Friday, January 24, 2014

Why Jokowi should run for president

There are only two real contenders for Indonesia’s 2014 presidential election: Jakarta Governor Joko “Jokowi” Widodo and Great Indonesia Movement (Gerindra) Party chief patron Prabowo Subianto.

All recent polls have placed Jokowi significantly ahead, with Prabowo sitting well behind Jokowi but still far ahead of the other candidates. This places Jokowi in a position of such popularity that if he merely decided to run for president, he would win.

Since 2006, Freedom House scores on political rights and civil liberties have remained the same, with civil liberties even experiencing a slight decline, indicating the stagnation of Indonesian democracy. With extremely low voter turnout as well as corruption continuing to plague all levels of Indonesian bureaucracy, Indonesia needs a leader who can reinvigorate the country’s democracy, free from the restraints of the old Soeharto regime.

Jokowi becoming president this year is important for the future of Indonesia as a democracy. Jokowi may not be the best candidate for the country, but those candidates who are do not stand a chance against Prabowo to win the presidency. And it is important for the future of Indonesia that Prabowo does not become president.

People have made the argument that Jokowi needs to fix Jakarta first before considering becoming president.

But he would be leaving behind the very popular and capable Deputy Governor Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama, not to finish the job but to start what will be a long process to clean up the mess that is Jakarta.

Criticisms of Jokowi’s nomination for president are primarily formed on his lack of experience at a national level, especially in terms of foreign affairs. But Jokowi’s experience in Jakarta, despite being short, will form a good basis for his presidency. The population of Jakarta equals the size of a small nation, and the problems found in Jakarta are reflected throughout the archipelago.

In terms of foreign relations, Jokowi will quickly learn the ropes and his leadership in this area will be much more easily satisfied than if Prabowo was to become president, which would lead to a foreign affairs mess for Indonesia.

The primary reason for supporting Jokowi’s presidential nomination is the high likelihood that if Jokowi does not run, then Prabowo will win. This would be a disaster for Indonesia’s international relations and for its democracy. Prabowo was the first person to be put on a blacklist of people banned from entering the United States over allegations of human rights violations. He has also been told that he would be denied entry to a number of other countries, including Australia.

His power, ability, continued closeness with the military and close links with the Soeharto regime would make his presidency a huge step backward for Indonesia.

Indonesia’s elite politicians are still trying to halt the development of democracy and their control over the government remains significant. This has the power to destroy what is arguably the most successful transition to democracy in a majority-Muslim country.

The success of the transition to democracy came in part from cooperation from the political elite which has allowed Soeharto-era elites, like Prabowo, to maintain their stranglehold over the Indonesian government. Although Jokowi is an elite politician, he does not act as one; nor is he considered an “elite” in the eyes the people.

Jokowi’s current track record, emphasizing democratic values and participatory democracy based on good governance, would make his presidency far more preferable. Jokowi has the power to get people interested and involved in politics; again, something that is important for Indonesia’s future. Jokowi has also proved his capability to make difficult decisions for the country’s development toward becoming a strong democracy.

The writer is an Australian graduate from the Parahyangan Catholic University, Bandung.

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