Indonesia: New governor of Jakarta raises hopes of the poor

Thousands celebrate the October 15, 2012, inauguration of Jakarta governor Joko Widodo (better known as Jokowi). Photo: Berdikari Online.

November 12, 2012 -- Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal -- It is an extraordinary thing for thousands of ordinary people to mob an inauguration ceremony for a new governor for Jakarta. And yet this is exactly what happened on October 15, 2012, according to the progressive Indonesian publication Berdikari Online. It reported that thousands of people -- many from Jakarta's urban poor communities -- braved the scorching heat to welcome the incoming governor Joko Widodo (better known as Jokowi) and his deputy Basuki Tjahaja Purnama.

Peter Boyle interviewed Dominggus Oktavanius, secretary-general of the Peoples Democratic Party (PRD) of Indonesia about this development, which is being hotly debated in the Indonesian left. Translation by Rebecca Meckelberg.

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Peter Boyle: Why is the Jokowi-Basuki team so popular? What were Jokowi's achievement as the previous mayor of Surakarta/Solo?

Dominggus Oktavanius: Jokowi, in particular, is a special figure in the political theatre in Indonesia today. He is seen as a figure of simplicity and humility. He has never indicated that he sees himself is above the ordinary people. He also works by getting down to the grassroots himself, coming directly to the poorest kampungs (villages) to speak to people and listen to their complaints. This took up more than half of his time as the mayor of Solo.

Asking the people and involving many people in decision making and implementation is a totally new political method in our country. Maybe unconsciously, Jokowi seems to be is putting into practice a model of direct democracy, or participatory democracy, a bit like what we have seen in a number of countries in Latin America.

As well, Jokowi has implemented several policies that are very different from those implemented by figures who have previously held power in Indonesia. For example, when there has been a relocation of street traders from a strategic street to a new location, Jokowi has not sent the police to evict them. Instead he invited all the street traders to come to the mayoral office to have a dialogue and dinner together.

He did this not just once or twice but as many as 54 times in Solo! He has also conducted reform of the bureaucracy, the results which include ending the long delays in the issue of identity cards (KTP). Previously the processing of an application for the identitity card would take as long as one month. After Jokowi's reform of the bureaucracy the processing of the KTP only takes one hour.

Jokowi has also sided with the small market traders. He has restricted the permission for the development of malls and supermarkets and allocated a large budget to renovate 34 local markets and to build new local markets. He has been innovative in the development of the automotive industry. While it is still far from a success because of the cost limitations, this is a very good beginning for a country that is still completely dependent on the imported products.

Some free health and education programs have been implemented in many regions, but the implementation in Solo (under Jokowi as mayor) has been easier and more practical for the people.

These are concrete achievements that have been generated in Solo but they are far from perfect. There are still many deficiencies that must be fixed. But this is why he is popular.

What are Jokowi and Basuki's political and class backgrounds?

Jokowi is not a longtime member of the Indonesian Democratic Party–Struggle (PDIP, led by Megawati Sukarnoputri). He was a businessman (making household furniture) whowas successful in leading the furniture entrepreneurs' association in Solo. He nominated himself through the PDIP in 2005 along with the chairperson of the PDIP in Solo, who has now become the deputy mayor.

Basuki is also an entrepeneur from the small-island province of Bangka Belitung. In his region he is well known as a philanthropist. Because of this, even though he is from a minority ethnic group and a minority religion, he won the elections in his regency, Belitung Timor. He also became the first part-Chinese Indonesian to become a regent there.

While he was the regent, Basuki became well known as an anti-corruption figure and one who tried to implement some pro-people policies, even though he was not as successful as Jokowi in Solo. After that he nominated in the legislative elections in 2009 and was elected as a member of the DPR through the Golkar Party.

Politics in Indonesia after the toppling of the Suharto dictatorship in 1998 saw many people enthusiastically diving into politics. But there have only been a few people who have done anything good in electoral politics. Ideological consolidation has never occurred in the political parties in Indonesia generally, thanks to de-ideologisation (de-politicisation) of decades under Suharto's New Order. So most people entering the political arena tend to choose whatever party they think can be used as a tool rather than choose a party on the basis of ideology.

Which parties supported Jokowi-Basuki team in the gubernatorial election in Jakarta and which parties opposed him?

The parties that nominated them were PDIP and Gerindra. In addition to this there are several small parties that support them including, among others the Reform Star Party (PBR) and the PRD. Meanwhile there are quite a lot of parties that oppose them, including all of the large parties such as the Democrat Party, Golkar, the United Development Party, the Peace and Justice Party (PKS), National Mandate party (PAN), Nation Awakening Party (PKB) and the People’s Conscience Party (Hanura) under the leadership of General Wiranto.

What are the specific promises that Jokowi has made to the people of Jakarta? Do these promises threaten of clash with the powerful interests that rule Indonesia?

There are many specific promises that have been conveyed regarding many problems that are very complex in Jakarta. Starting from the improvements to slum kampungs, improving the management of citizens' administration, free education and health, and the  rejuvenation and increases in the fleet of public transport vehicles.

We predict that there will be a conflict with the interests of businesspeople that are stronger and because of this we will keep watch and support every government program that is in the interests of the people.

The PRD was part of the Jakarta People's Coalition for Social Justice that mobilised people for the inauguration. Who is in this coalition and what is its objective?

This coalition consists of people’s groups that worked to support the victory of Jokowi-Basuki in the recent election with a certain programmatic agreement. Our objective is to ensure that that the programs that have been promised or signed on in the memorandum of understanding are implemented by this new government.

So, as we said earlier, we will monitor and support these programs through extraparliamentary activities.

There has been some debate in the left in Indonesia about whether to support Jokowi or not. Can you explain what arguments were made?

The main argument made by left groups that reject Jokowi or are critical is that he was supported by the Gerindra party, which is led by Prabowo Subianto. These groups argue that supporting Jokowi is the same as supporting Prabowo, a former general who was involved in human rights abuses in Indonesia and East Timor.

We see the human rights argument made by these left groups as adding to the campaign by elite parties opposing Jokowi’s politics. The issue of human rights is used hypocritically to attack other groups even while their own groups are not free of human rights abusers. The issue of corruption is similarly exploited in the narrow interests of political competition, while not being seriously addressed.

We need to be consistent. The issue of human rights and corruption since the New Order came to power in 1965 needs to be investigated and opened up in its entirety so that the subjugated economic and political conditions of Indonesia, that underlie these problems, can be explained clearly.

For a small group of people Gerindra's endorsement of Jokowi-Basuki is considered important, but it does not influence the evaluation of many people of Jokowi and Basuki.

For the PRD itself, the Indoensian people's main objective now is to free itself from the grip of neoliberalism. The problem of addressing human rights is part of an agenda for change, but can only succeed if Indonesia becomes sovereign state and is no longer dictated to by the imperialists powers (led the by the superpower of the US).

We learn from history that the rulers in the imperialist countries in an indirect way caused the violation of human rights in Indonesia since 1965, in Timor Leste, as well as in Aceh and Papua. So resolving the problem of human rights cannot be separated from the problem of economic and political sovereignty.