by Avaaz Team - posted 21 September 2012 13:11
In the world's fourth most populous country, something is stirring. An up-and-coming "outsider" has been electedgovernor of Indonesia's capital, Jakarta.
It's too early to tell whether Joko Widodo, known as Jokowi, can deliver on his promises. But the fact that his message – of clean politics and religious tolerance – has chimed with so many voters tells us something important. Indonesia's citizens are not only fed up with corruption; they're fed up with the communal hatreds that their leaders have tried to fuel to divide them.
It turns out that in this giant city, as in many places across the world, there's more that brings people together than forces them apart.
Bursting at the seams
Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim-majority nation, is a young and troubled democracy. Freed from Dutch colonial rule in 1949, the newly independent country experimented with democratic freedoms but moved quickly to authoritarianism under the successive regimes of Sukarno and Suharto. The latter resigned in 1998 following widespread rioting, protests and violence.
Suharto's exit was a vital step forward, but the transition to democracy has not been easy. The military still holds a troubling degree of power; religious and ethnic violence continues to be a problem in a country with over 300 ethnic groups; and corruption and a tired, inflexible bureaucracy is a major brake on Indonesia’s economy – a huge source of frustration for ordinary citizens.
Things in Jakarta are particularly fraught. With 26 million people in the metropolitan area and more than 10 million in the city itself, Jakarta is bursting at the seams. Its streets are gridlocked, public transport is virtually nonexistent, floods regularly wreak havoc and access to clean water is scarce.
Jokowi – the capital's saviour?
Into the picture comes Jokowi, until recently a relatively unknown mayor and businessman from the Central Javan city of Surakarta. In this small city, Jokowi established a reputation as a clean, down-to-earth problem solver.
Campaigning on the slogan, "Beauty without corruption", Jokowi gradually built a national profile by successfully bringing divided Muslim and Christian communities together, improving conditions for the poor, and strengthening the business, cultural and natural environment of Surakarta.
Now he's determined to bring this well-crafted brand to Jakarta. After securing 43% in the first round of voting in July, he beat the incumbent, Fauzi Bowo, in a second run-off vote this week.
Unity in diversity
Michael Buehler, an expert on Indonesia at Northern Illinois University, says the result largely reflects frustration with Fauzi, who is supported by most of the political establishment. Fauzi has failed to address the city’s huge challenges since he was elected in 2007, and is seen as arrogant and out of touch.
But Jokowi's victory offers a fresh reason for hope. In a country with a long and brutal history of ethnic and religious conflict, he has gone against the grain. After fostering religious harmony in his home city, Jokowichose a Chinese Christian as his running mate for the Jakarta campaign.
His opponents have made dirty and desperate attempts to undermine his growing support by stoking tensions, chiefly directed against the Christian population. But despite surveys showing that the smear campaigns have hurt Jokowi at the edges, most Jakarta residents simply don't care.
This is an incredibly encouraging sign. It shows that enough people have seen through these cheap tricks and have little time for extremism. It underlines what people all over the world really want: clean government, a better standard of living and, quite simply, tolerance and respect between citizens.
A dangerous alliance?
It's not all good news. Jokowi faces huge challenges in delivering on his promises, not least thanks to the entrenched and corrupt bureaucracy he will inherit. More worryingly, he has the backing of a controversial figure: the former general, Prabowo Subianto, whose forces were accused of human rights abuses before the overthrow of Suharto in 1998. Prabowo is now a leading candidate for the 2014 presidential election, and Jokowi is being talked up as his potential running mate.
Many fear a Prabowo victory would signal a return to the bad old authoritarian days. Choosing Jokowi as his running mate would help Prabowo refresh his image as an outsider – despite his firm place within the establishment. While Jokowi would likely go into such a relationship with an agenda for change, there is a risk that he could be co-opted and sidelined. This could pose a great danger to Indonesian democracy.
Those concerns not withstanding, this week's news should still be celebrated. It shows something the Avaaz community has discovered time and again: that the vast majority of people across the world do not support extremism, that most people do not hate – and that whatever a handful of opportunist demagogues would have us think, the world most people want is is a place of peace, honesty and tolerance.
Learn more: Read this excellent briefing by the Global Mail for more on Jokowi's rise and his concerning ties to Prabowo, and learn how the media has spun a fiction about "Muslim Rage" that urgently needs correcting.
Sources: Jakarta Post, Avaaz, Demographia World Urban Areas, Jakarta Globe, Financial Times, Global Mail