Monday, 28 April 2014

My driver is rather pleased with himself. He and a friend made a wager on who would be winners in Jakarta's election for a new governor and deputy. He put his money on Jokowi-Ahok pair and came home with two big boxes of cigarettes and fifty thousand rupiah. He himself is a Betawi, a native of Jakarta, and I asked him why he would back a man from Solo.

'I really have no respect for Foke,' he said, of the incumbent governor. 'He said that the Betawis that didn't vote for him, should get out of Jakarta. I mean, who does he think he is? Jakarta doesn't belong to him.'  But why was he so sure that Fauzi Bowo would lose?  'Because the guy is not a nice person.'

I guess that makes a lot of sense.  Alone in the polling booth and faced with a choice between someone you know but  actively dislike and someone whom you don't really know but looks like a nice person, it's probably easier to choose the latter.

Nice seems to carry a lot of weight when choosing a leader these days. A waiter whom I spoke to the night before the capital's election day in a cafe I frequent, made his preference very clear. He would definitely vote for Jokowi-Ahok. Moreover, he had no doubt that the underdog pair would win.

'In my neighbourhood we're given all these flyers,' he said, 'telling us not to vote for Jokowi-Ahok because Ahok is not a Moslem and Chinese. The flyers are really nasty, saying bad things about them and how we must vote for Foke. There's even money being distributed. But I've already made up my mind. I vote according to my conscience, not because of the promise of money or what some awful flyers tell us. These people must think we're stupid or what.'

In between my tuna salad, I asked him what made him so sure that Jokowi-Ahok would win. His calculations were simple. According to him, 45 per cent of people living in Jakarta are Javanese, so naturally they would vote for Solo candidate, Jokowi. Now, say 10 per cent of Jakartans are of Chinese descent and Christians. No doubt they would vote for Ahok. So between them they could easily get 55 per cent. Plus, there's the unhappy Betawi denizens living in burnt slums who, when they asked for help from the governor, were kindly told to go and live in Solo. Those numbers make up more than enough for a clear win. Impressive. Not only is he smart, he also turns out to be right. Jokowi-Ahok emerged as undisputed winners in the Quick Count.

Which is not what I can say about my friend who picked Fauzi Bowo, convinced that Foke would win. His reasoning was that Jakartans like stability and would prefer the devil they know rather than risk a new face that would disturb the order of things. 'There are still many programs to be implemented,' he said, which in retrospect sounded more like wishful thinking. 'Only Foke could continue the job. It's not easy to get all that bureaucratic machinery going, and having a new leader would mean starting all over again.'

'Moreover, a lot of Indonesians are still primordial in their thinking. Things like religion and ethnicity might seem irrelevant to us, the educated middle class, but matter very much to the masses. They would still be influenced by their religious leaders and frankly, I don't think they're ready to have a Chinese candidate. Besides, Jakarta is the home of the Betawi people, so why should they pick a Mayor from Solo to run their city and a little guy from Bangka Belitung?'

As it transpires, most of the ordinary Jakartans are more than happy to import a Mayor from Solo and a Chinese businessman who is Christian to boot, to entrust their sprawling metropolis to. And contrary to some belief, are not so easily swayed by religious or ethnic considerations. Rather, they go for practical matters. They're fed up, and they want change.

Perhaps it's the image they project. With their fresh, youthful looks and signature checkered shirts, Jokowi-Ahok are the new kids in town and the face of change. Perhaps it's because Jakartans, frustrated with the messy state of the city, have had just about enough with what they've had to put up with in the last five years, including the thick mustache.  They want the city cleaned up, and the mustache shaved off.

What is clear, is that Jakartans, like Kus the waiter, don't want too much politic. A recent march I saw at the HI roundabout consisting of a bunch of simple folk and their children, waved cardboard banners saying 'we need money, not politics.'  Nor do they need politicians with too many promises and who act as if they know a lot better than the people they serve.  They also cannot be hoodwinked and manipulated to further the interests of some parties who cynically use the issues of religion and ethnicity to garner support.

'I voted Jokowi-Ahok because I want change,' says a supporter. 'It's time that things are done differently.'

Whether the victorious pair, now greeted and feted like celebrities, would be able to live up to their expectations and produce change, is difficult to tell.  What is clear is the real change makers are the ordinary Jakartans, the more than 53% that voted for Jokowi-Ahok with confidence and power. The power that comes with the ability to freely choose the leaders they want and get rid of those they don't.

'I like the pair because they're humble and down to earth,' says another Jokowi-Ahok voter. 'And they're not corrupt.' And for this country, that's already a big change.
(Desi Anwar:  First published in The Jakarta Globe)

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