Jakarta’s controversial Governor to run with the PDI-P: but can he win?

The Governor of Jakarta has one the support of an alliance of parties to campaign under their banner for re-election. But as a controversial figure that divides opinion along racial lines, is he the right man for the job? 

By Fawnia

The Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) now officially backs the incumbent Governor of Jakarta Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama, and his Deputy Governor Djarot Saiful Hidayat, to run as their candidates in next year’s election and keep their jobs. PDI-P is also the party that backed President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo when he ran for the President in 2014. This time, PDI-P has formed a coalition with other Indonesia’s major parties, Golkar, Nasdem, and Hanura to endorse Ahok.

The news of PDI-P’s support comes as no surprise, although several individuals and mass organizations had actually expected PDI-P to endorse Tri Rismaharini, currently Surabaya’s mayor. Risma, however, has repeatedly emphasized that she has no ambition to become Jakarta’s governor. She said several times that she “put her trust in God’s wish.” And when asked about PDI-P’s decision to drop her and chose Ahok instead, she explained, “Nothing has changed, it has nothing to do with me. I never nominate myself; I have always wanted to do my best as the mayor.”

Why Ahok?

Although many deemed Risma the candidate-in-waiting, some insist that Ahok was always PDI-P’s best option. He was a Komisi II House of Representatives member between 2009 and 2014, before winning the Governor’s office for the first time later that year. For the two years before that, he worked closely with now-President Jokowi when the man who went on to lead the country served as Governor. It is also worth remembering that in his two year’s experience as Governor of Jakarta Ahok has gained more experience in dealing with Jakarta’s endless issues than Risma could ever have.

Ahok himself revealed the reason behind PDI-P’s big decision, saying “Bu Mega (Megawati Sukarnoputri, PDI-P’s chairwoman) wants me to end SARA (tribe, religion, race, and inter-group) problems.” Ahok himself is of Chinese descent, making him part of one of Indonesia’s minority groups. His first election as Jakarta’s governor was itself contentious as he is the first ethnic-Chinese and non-Muslim leader of the city in 50 years. He often found himself the target of racism, making him PDI-P’s first choice to eliminate the ingrained racism in Indonesian society. “Don’t oppose me just because I’m ethnic Chinese and a Christian,” he told opponents, “That’s not fair. Judge me for my work”.

Ahok is also notorious for his straight-forward and blunt speaking and enjoys high popular support. Before joining PDI-P, he was planning to run as an independent candidate. Volunteer group Teman Ahok (Friends of Ahok) successfully collected one million ID cards for him to run. Ahok personally showed his gratitude by saying, “I would rather fail to be a governor than abandon Teman Ahok.” And with such ample support from Jakartans, being reelected as the 18th Governor of the capital should be another easy hurdle for Ahok to clear.

Immense hate

But with love comes hate. The hard-line Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) have frequently protested against Ahok and his policies, leading one researcher from the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI) to say PDI-P’s decision would “put its credibility on the line.” And there is opposition to Ahok from even within the PDI-P. The party’s former chairperson, Boy Sadikin, has quit the party to campaign against the current governor’s re-election.

He says he does not base his opposition on Ahok’s race or religious beliefs, but instead the governor’s personality and leadership style. Sadikin hopes that by leaving he will find a home for his aspirations in another party. Another long-time nemesis of Ahok, contentious Indonesian musician Ahmad Dhani, has also loudly voiced his disapproval to Ahok; threatening to relocate from Jakarta if he were elected. Ahok has shot back saying Ahmad is politically inexperienced.

But if Ahok can rise against the rain of blows from his political rivals and win the hearts of the people then his election as the Governor is almost guaranteed. But no matter how influential his supporters, or his skeptics, the vote eventually sits with the people of Jakarta. His credibility and his strong stance against corruption is Ahok’s trump card. If he can play it right, the seat is his