Euphoria surrounding the just-announced presidential bid of Jakarta governor Joko 'Jokowi' Widodo is at an all-time high as Indonesia's election campaign season kicks off. 'Jokowi is unstoppable', said a newspaper editor friend in a text message to me this week as she worked late covering his campaign launch.
The hip, energetic, 52-year-old Jokowi, often compared in Indonesia to US president Barack Obama, has implicitly promised to clean up Indonesian politics just as he did the streets of the central Java city of Solo as mayor from 2005-2012. Voters expect Jokowi to repeat his Solo feat of reforming a corruption-wracked bureaucracy and boosting the economy.
But can Jokowi rise above Indonesia's toxic coalition politics and an antagonistic parliament? Similar widespread euphoria surrounded the rise of SBY (2004) and Megawati (1999). Eventually, at the end of both presidencies, voters grew disillusioned over broken promises and unmet expectations.
According to the polls, Jokowi is almost certain to win the 9 July vote for the presidency. Speculation has now turned to who Jokowi will choose as his running mate, but this survey shows Jokowi winning no matter who he runs with. In short, Jokowi is bigger than his political party, the PDI-P.
Before the presidential election, however, Jokowi and the PDI-P must contest the 9 April legislative election for Indonesia's parliament, the Dewan Perwakilan Rakyat (DPR). Reliable polls expect the Jokowi-PDI-P ticket to win at least 30% of the 560-seat house. It's possible Jokowi's popularity will boost the victory margin further. Indeed, the opportunity to leverage the 'Jokowi effect' probably drove party chair Megawati Sukarnoputri to anoint Jokowi last Friday instead of waiting until after April.
The most likely scenario, however, is that other major parties, such as former ruling party Golkar, and a hodge-podge of smaller parties, will control the rest of the house. Jokowi's PDI-P is unlikely to control parliament. That means Jokowi, like previous Indonesian presidents, will have to compromise and form a coalition with rival parties.
The previous 'rainbow' coalitions of 2001, 2004, and 2009 have proven unwieldy, chaotic, and dysfunctional. The rule-obsessed SBY demanded parties and ministers sign a contract agreeing to support the government. They later ignored the agreements anyway. Bickering over cabinet seats in smoky backrooms has been bitter, with parties vying for the most powerful portfolios (such as finance or mines and energy). Critics claim individual ministers under the coalition have run ministries as personal fiefdoms.
Overall, divisions in SBY's coalition have been blamed for an alleged slowdown in policy reform in the second SBY term. Dr Stephen Sherlock, who has studied Indonesia's legislative system, argues that it is cabinet divisions, more than slowness of lawmaking in the DPR, which have obstructed SBY's policy agenda.
Jokowi is thus likely to preside over a divided cabinet and fractured parliament. He will, of course, need parliament to govern. The DPR must perform routine tasks such as approving the annual budget and passing bills. In coming years, the president will also have to consult the DPR on politically controversial decisions such as the likely hiking of power and fuel prices.
Pursuing an anti-corruption agenda could anger vested interests, including in the legislature. In recent years, investigations by Indonesia's top anti-corruption agency have embroiled ministers, senior bureaucrats, top police officers and sent dozens of legislators to jail. Angry parliamentarians have retaliated, accusing the KPK of engaging in a political witch-hunt, and blocked funding. Importantly, high profile investigations by the KPK also uncovered a web of graft within SBY's Democrat Party, showing that personal friends and allies had diverted state funds for party purposes.
Jokowi supporters say his track record in navigating byzantine politics makes him the most likely president to succeed since Suharto fell in 1998. I interviewed dozens of small businesspeople, street vendors and becak (rickshaw) drivers in Solo last year. At first, they said, they had opposed Jokowi's efforts at urban redesign, but the persuasive and down-to-earth former furniture manufacturer had won them over. Jokowi's tenure as Solo mayor has become an international blueprint for small city urban reform. Jokowi, with his 'bad cop' deputy Baskuki 'Ahok' Tjahaja Purnama, has proven equally adept in the much bigger urban jungle of the megacity Jakarta. Jokowi's biggest accomplishment is perhaps having charmed palace princess Megawati Sukarnoputri to step aside in a months-long process Indonesians call 'merayu' (to flatter).
Until July, at least, Jokowi euphoria is likely to reign. Many Indonesians will be voting for the first time and don't remember previous cycles of failed expectations.
The 'Ratu Adil' or Just Prince is a saviour figure familiar in the references to Javanese folklore that constantly peppers Indonesia's political gossip. Pundits attributed the popularity of Megawati in 1999 and SBY in 2004 on the Ratu Adil phenomenon. The original Joyoboyo prophesy predicted the Ratu Adil would be born relatively poor and unknown, as Jokowi was. Indeed, unlike Megawati (the daughter of Indonesia's first president Soekarno) or Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (former minister and general), Jokowi comes from outside the Jakarta power structure and elites.
Indonesia's voters, however, have repeatedly tended to score their presidents not on mythology, but on their track record on the economy and promises of reforms.
Photo by REUTERS/Beawiharta.