. It needs more of everything that makes urban living easier for everyone. More corridors overhead, more flyovers, more underpasses. More footpaths, more overbridges, more traffic lights.
Beyond traffic and transportation, the city’s other ailments crying out for the new team’s attention include sanitation, flood control and waste management. On a different note, but equally important is the need for an end to the extra-judicial authority the FPI have acquired during the Fauzi Bowo years. Jokowi-Ahok have been given the mandate, they will now be watched by all Jakartans, supporters and opponents alike.
The winning pair would do well to remember that Jakartans are even more critical than the average Indonesian on key political issues. On corruption, distrust of government, management ability, residents of the capital have even less faith in their political leaders. The big question that many will ask is where will all the money come from? Endemic corruption isn’t going to disappear overnight, but renewed efforts to combat the cancer would be well received. Most importantly, all concerned need to take courage from the remarkably good shape of the consumer economy. This week’s accompanying chart captures the transformation that has taken place in just the last five years. From “bad time” to “good time”, the cross-over is now complete and heading in the right direction despite the occasional flutter or two. The real economy is in good shape, with consumption today and demand tomorrow as robust as ever. Money that will need to be borrowed for infrastructure development will create thousands of new well-paid jobs, all helping to turn the wheels of the economy. We don’t need pundits to explain the obvious dividends, the return on investment.
The line that tracks the “Good time to buy” sentiment happens to run almost identical to the line that records the march of Indonesia’s rising middle class. Coincidental? Not really. One line has shot up from 27 percent of the population to 50 percent in 5 years, as seen in the chart. The other, seen in previous editions of this column, has seen the country’s middle class grow steadily from 28 to 49 percent. To reiterate, that definition is based on households which own a TV set, a refrigerator, a car or a motorcycle. It is the aspirations of this growing class, and those who are striving to join the fold, that the Jokowi-Ahok team will need to satisfy. Fail them, and they will vote with their feet at the next election.
One of the excuses trotted out by the previous administration is their inability to borrow, an apparent violation of current regulations that prevented the city to borrow much needed capital from international institutions. If city administrations cannot borrow funds for infrastructure development, there has got to be another way forward. If changing the binding laws is an unlikely option, private-public partnership is the only other option. Indonesia’s well-wishers — the World Bank, the IMF, the Asian Development Bank among others — would undoubtedly be supportive of the improvements so badly needed in the capital. An example in the making for other city administrations?
These opinions are influenced by Roy Morgan Single Source, the country’s largest syndicated survey. More than 26,000 respondents are interviewed every year, week after week. The data is projected to reflect 87 percent of the population 14 years of age and over.
The writer can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org