Sunday, March 16, 2014

The week in review: Jokowi’s D Day

Mainstream and social media was all atwitter over the nomination of Jakarta Governor Joko “Jokowi” Widodo as a presidential candidate on Friday. In fact, the news was among the top trending topics on Twitter, one of the world’s largest social networks, with more than 645 million registered users.

Although widely expected — given the waning public trust in the political elite, which is considered corrupt and self serving— the rise of Jokowi, a bastion of integrity and populist to boot, appears to be a manifestation of the current mindset of the grassroots, which is seeking justice and equal distribution of wealth.

Despite nearly a decade of political stability and economic growth, rampant corruption — involving the executive, legislative and judiciary branches of power — has squandered the nation’s wealth and resulted in an ever-widening divide between the rich and poor.

Jokowi declared his acceptance during a visit to the grave of Betawi hero, Pitung in Marunda, North Jakarta, following his endorsement by Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) chairwoman Megawati Soekarnoputri.

The governor said nothing about why he chose the place for such a decisive moment in his life, but when the crowd of reporters questioned the motive behind his quest for the presidency he, after a split of second of silence, answered: “Resistance”. Upon leaving the historical site he repeated his reply syllable by syllable: “Re-sist-ance”.

Jokowi left everybody guessing. Who or what is he fighting and why? One thing is sure, that local hero Pitung fought the Dutch colonial powers to his death. Betawi folklore describes Pitung as a man of steel who only died after Dutch troops shot him with a silver bullet.

It is also obvious that Jokowi’s bid for the presidency is against the odds given that he will take on seasoned, if not senior, political bigwigs in the July race. So far Hanura Party chairman Wiranto, Golkar Party chairman Aburizal Bakrie, Gerindra Party founder Prabowo Subianto and Crescent Star Party (PBB) chief patron Yusril Ihza Mahendra have been nominated by their respective parties.

The list of contenders will extend if the Constitutional Court decides to annul the threshold political parties need to field their own presidential candidates. The Election Law mandates the threshold to be 20 percent of the seats in the House of Representatives or 25 percent of the popular vote. If the requirement is upheld, only the PDI-P and Golkar stand a chance of contesting the presidential election without having to form a coalition.

Although consistently topping surveys, Jokowi acknowledged that his nomination had been met with opposition within the PDI-P until Megawati gave him her final seal of approval Friday. Jokowi said the squabbling enlivened the party’s dynamics.

Criticism has also been rife against Jokowi as he will leave Jakarta prematurely after less than two years in office. Previously, he resigned as Surakarta mayor before completing his second five-year term to contest the Jakarta gubernatorial election in 2012. But Jokowi said he was encouraged to take the path and the risks it brought.

There were a series of notable events preceding decision day. On Wednesday, Megawati and Jokowi visited the grave of founding president Sukarno, Megawati’s father, in the East Java town of Blitar. Critics immediately lashed out at Jokowi for the unannounced trip as he sacrificed his working hours for party interest.

On Thursday Megawati presided over an executive meeting at the party’s headquarters in Lenteng Agung, South Jakarta. Dozens of businessmen turned up for the closed-door meeting, but PDI-P secretary-general Tjahjo Kumolo denied any financial deal between the party and the entrepreneurs. Tjahjo said the businessmen and their employees’ votes was all the contribution the party wanted.

Jokowi had signaled his preparation for the presidential election when he reshuffled more than 30 officials within the city last week and announced the likelihood of another major reshuffle soon. When gathering about 100 officials on March 10, Jokowi spontaneously said he entrusted the city to them.

PDI-P rivals played down Jokowi’s nomination, with Gerindra chairman Suhardi believing its presidential aspirant Prabowo would still win. Similarly, Golkar secretary-general Idrus Marham said the party was not afraid of Jokowi’s popularity.

Jokowi and dozens of other regional leaders have asked for permission or notified the Home Minister about their participation in outdoor rallies ahead of the April 9 legislative election, which kicks off Sunday. President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and Cabinet ministers who are affiliated with political parties will also shift their focus from state duties to party commitment, hoping their contribution will boost to their respective parties’ performance.

Election watchdogs have warned the public officials to not misuse state facilities during the campaign period, a practice that has been rampant in the past. Given the history of regional leaders misusing state assets during their campaigns, Home Minister Gamawan Fauzi instructed the Elections Supervisory Committee (Bawaslu) to strictly uphold the campaign regulations.

— Dwi Atmanta

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