Jakarta Governor Ahok seeks to break Indonesia’s political mold

Denied an endorsement by the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), Jakarta Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama says he will run independently in next year’s gubernatorial election, upsetting a time-honored tradition in which politicians pay parties for the privilege of running.

The decision is causing consternation in political circles in Jakarta. But it is at one with the changing political tides in Indonesia as the old order, dominated by the elites and political parties, begins to fade.  Basuki himself served in the local government of a tiny island province before joining to run Jakarta with Joko Widodo, previously the mayor of Surakarta. Jokowi went on to be the first Indonesian president who did not emerge from either the army or the country’s political elite.

Without the support from PDI-P, Ahok, as Basuki is known, will not pair up with his deputy, Djarot Saiful Hidayat in the race, set for 2017. Instead, his running mate will be his subordinate at the Jakarta Financial and Asset Management Board (BPKAD) head Heru Budi Hartono.

With Basuki’s decision to run as an independent candidate, the PDI-P is likely to pick its own candidate. After the news broke, Basuki, widely known as Ahok, explained that one of his reasons for not pairing with a political party was that he might not have enough money to fuel the party machinery, a prerequisite for candidates.

“Teman Ahok” — the support group under which Basuki will run as an independent candidate, has announced that they have collected nearly 700,000 validated signatures in support of the governor’s candidacy, more than enough required by the law for independent candidates to run.

Ahok initially told his supporters to pick the PDI-P’s Djarot as his deputy but the group advised him to pick another because Djarot needed permission from the PDI-P. That angered the party’s leaders, who have accused Ahok of trying to delegitimize the longstanding influence of political parties in the Indonesian political scheme.

The word deparpolisasi (“delegitimize political parties”) has now become part of the new lexicon.

Despite being seen as a controversial figure because of his frequent strong comments in public on corruption and other issues, as well as his personal background as an ethnic Chinese and a Christian in a predominantly Muslim country, Ahok, by his strong, corruption-free stint as governor, is considered the strongest candidate in the race. He beat back an attempt to impeach him by city council members in 2014 when he cleaned up what were euphemistically known as “budget irregularities” that appeared to be going into council members’ pockets.

Other small political parties seeking to get a splash of his popularity have tried to persuade Ahok to use to them as his political vehicle, with other politicians attempting to use his religion as a way to block his appeal with voters, who are mostly Muslim.

Ahok came to office when he was picked by Jokowi, as the president is known, during the gubernatorial election in 2012. Once Jokowi left after being elected president, Basuki took over as governor in 2014. His popularity has risen as he has built on Jokowi’s enviable record as governor. It spiked after he closed down the infamous red-light district of Kalijodo in North Jakarta.

The city administration, backed by 5,000 personnel from the Jakarta police and the Indonesian military, demolished buildings from the morning onwards using heavy equipment. Local television aired pictures of big excavators tearing down cafés, residences and houses of worship.

The historic red-light district came into the public spotlight following a drunk-driving accident in which four people were killed in early March. The accident occurred after the driver and his friends had spent a night drinking in Kalijodo, which is known for its cafes and pubs, prostitution services as well as gambling.

Despite the harsh warnings Ahok said that evicted residents who had Jakarta ID cards would be relocated to subsidized apartments, moreover, Ahok said that he will also provide some residents with soft loans of up to Rp10 million (US$741) with only 1 percent monthly interest for them to start new businesses after their existing employment ended amid the wreckage of the district.

No security disturbances occurred during the eviction process as many had feared would happen. Police and TNI officers were assigned to prevent disturbances and arrange traffic.

Basuki has set his eyes on developing a large children’s park on the cleared land as part of the administration’s ambition to improve green spaces and public facilities in Jakarta.

The Kalijodo shutdown also said to play a key role in Jakarta’s flood management, the governor said, adding that water always flows from South Jakarta to North Jakarta as it is the meeting point of the Angke and Item Rivers and the East Flood Canal.

Jakarta, which lies at the confluence of several rivers, regularly floods almost every year during the rainy season.

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