Opinion

View Point: The danger
of Jokowi’s charisma

Various opinion surveys on potential presidential candidates in next year’s presidential election consistently show the high popularity of Jakarta Governor Joko “Jokowi” Widodo.

If the election was held today, so the surveys say, the former Surakarta mayor would likely win the race easily. But there are also signs that voters may have overestimated him and that we may credit him more than he deserves.

Next year will be an open competition for those who want to lead Indonesia for the 2014-2019 period because the Constitution clearly prohibits an incumbent president from seeking a third term. Jokowi himself has repeatedly said he has no interest in joining the presidential race because he wants to concentrate on his mission to realize his campaign promise to make a better Jakarta for all residents.

Jokowi is widely believed to have a higher electability level compared to other aspirants, like former president and chief of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) Megawati Soekarnoputri; the former son-in-law of former president Soeharto, Let. Gen. (ret.) Prabowo Subianto with his Great Indonesia Movement (Gerindra) Party; the former adjutant of Soeharto, Gen. (ret.) Wiranto; former vice president Jusuf Kalla and Golkar Party chairman Aburizal Bakrie.

But there are discouraging signs among his admirers, fans and supporters concerning the popularity of the governor and that Jokowi could repeat the Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono phenomenon. The retired four-star general defeated incumbent president Megawati in the first direct presidential election in 2004. Yudhoyono even secured a landslide in his reelection bid in 2009.

Jokowi is still a media darling, especially for online outlets and TV channels. Whatever he does as a governor, many Jakartans nod in awe. When Mulyadi, the subdistrict chief of Warakas in North Jakarta, announced his plan to sue the governor because of his decision to “auction” the position of the chief of district and subdistrict to all eligible civil servants, many residents were upset with Mulyadi. I was a strong supporter of Jokowi in last year’s gubernatorial election in Jakarta. I voted for him and I am still of the firm opinion that my vote will go to the governor in the presidential election, because like millions of other Indonesians throughout the country, I fell in love with the way he approaches people, his patience to listen to the disgruntled citizens of Jakarta and his modest lifestyle.

The effective acceleration of the provision of free medical care for the poor and education for students from elementary up to senior high school level has won the hearts of many Jakartans. He is the governor of the people, so far.

Although the governor is only supported by the PDI-P and Gerindra, Jokowi is also able to easily get support from the city legislative council (DPRD) because many legislators apparently do not want to take the risk of losing the confidence of voters in next year’s legislative elections.

An elderly tailor, his name also Joko, whose family is a strong supporter of the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS), did not see any good things in Jokowi in last year’s election. He was also very quick to point out the great danger of electing Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama, a Christian and an ethnic Chinese, as a deputy governor.

But now, the 67-year-old insists Jokowi is the best leader for Indonesia. He almost had to sell his house when doctors in a public hospital in East Jakarta asked him to undergo chemotherapy sessions because he was suffering from lung cancer. The cost was very expensive, but Jokowi’s health scheme enabled him to receive free medical treatment.

“I will vote for him in next year’s presidential election,” said Joko.

Jokowi has promised to significantly reduce traffic jams in Jakarta within a year. The traffic chaos is one of the most stressful problems for Jakartans. So far there are no signs of progress on this subject, although to be fair the traffic problem is so severe that almost no one would be able to find a solution in such a short period.

Jokowi needs to realize that he now needs to look further ahead. People want more substantial progress for Jakarta, but so far they have only seen public relations campaigns. I still believe many Jakartans, if not most, remain happy with their leader, but it will not last long.

What the governor needs to do is to achieve substantial progress in the mass transportation sector, the provision of better infrastructure like roads, and improvements in basic facilities in the slum areas.

The governor also needs to reach out to more needy students and upgrade public health services. In my view, it is totally wrong to say that only poor people deserve free or cheap healthcare. All Jakartans have the same rights, including rich residents, as long as they fully accept decent standards of medication and healthcare services. They pay much higher taxes than poor citizens.

The people of Jakarta are just making simple and basic demands of their leader: fulfill their basic needs in terms of health, education and the environment, give them access to economic opportunities. And, of course, please reduce the traffic.

People across the nation are closely following the steps of Jokowi and whether he will run in next year’s presidential election or not. He has strong support from the people.

The lingering question is: Can he do it?

For a leader who has risen off the back of a reputation of doing good for the people, albeit his political cliques, each failure to meet his campaign promises will erode people’s approval. Once he runs out of the people’s trust, he will lose his charm and become like any other politician, relying on bonds with political elites and businessmen, instead of on true public support.

If he wants to replace Yudhoyono as the country’s seventh president next year, he needs to realize more convincing progress for Jakarta. Voters in Indonesia are not very demanding of their leaders, but they want to see a clear and concrete track record.

No doubt, he has a strong opportunity to be an outstanding governor of Jakarta and even has the chance to be the next president.

But Jakartans’ demands need to be met before he can run for the top office.

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