Thursday, December 12, 2013

Can Jokowi tame party oligarchs?

Governor Joko ‘Jokowi’ Widodo

Heading toward Indonesia’s 2014 presidential elections, everyone is looking at Jakarta Governor Joko ‘Jokowi’ Widodo’s performance and his opportunity to run for president.
Jokowi, as various opinion polls have shown, is very popular with the Indonesian electorate. Many members of his party, the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), see Jokowi as having the potential way to win many votes in both the legislative and presidential elections next year. Yet during the party’s coordination meeting a few months ago there were two camps: those who supported party leader and former president Megawati Sukarnoputri to run for the third time as the party’s presidential candidate, and local PDI-P cadres who favored Jokowi.
What are the political consequences of the PDI-P backing Jokowi’s bid to run for Indonesia’s highest office? And how can Jokowi exert and maintain his popularity amid the dominance of a few wealthy people or oligarchs in the national political landscape?
The PDI-P is a traditional party that has based its appeal on the legacy of Indonesia’s first president Sukarno and his nationalist vision. The party is virtually controlled by Sukarno’s descendants — since it was established in 1999 the PDI-P has been in the hands of Megawati and her family. Every single policy has been overseen by Megawati and she has been viewed as a symbol of unity within the party. Jokowi knows he has to maintain close relations with Megawati to be a viable presidential candidate.
This is pivotal in analysing the way the party, or to a lesser extent Megawati, shapes Indonesia’s future under Jokowi if he becomes Indonesia’s president next year.
Recently, Megawati has been accompanying Jokowi on visits to grassroots supporters, emulating his meetings with the people. This is unique given her profile as an elitist, as she has made such visits mostly in her own political campaigns only. Jokowi also frequently visits Megawati’s house to discuss international and local issues. He even reports on the progress of local Jakarta projects such as the Pluit Dam and the relocation of vendors around the Tanah Abang textile market to the former Indonesian president. These are interesting facts given that Jokowi, as a local governor, would be expected to discuss his programmes with Home Minister Gamawan Fauzi. Instead he prefers to involve Megawati in his impromptu visits and discuss city programmes with her.
Looking ahead, it is hard to judge what sort of president Jokowi would make. But the signs are that Megawati will influence Jokowi, particularly on crucial polices such as appointing cabinet ministers and high-ranking officials. The close relationship between the two prominent figures suggests these might be collaborative decisions, or that Megawati might even be more influential than Jokowi when deciding crucial policies. Jokowi himself has so far shown that he sees Megawati as highly important to his tenure as Jakarta’s governor as well as a leading PDI-P member.
But what about Jokowi’s own popularity? He does not have the same financial backing as other presidential contenders, such as former military general Prabowo Subianto, businessman Aburizal Bakrie, media tycoon Surya Paloh, or Jusuf Kalla, former vice president during Susilo Bambang Yudoyhono’s first term (2004–09).
Popularity is crucial for Jokowi to mobilise support from middle and lower class Indonesians, as was proved in last year’s Jakarta gubernatorial election. Jokowi emerged when the current government failed to address the needs of a large constituency, creating conditions ripe for populism. In other words, Jokowi benefitted from a popular movement in reaction to a deficient political system. The people felt neglected by their government and Jokowi appealed to this, claiming he could better represent their political desires.
But this popularity is apparently not quite strong enough to tame the oligarchy that has continued to influence and even ‘hijack’ Indonesia’s democracy after the downfall of former president Suharto. Jokowi is popular mainly due to heavy media coverage since he was Surakarta mayor. He will remain vulnerable amid the oligarchs, and will need to acknowledge the financial backing and other support given to him if he runs for president.
The 2012 gubernatorial election is the best example of how Jokowi’s candidacy has benefited from the financial backing of oligarchs. Last year, weekly magazine Tempo detailed the funding of his gubernatorial candidacy.Though his campaign team denied the report, it is widely known that Indonesia is a high-cost democracy. Oligarchs will provide a vast amount of money to Jokowi if he runs for president, but they in turn will have to be rewarded. This leads to concerns over the extent to which Jokowi can distance himself from their influence.
Jokowi has to cut himself away from the circle of elites and oligarchs, though this will take a long time. Democracy does not merely require electability and popularity but the competency to become an independent figure amid the prevailing power of the few.
Hipolitus Yolisandry Ringgi Wangge is Visiting Scholar in the Equality Development and Globalization Studies Program at the Buffet Center for International and Comparative Studies, Northwestern University. A version of this article was published here in The Jakarta Post.

Author: Hipolitus Yolisandry Ringgi Wangge, Northwestern University
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