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Jakarta Post

Depok potholes and a new breed of leaders

  • Julia Suryakusuma

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Wed, September 3, 2014   /  10:17 am

Rizal is a 39-year-old Betawi man living in Depok, a satellite city in West Java on the southern border of the Special Capital Region of Jakarta (DKI Jakarta).

For exercise, he loves to cycle, sometimes starting out in the darkness of dawn. Last year he had to pay a high price for his hobby: riding his bike on an unlit road, he fell into a big pothole and lost four teeth. The cost to fix them? Rp 25 million (almost US$2,200)!

Rizal is not the only victim of the pothole-ridden streets of Depok, which the city administration has failed to fix. It turns out, there are many others.

So it'€™s not surprising that Rizal feels Depok'€™s achievements under 10 years of Mayor Nur Mahmudi Ismail who hails from the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS), and who is serving his second term (2010-2015), amount to zero.

Whether it'€™s urban planning, infrastructure building, transportation, balancing the interests of the public with those of big businesses, keeping the culture and history of Depok alive, achieving a clean government as well as a clean city '€” Nur Mahmudi'€™s administration has failed miserably. Instead of turning Depok into a green belt of parks and trees, and a blue belt of ponds and water catchments, Rizal says the colors of Depok, are now fifty shades of gray.

It has been turned into a shopping city, dominated by masses of concrete malls.

Depok, while having a large population of Betawi people, has always been multi-cultural. Since 1980 when the University of Indonesia (UI) campus was moved to Depok, it became even more multi-cultural.

Besides UI, Depok is also home to Gunadharma, Nurul Fikri and Bina Sarana Informatika (BSI) universities: it is a city of intellectuals.

So imagine how ridiculous it was to have giant-sized posters of Nur Mahmudi across the city telling Depok residents to '€œReturn to our national character by eating and drinking with your right hand'€. That should fix all the other problems, right? Wow, it takes a genius to think of a brilliant idea like that!

Wait! That'€™s not all. Depok currently also has the reputation of being the second-most corrupt city in Indonesia, as well as being the dirtiest. There'€™s even a Facebook community page devoted to these stunning achievements (!

So great was Rizal'€™s disillusionment with Nur Mahmudi'€™s administration that he decided to run in the February 2015 election for mayor of Depok.

Rizal and several fellow intellectuals, also Depok residents, got together to list the city'€™s problems, potential, solutions and possible action plans, while looking for a figure who they felt could run as an alternative candidate.

As a PKS stronghold, the majority of candidates for Depok mayor were from PKS. Nur Mahmudi was in fact PKS'€™ first chairman when it was founded in 1998 as an Islamist party with connections to the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.

PKS is now also proposing Nur Mahmudi'€™s wife, Nur Azizah Tahmid, as a candidate, although they deny they were engaging in dynastic politics. Oh, of course not!

There are other equally uninspiring candidates, notably the notorious tweeting Communications and Information Minister Tifatul Sembiring, former head of the PKS (2005-10).

Clearly something had to be done to thwart the PKS'€™ corrupt and destructive hold over Depok.

On the day Tifatul'€™s candidacy was announced, Rizal received hundreds of notifications on his Facebook timeline calling on him to run.

They said that public intellectuals should not just analyze and criticize, but should also do the real work. Due to the support he got, Rizal decided to run for mayor of Depok.

After all, Rizal is no ordinary citizen. He is JJ Rizal, prominent historian, award-winning writer, founder and director of Komunitas Bambu Publishing, and outspoken public intellectual who writes prolifically and speaks and publishes on a multitude of issues: culinary history, historical figures, the history of literature, women, sociopolitical movements and Indonesian contemporary history.

In 2010 he received the Jakarta governor'€™s Cultural Award for his work as an historian who has provided valuable perspectives on Jakarta'€™s developmental problems.

'€œI don'€™t have money or a party to back me up, but I have knowledge, ideas, integrity and a vision,'€ he told me. Like Joko '€œJokowi'€ Widodo, he is relying on a team of volunteers to support him and run his campaign and is currently developing his volunteer base. Count me in! I'€™m also a Depok resident after all!

As Rizal says, leaders have to be a medium of public participation. The electorate is not simply there to provide votes, but also to support ideas and programs, which politicians, the military, the bureaucracy and political parties, may try to thwart.

There are three reasons why Depok is important, and interesting to observe.

First, it'€™s vital for Jakarta. The capital city is buttressed by the satellite cities around it (Tangerang and Bekasi, besides Depok). Jakarta will never be able to solve the three kinds of floods from which it suffers '€” water, people and cars '€” if these problems are not tackled in cities like Depok.

Second, Depok is a microcosm of Jakarta, perhaps even Indonesia. Corruption, lack of infrastructure, environment problems, lack of cultural and historical preservation, are the same problems Jakarta and Indonesia face.

Third, the need for a paradigmatic and real shift in leadership in Depok is something that Indonesia also faces.

We are seeing now a new kind of leadership emerging in Indonesia '€” a Jokowi effect perhaps? There'€™s a new crop of leaders who exhibit a daring, no-nonsense approach, e.g. Jakarta Deputy Governor Basuki '€œAhok'€ Tjahaja Purnama, Surabaya Mayor Tri Rismaharini, Central Java Governor Ganjar Pranowo, Bandung Mayor Ridwan Kamil and Bogor Mayor Bima Arya Sugiarto.

Will we be able to add JJ Rizal'€™s name to the list? After all, the only way we are ever going to get rid of those (bleep) potholes is by electing someone who left some teeth in them!


The writer is the author of Julia'€™s Jihad.

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