Ahok and Jokowi make history – The Edge Review

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Mari Pangestu, pictured alongside her tourism minister counterparts from Burma and the Philippines at the June 2013 World Economic Forum in Naypyidaw (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

Mari Pangestu, pictured alongside her tourism minister counterparts from Burma and the Philippines at the June 2013 World Economic Forum in Naypyidaw (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

JAKARTA – President-elect Joko “Jokowi” Widodo will become the first Indonesian leader without connections to the Suharto era when he takes office in less than 2 months time.

Widodo’s ascent comes 16 years after Suharto’s three decade old dictatorship fell amid economic ruin and violent protest. The new president’s rise in turn paves the way for another history-making handover, as he will vacate the governorship of Jakarta to his deputy – Basuki Tjahaja Purnama.

Basuki, known as “Ahok,” will become the first Chinese-Indonesian to take up what is sometimes described as the third most powerful position in the biggest country in southeast Asia.

16 years after Chinese-Indonesians bore the brunt of riots that left around 1000 dead and hundreds of women raped, Basuki will take responsibility for a US$6billion budget governing what by some counts is the world’s 3rd biggest city – a traffic-clogged metropolis of air-conditioned malls and pungent street markets, of high rise apartments and flood-prone slums.

Their presence on the archipelago dates back hundreds of years, but Chinese-Indonesians make up a little over 1 per cent of Indonesia’s quarter-billion population. While some of the country’s biggest businesses are run by Indonesians of Chinese descent, the group as a whole have been subject to official discrimination going back to Dutch colonial rule in Indonesia.

So might Basuki’s rise mark a watershed in Indonesian politics? There have been Chinese-Indonesians in government, such as Tourism Minister Mari Pangestu, while Chinese-origin politicians have been elected in areas such as western Borneo, where there are substantial numbers of Chinese-Indonesians.

All the same, Ariel Heryanto of the School of Culture, History and Language at Australian National University believes that Basuki could not have become Jakarta governor other than by the succession route, after he was elected Widodo’s deputy in 2012.

In other words, if Ahok had to stand for election as Widodo’s successor,  “it is hard to imagine Ahok would have any chance,” as Heryanto put it, as for the most part Chinese-Indonesians have had “little chance to enter formal political institutions.”

Anti-Chinese smears still have currency in Indonesian politics. Widodo lost a seemingly-unassailable double-digit lead in opinion polls in the run up to the July election – a slump that was partly down to rival Prabowo Subianto labeling him a closet Chinese Christian with Communist leadings, and despite Widodo coming across as almost an archetypal Javanese.

A March 2014 survey by the Jakarta-based Centre for Strategic and International Studies showed almost 2 out 3 voters objecting to a hypothetical Chinese-Indonesian president.

Both Widodo and Basuki won office in Jakarta after stints as elected local officials. The President-elect made his name as mayor of Solo, a town in eastern Java, while Basuki spent 4 years as regent of Belitung, an island off the east coast of Sumatra, before successfully running for parliament in Indonesia’s 2009 elections.

3 years after that, the Jokowi-Ahok ticket won the Jakarta race after backing from Prabowo Subianto, the former special forces chief who last week lost his appeal against the election at Indonesia’s Constitutional Court – the election he of course lost to his one-time protege Widodo.

Basuki straddles both sidse of Indonesia’s presidential rivalry – Widodo’s gubernatorial deputy who nonetheless sits on the organising committee of Prabowo’s Great Indonesia Movement Party (GERINDRA).

Personality-wise, Basuki has more in common with Prabowo than with Widodo: blunt and outspoken, both men are temperamental yin to Widodo’s gentler, self-effacing yang.

But, a Chinese-Indonesian and a Christian, Ahok’s adversarial can-do persona sometimes runs against the grain of what is often a milder mannered, smile-when-you-don’t-mean-it Javanese culture – something the incoming city governor acknowledged in a recent magazine interview.

While Basuki made headlines in July by publicly upbraiding workers at a car testing facility in Jakarta, for giving the go-ahead to faulty motors, he believes that if he messed up as deputy governor, he would not get the same treatment from his soon to be former boss.

Discussing the president-elect, Basuki told Indonesian weekly Tempo that “he wouldn’t blame me directly, he’s Javanese.”

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