With Indonesia’s Presidential election set for July, one man’s popularity is blowing all other candidates out of the water. Joko Widodo, known as JOKOWI (the capitals indicate how much people fucking love this guy), is emerging as an Obama-like figure in the run up to the July Presidential elections. A former furniture salesman, Metallica lover, and wearer of Napalm Death t-shirts; Jokowi is from a small town in the centre of Java, Indonesia’s biggest island of 141 million people (the island has as many people as Russia). Jokowi is currently Mayor of Jakarta and has achieved rockstar status for getting the city’s long overdue Metro system underway, as well as giving out free healthcare cards to 4.7 million poor Jakartans.
However it would appear that his popularity—most polls put him at 40 percent, four times that of his nearest rival Prabowo—extends much further than just the nation’s capital. “Indonesian voters from islands other than Java are often biased against or uninformed about Presidential candidates,” said political commentator, Ikrar Bakti, “However, even people from Aceh are big Jokowi fans and in this way he is uniting Indonesians.”
Belonging to the largest opposition party, the PDI-P, Jokowi was only recently given permission to run by party chairman, former President and divisive party matriarch, Megawati, who is the daughter of Indonesia’s founding President Sukarno. Jokowi has achieved his following through populist policies and because he isn’t afraid to walk around slums to chat with normal Indonesians, 100 million of whom live on less than $2 a day.
This is a stark contrast from current government officials who mostly ride around in blacked-out 10-car convoys and seal themselves off from any interaction with the plebs by hanging out at private golf clubs.
Jokowi is also seen as a refreshing change from the typical Indonesian politician, many of whom are seen as corrupt, self-entitled, and nepotistic. The Democratic Party of the current President, SBY (widely regarded as a lame-duck), houses a large proportion of these individuals—many of whom are now behind bars due to anti-corruption agency, the KPK.
So far the impressive Democratic Party jailbird list includes the party Treasurer, the Sports Minister, and a former Miss Indonesia turned lawmaker. SBY’s own son, Edhie Baskoro Yudhoyono, the party’s Secretary General has also been repeatedly implicated in scandals but not arrested.
While it now seems that the election is Jokowi’s to lose, it’s not all sweetness and light. “Anybody who is expecting miracles from Jokowi needs to reign in their expectations because it’s a much bigger job to run the country than it is the capital city,” says Indonesian political analyst Paul Rowland, “We are also yet to hear him say anything on national policy issues such as defence or economy and he will have to start addressing these very soon.”
He’ll also have to see off some tough competition, the first of which is former army General Prabowo Subianto, the son-in-law of former dictator Suharto. Prabowo was expelled from the Indonesian army for being too controversial—a pretty impressive feat, considering the way the army has frequently acted against its own citizens over the past 50 years. He was sacked after the 1998 Jakarta Riots when he was accused inciting bloody violence, kidnapping pro-democracy campaigners and attempting a coup using fellow special forces soldiers.
After a spell hiding in Jordan, Prabowo (who's also banned from entry into Australia and the US due to suspected human rights abuses—a considerable handicap for a potential President) has miraculously re-emerged as a businessman and head of the nationalist political party, Gerindra, and is gunning for glory in 2014.
Prabowo’s pro-poor and pro-farmer policies have gone down well with many working class Indonesians who also like his military background. “Indonesia needs a strong leadership which a military man like Prabowo can give us,” said Jakartan taxi driver, Bambang, “This way if something goes wrong, we will have a President who can deal with it quickly and effectively.”
Third in line to the presidency according to polls is the leader of Suharto’s Golkar Party, Aburizal Bakrie, who became one of the richest tycoons in Indonesia thanks to a boatload of government contracts in the 70s and 80s—a period rife with cronyism. In addition to his financial credentials, Bakrie is also known for a rather embarrassing PR incident in 2006 involving one of his mining companies, PT Lapindo, which was held responsible for causing a mud flow that destroyed 12 villages and displaced 40,000 people in the area of Soedarjo, East Java. While he's spent a fortune pushing nostalgic propaganda through extremely cringeworthy adverts, Bakrie’s polling figures put him far behind Prabowo and almost out the race completely.
Then there's the more colourful (and optimistic) presidential hopeful in the form of 67-year-old pop star, Rhoma Irama, a kind of Indonesian Elvis, who sports some pretty impressive sideburns, a decent gut, and a love of Steinberger guitars. Mr. Irama doesn’t have a hope in hell of winning but provides some good electiontainment (his words).
The polls might put Jokowi at the top of the list, but with the Presidential campaign only just starting, Indonesia's voters can look forward to three months of these men trying to win their votes, by any means necessary.