By SARA SCHONHARDT
Published: September 19, 2012
JAKARTA, Indonesia — The campaign for governor of Indonesia’s
chaotic capital has, at times, resembled a rock concert, punctuated by
guitar riffs, fist pumps and checkered shirts. At its heart is Joko
Widodo, a candidate whose message of change has propelled him into the
upstart contender for leader of one of Asia’s most important
In July, Mr. Joko, the mayor of Surakarta in Central Java, surprised pollsters by emerging from the first round of elections with 43 percent of the vote, ahead of the man who had been expected to win, Gov. Fauzi Bowo, who took 34 percent. With none of the six candidates winning a majority, Mr. Joko and Mr. Fauzi will compete in a runoff on Thursday.
This is only the second time Jakarta residents have voted for their city’s leader directly, and Mr. Joko, with his signature checkered shirts and populist manner, has injected new enthusiasm into the process. In a country where politicians often come from a tight-knit elite or have ties to the late president and military strongman Suharto, Mr. Joko, best known by his nickname Jokowi, appears to represent a new breed of politician, analysts say.
A furniture exporter who entered politics for the first time when he ran for mayor in 2005, he is widely perceived as clean and capable in a country beset by corruption — Transparency International ranked Indonesia 100th out of 182 countries in 2011. As mayor of Surakarta, Mr. Joko helped relocate street vendors to ease traffic congestion and introduced a modern tram system. He streamlined business application procedures, widened access to health services and cleaned up slums, the last an issue with special appeal to Jakarta voters. In 2010, he was re-elected with 90.9 percent of the vote. He is on the short list for World Mayor 2012, an award given out every two years by the City Mayors Foundation, an international research organization.
The question now is whether he can replicate his success in Surakarta, a city of 520,000, in the country’s sprawling capital, with its population of more than 10 million. His supporters hope so.
“He tackled the challenges in Solo and made it the best city in Indonesia,” said Kiki Arpio, an insurance agent at a campaign event for Mr. Joko, using another name for Surakarta. “What’s important is that he has a good vision for the city.”
Analysts say Mr. Joko’s first-round victory signaled that voters were eager for new leadership. It could also be a sign that traditional party affiliations and endorsements are waning in significance and could serve as a precursor to national elections scheduled for 2014.
“This election is a test to see if the political party apparatus is still an asset,” said Wimar Witoelar, a veteran political observer who was a spokesman for Abdurrahman Wahid, a former president.
Mr. Fauzi, 63, has deep roots in the Jakarta establishment, having served more than three decades as a civil servant and politician, and enjoys the backing of many Muslim leaders, academics and city officials. Most of Indonesia’s major parties are supporting him, including the Golkar Party, part of the governing coalition of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and led by Aburizal Bakrie, a presidential contender for 2014.
Mr. Joko, 51, has the support of the opposition Indonesian Democratic Party-Struggle, headed by former President Megawati Sukarnoputri, who lost to Mr. Yudhoyono in 2004 and plans to run again in 2014.
Mr. Joko is also backed by the four-year-old Great Indonesia Movement Party, whose head, Prabowo Subianto, a former special forces commander with his own presidential ambitions, is helping finance his campaign. This has led some analysts to ask whether Mr. Prabowo intends to use an association with Mr. Joko to rehabilitate his own standing, which was tarnished by allegations of human rights abuses in the late 1990s under Mr. Suharto, his former father-in-law.
For now, at least, Mr. Joko’s candidacy has shaken up politics as usual, they say.