While Jakarta Governor Joko 'Jokowi' Widodo remains silent over the unabated calls for his nomination as a presidential candidate in the 2014 election, the euphoria over his achievements and leadership style, widely perceived as representative of the grass roots, have been seen by political elites as precursors that would herald him to the presidency. This is the first of a three-page report on Jokowi's political journey. In this report, The Jakarta Post's Sita W. Dewi and Kusumasari Ayuningtyas dig deeper into Jokowi's rise as Surakarta mayor between 2005 and 2012.
Jokowi, 52, made a leap of faith last year to pursue a more promising political career as Jakarta governor by leaving his job as mayor of Surakarta, a small and relatively poor city in Central Java, three years before his second term was due to end.
That leap seems to have paid off well. Numerous surveys have consistently positioned him as the presidential frontrunner in the upcoming election.
But his chances of clinching the top job, although he has never made his ambition public, will depend on the consent of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle ( PDI-P ) chairwoman, Megawati
Soekarnoputri, who seems to be in no hurry to issue an endorsement although many surveys have pointed out the 'Jokowi factor' is the key to a PDI-P victory in the upcoming April legislative election.
The eldest daughter of first president Sukarno is not only unconvinced with Jokowi's performance in Jakarta but also over his loyalty, say several PDI-P politicians.
Jokowi was not a PDI-P cadre until he was appointed as Surakarta mayor in 2005, and he had also made a bid for the municipality candidacy with other parties prior to getting the ticket from PDI-P.
But an assessment of Jokowi's personality and his prospects for the presidency cannot be detached from the events that have taken place in Surakarta, a city of 400,000 residents.
The widely negative perception of Surakarta, popularly known as Solo, could not have been any worse back in 2005.
The city, part of the Javanese cultural axis, was not only among the poorest municipalities in Java but was also a hotbed of Islamic extremists, where spiritual-cum-terrorist leader Abu Bakar Ba'asyir, who is now serving 15 years in prison for terrorism, resided.
After the riots of 1998, some central areas were left razed to the ground and the city had not developed much under mayor Slamet Suryanto, who was then also a senior figure with the PDI-P Surakarta chapter.
The situation was exacerbated by pervasive corruption, which left a huge hole in the city's public budget.
'I didn't see any physical development at the time. The mayor's office was closed to the public and it was surrounded by a high fence. Most of the buildings near the office had also erected fences for protection,' local resident Tyas Kusumaningrum recalled.
'There were protests almost on a daily basis. The city looked gloomy.'
Confronted with such an ominous environment, then furniture businessman Jokowi had taken a shot in the dark to venture into politics, despite having no support base. Most of Surakarta's residents had not even heard his name.
According to Sumartono Hadinoto, an influential entrepreneur-turned-philanthropist, who became one of Jokowi's earliest and most-loyal supporters, Jokowi mustered the courage to pursue his political ambitions after being persuaded in 2004 by fellow businessmen with the Indonesian Furniture Entrepreneurs Association ( Asmindo ), of which Jokowi was chairman for the Surakarta branch.
'Jokowi was popular among furniture businessmen, but among other businesspeople, not so much,' Sumartono said.
Facing an uphill battle, Jokowi scrambled to find support and contacted several journalists who regularly reported news on the furniture industry.
It was around this time that Anggit Noegroho, a former journalist and media consultant, was contacted by Jokowi to join his campaign team.
'Jokowi was not a member of a political party, so we approached several parties, including the PDI-P, PAN [the National Mandate Party], PKS [the Prosperous Justice Party] and the Democratic Party,' Anggit said.
But it was bickering at the local PDI-P office that initially helped to support Jokowi's leap of faith.
Disenchanted with mayor Slamet, the PDI-P top-brass held a convention to select a candidate to represent the party in the 2005 municipal election, although Slamet insisted on running for a second term.
Coincidentally, PDI-P Surakarta chairman FX Hadi 'Rudy' Rudyatmo, turned down the offer to run as the party's candidate for mayor despite his high popularity among locals. Rudy is also known as among Megawati's confidants.
Probably due to his Catholic background, Rudy, who chaired several youth and sports organizations in the Muslim-majority city, opted to be a candidate for deputy mayor.However, he remained undecided as to who should run for mayor.
Jokowi's efforts to garner support from political parties eventually paid off when Rudy persuaded him to run alongside him under the PDI-P, according to Anggit.
Rudy's real reason behind Jokowi's selection remains unclear until now.
He diplomatically says: 'I was very comfortable with Jokowi at the time, and we preferred to have him leading the city.'
'I know my capacity. I merely wanted to help a municipal candidate,' he said.
After a landslide victory at the PDI-P convention, the pair finally secured the party's ticket for the municipal election.
Sumartono, who was also active in various influential organizations such as the Indonesian Red Cross ( PMI ) and the Indonesian Chamber of Commerce and Industry ( Kadin ), threw his support behind the pair.
'I already knew Rudy. He called me and introduced me to Jokowi. We talked about their vision and programs, and I thought we had similar ideas about developing the city. So, I called on my peers in various organizations to support them,' Sumartono recalled.
However, despite the backing from several businessmen, the couple did not spend a lot of money on their campaign, according to Anggit.
'Jokowi and Rudy were not the wealthiest candidates at the time. Our small campaign team consisted of only six people, including Jokowi himself,' said Anggit, who remains among Jokowi's small inner circle.
'We conducted modest research on effective campaign methods and we determined that door-to-door campaigning was the answer.'
Thus, instead of displaying Jokowi and Rudy's faces on posters or billboards, the couple visited residential areas by motorcycle to promote their platform.
'Local reporters asked us what our campaign model was called. We spontaneously came up with the term blusukan [Javanese slang meaning an impromptu visit],' Anggit said. 'We thought we would find a permanent term later, but we never did.'
Jokowi's blusukan method eventually helped him enter the national stage when he used it to win the Jakarta gubernatorial election in mid-2012. It also defined his political career and character.
Anggit added that the campaign team also bought space in a local newspaper to introduce Jokowi via a business consulting column for six months leading up to the election.
The Surakarta General Elections Commission ( KPUD ) revealed that Jokowi had spent the most campaign funds, totaling around Rp 600 million ( US$51,635 ).
With this campaigning style coupled with the PDI-P's network, in which Surakarta is one of the party's traditional strongholds, the Jokowi-Rudy ticket won the election with 36.62 percent of the vote.
Hardono and his running mate, GPH Dipokusumo, who were proposed by the Golkar Party, the Democratic Party, the PKS and elements of the Surakarta royal family, came second with 29 percent.
Incumbent mayor Slamet, who ran under the Christian-based Prosperous Peace Party ( PDS ) and 14 smaller parties, received the least number of votes of just below 6 percent.
Around 72 percent of the 376,000 eligible voters cast their votes, according to the KPUD.