One person who would have been happy no matter the outcome of Indonesia's presidential election this year is Jakarta's newly installed governor, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, better known by his nickname 'Ahok'.
Ahok was allied with both presidential contenders during the election: Prabowo Subianto as the leader of his party, and Joko 'Jokowi' Widodo as his deputy in leading the capital. He was never shy during the election period about his ambitions of becoming governor after Jokowi or vice president to Prabowo, and has since pointed to the possibility of competing against Jokowi for the presidency in the next election in five years' time. For the time being, with Jokowi as president, Ahok has scored the double benefit of being bumped up to become governor of Jakarta and being on close personal terms with the country's new leader.
But Ahok's blatant ambition is not without backbone. In the lead-up to his inauguration as governor last month, Ahok quit his party over a bill widely criticised as a threat to democracy, and took a braver stance on religious intolerance than former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono had managed in his ten years in office.
Ahok left Prabowo's Greater Indonesia Movement (Gerindra) when the party aggressively moved to scrap direct regional elections before the change of government, backed by Jokowi's parliamentary rivals in the Red-and-White Coalition. Aside from the fact that his own election was made possible by the system of direct elections, Ahok objectively disapproved of the bill, publicly criticising it in no uncertain terms as a boon for corruption and a setback for democracy.
'Whoever suggested it does not care for the people, or the constituents. They only care for themselves,' he said of the proposed bill.
With a position so adamantly against the party line, Ahok resigned from Gerindra without even discussing the decision with Prabowo first. He later apologised for his perceived rudeness, saying he had been in close discussion with Prabowo's younger brother and financial backer, Hashim Djojohadikusumo.
Prabowo is not the only one said to be offended by Ahok's manners. His straight-talking attitude has made him both loved and loathed in Jakarta, as it stands in stark contrast to the typically unconfrontational approach of most of the city's previous leaders. The contrast is often put down to cultural differences between the ethnic Chinese Ahok and the mostly Javanese stock of the political elite. Some Jakartans are ruffled by Ahok's directness, taking it as a sign of arrogance and general bad manners. But plenty are cheering from the sidelines.
While Jokowi did the rounds shaking hands in marketplaces and urban wards in his now famous blusukan visits as governor, his deputy Ahok made a habit of turning up at government offices unannounced and making his displeasure known about tardiness and other shortcomings. His animated admonishments have been immortalised in a series of YouTube clips shared widely among Jakarta's netizens, glad to see their laziest bureaucrats finally getting a talking-to (just search for 'Ahok marah' or 'angry Ahok' to find examples).
The latest target of Ahok's short temper is the hardline Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), a group notorious for its anti-democratic stance, intolerant attitude towards minority faiths, and episodes of criminal behaviour. Despite its unpopularity among Indonesia's moderate majority, the FPI operated with apparent impunity for most of Yudhoyono's term as president, fueling speculation about its political connections.
Recently, the group amplified its objections to Ahok taking the governorship on the basis that he is a Christian and therefore unfit to serve as leader of the Muslim-majority capital. In reply, Ahok did not hesitate in calling for the FPI to be disbanded. 'They are embarrassing their own religion. The organization does not deserve to exist. I have written a recommendation letter...to ban the FPI, because its actions are against the Constitution,' Ahok told the press before his inauguration last month.
Ahok is counted among Jakarta's new breed of politicians, with a reputation for transparency and clean governance. Having taken the governorship by circumstance, he will have his work cut out for him in proving his capability to a population that wanted the mild-mannered Jokowi as its leader. Added to the challenges of managing a megacity plagued by extreme disparities in wealth, strained infrastructure, environmental stress, and a population (in its greater area) the size of Australia's, Ahok has an enormous task ahead to show Indonesia what he stands for if he does want to run for president in 2019.
Photo by Flickr user Stephen Fitzgerald Sipahutar.