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Jakarta Post

Ahok for Indonesia: A trajectory beyond 2017

  • Enggar Ferry Wibowo Sugiharto

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Sat, August 1, 2015   /  10:55 am

Jakarta Governor Basuki '€œAhok'€ Tjahaja Purnama is one of Indonesia'€™s rising political stars. He is considered loud and confrontational, which makes for much controversy in today'€™s Indonesia. It was therefore with much debate that Ahok was nominated as Joko '€œJokowi'€ Widodo'€™s running mate for the Jakarta gubernatorial elections in 2012.

Those who praise the anticorruption efforts in the capital in recent years call Ahok the hero Jakarta needs. To govern Jakarta with success, one must find solutions for its numerous complex issues. Jakarta is the most populous city not only in Indonesia, but across Southeast Asia too. Concerns such as worsening traffic congestion, flooding, deteriorating living conditions and an inefficient bureaucracy all make for an incredible challenge. Transparency International ranked Indonesia 107 out of 174 on the 2014 Corruption Perception Index, and Ahok has emerged as a much-desired corruption-free leader.

Ahok is a citizen of Chinese descent, an ethnic minority in Indonesia. Supporters of political and cultural pluralism applauded the choice of Ahok as running mate for Jokowi as a sign of a changing political landscape '€” a more fair and democratic Indonesia with a capital that is truly becoming a melting pot for heterogeneous political representation. It'€™s a sign that Indonesians living in Jakarta are not being subjugated by prejudice but rather are living in harmony and with open-mindedness.

In contrast, others openly expressed dislike toward Ahok. The Islam Defenders Front (FPI) and its allies rejected Ahok as Jakarta governor when he succeeded former governor Jokowi who was inaugurated as President in 2014. The FPI propagated smear campaigns against Ahok using ethnic, religious and racial content. Ahok'€™s outspoken personality angered some members of the city council when the scandal of the marked-up uninterruptible power supply (UPS) tender was made public. Both Ahok and city councilors argued intensely over the 2015 Jakarta budget proposal, and the budget was finally approved by the Home Ministry '€” a first of its kind for Indonesia'€™s local governing bodies.

Earlier Ahok attracted public attention for leaving his political party, the Gerindra Party of the Red-and-White Coalition, following its proposed appointment of local leaders by local councils as opposed to direct elections.

Ahok proved his uncompromising position in standing up for the constitution and democracy, and showed courage to lead Jakarta without his former political backing.

With the controversy surrounding Ahok, what would be the likely future of Ahok-style leadership in the country with the largest Muslim population in the world, which is also the world'€™s third largest democracy? The facts reveal that Jakartans in particular and Indonesians in general demand a clean and effective leader like Ahok.

In 2014, when Ahok served as Jakarta'€™s vice governor, a group of national online bloggers published a book titled Ahok untuk Indonesia (Ahok for Indonesia), expressing the urgent need for Indonesia to have leaders like him. As Indonesia will hold the first simultaneous elections for local administrations across the country in 2017, a group of volunteers has initiated an intriguing online campaign through the website, supporting Ahok to run as an independent for the 2017-2022 Jakarta gubernatorial election. They aim to acquire signatures and copies of at least a million Jakarta residents'€™ identity cards as evidence of support for a non-partisan candidate by July 2016.

The year 2017 will definitely be a test for Ahok. He may or may not gain support from political parties, but gaining sincere support from the people is essential when running for office. If is successful in proving legitimate support, Jakartans will have greater confidence to vote for Ahok in the election.

If Ahok is elected as an independent incumbent in 2017, his role as governor will be acknowledged as a major historic breakthrough for Indonesian democracy.

With several large infrastructure projects currently running, Ahok will likely harvest tangible results to prove his worthiness. Examples could be the operation of the first phase of the MRT system, namely the southern to northern line from Lebak Bulus to the Hotel Indonesia traffic circle, as well as other public facilities developed to host the 18th Asian Games by 2018. These achievements are important and must be taken into account as the 2019 presidential election approaches.

Will Ahok then run for the presidential office in 2019? Most Indonesians may not be ready to have
Ahok as president in 2019. And it would be impolite for Ahok to compete with his former senior, President Jokowi, who may run for a second term in office.

If Ahok runs as vice presidential candidate, the opportunity for winning the people'€™s acceptance may be wide open. As in the 2012 Jakarta gubernatorial elections, Ahok was successfully elected as deputy governor despite being part of an ethnic minority. This success may be replicated at the national level in 2019 as long as Ahok runs as a vice presidential candidate alongside the right presidential candidate.

Assuming President Jokowi is able to improve his performance and run again in 2019, Ahok would be the right vice president candidate. The pair has shown positive synergy in the past and may bring similar synergy to further develop the nation in the 2019-2024 term.

As President Jokowi would complete his two official terms by 2024, it may then be considered appropriate for Ahok to run for presidential office. Assuming that in 2024 Indonesia will have more educated and open-minded people, Ahok has a great chance to run for president.

With his currently frank and vexing political personality, Ahok will celebrate his 58th birthday in 2024, when he might be wise enough to rule the world'€™s largest archipelago. If Ahok is elected as president, it would reflect a peaceful and harmonious nation in which leaders are selected based on objective rationales rather than personal background.

Indonesia would gain more respect in the eyes of the international community, including the trust of major global investors keenly eying Indonesia.

Will this trajectory become a reality for Indonesia? Only time will tell.


... Ahok will celebrate his 58th birthday in 2024, when he might be wise enough to rule the world'€™s largest archipelago.


The writer is an alumnus of the 2014 American Council of Young Political Leaders Exchange Program in Washington DC, Alabama and Minnesota. The above views are personal.

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