When Joko Widodo was elected president in 2014, he was hailed as the first Indonesian leader with no ties to the country’s military and political elites.
Now, Joko is seeking a second term as president in Wednesday’s election with the support of political parties with the most seats in parliament and several former generals with ties to the country’s autocratic past.
Joko grew up in a poor neighbourhood in the Central Java town of
Solo, where his father worked as a carpenter, according to his
He helped his father with work after school and sold home-made snacks
to supplement the family’s income.
Critics say his family was actually middle-class and owned a
furniture business, and that the story of his humble beginnings was
played up to appeal to voters.
Jokowi, as he is better known, graduated with a degree in forestry
management from Gadjah Mada University, one of the country’s best,
and later started his own furniture business.
He was elected mayor of his native Solo in 2005 and again in 2010,
developing a reputation as a proactive leader with a common touch.
His folksy style has endeared him to regular people.
In 2012, he was elected governor of Jakarta after promising to
tackle the city’s perennial problems, including chronic congestion
He did not solve either, but did kick off two major public
transportation projects in his constituency, and was praised for
streamlining the bureaucracy and providing free health care for the
As governor he frequently visited Jakarta’s poor neighbourhoods and
talked to residents, a practice that has become known locally as “blusukan.”
The story of his humble beginnings and simple lifestyle appears to
resonate with ordinary Indonesians.
Joko’s account of his life is a departure in Indonesian politics,
where it was previously unthinkable for someone from a humble
background to become even a party leader.
A heavy metal fan, Joko has been seen at several concerts and
mingled with fans at gigs.
But Joko is not without critics.
His promise for a departure from politics as usual remains largely unfulfilled.
After being elected in 2014, he filled his cabinet with officials from political parties that supported him, despite a promise not to be beholden to vested interests.
Opponents have accused him of engaging more in ceremonial activities than actual governing during his first term in office.
He frequently jets to remote parts of the far-flung archipelago to inaugurate projects.
Analysts and rights groups say he has allowed human rights, respect for the rule of law and the protection of minorities to deteriorate during his firm term.
“Law enforcement has become politicized, with government critics arrested and jailed on questionable charges,” said Ben Bland, an Indonesia expert at Lowy Institute, an Australian think tank.
But the married father-of-three remains the most popular politician in Indonesia.
Recent polls suggested that he had a comfortable two-digit lead over his opponent, former general Prabowo Subianto.