The face of politics is changing, thanks to a stronger role for the media – and a new crop of candidates who know how to harness it.
With one year to go before the 2014 presidential election, Indonesians appear to be in the mood for change. Polls show a relative newcomer – Jakarta governor Joko Widodo (nicknamed Jokowi) – ahead of other potential candidates, including several well-established figures.
The results reflect an ongoing trend in Indonesian politics, analysts say. The traditional party machinery is losing its potency as a new generation of media-savvy politicians is better able to harness public opinion.
Citizens, meanwhile, are increasingly distrustful of political elites and determined to elect politicians who will remain close to their interests.
In its latest opinion survey, Pusat Data Bersatu (PDB) polled 1,200 respondents from 30 provinces. Jokowi garnered 21.2% support, the largest percentage for all the potential candidates. Behind him were several political veterans — former vice president Jusuf Kalla, former president Megawati Sukarnoputri, Great Indonesian Movement (Gerindra) Party figure Prabowo Subianto, and Golkar Party Chairman Abu Rizal Bakrie, among others.
Didik J. Rachbini, a political expert at PDB, said the results showed a clear trend.
“Citizens want a new figure for the 2014 presidential election, and it appears that Jokowi is that figure,” Didik told Khabar Southeast Asia.
However, he added, the rising political star will first need to demonstrate a strong performance in his current job, including by taking charge of the flooding situation in Jakarta.
Media appeal becoming crucial
Burhanuddin Muhtadi, a political analyst with the Indonesian Survey Institute (Lembaga Survey Indonesia/LSI), agreed that the electorate wants someone new.
“Citizens are looking for a figure who is firm, has no distance from the citizens, [and is] unpretentious,” he told reporters.
Jokowi’s popularity has swelled since he took over the city governorship, a role which brings frequent media appearances, Burhanuddin said.
Moreover, he added, the governor has received positive coverage of his education and health care initiatives, the Kartu Jakarta Pintar (Jakarta Education Card/KJP) and Kartu Jakarta Sehat (Jakarta Health Card/KJS).
The KJP provides students with as much as Rp 240,000 ($25) per month for education-related expenses such as books, uniforms, and transportation. Bank DKI refills the card every month with provincial government funds. Similarly, the KJS provides free health care access, especially for those in need.
Although previous governors ran similar initiatives, Jokowi has proven particularly effective at making citizens aware of them, Burhanuddin said.
“He knows how to maintain public optimism,” he said.
Jokowi is not the first politician in this mold, the analyst said. Indonesia’s current president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, demonstrated a similar appeal during his campaign eight years ago, relying more on a strong media presence than on the traditional workings of party machinery.
“Back in 2004, President Susilo became a media darling with his personality and intellect. He is also very friendly with the media,” he added. In general, he added, “political parties are no longer able to claim that they are the only funnels to represent the public’s preference”.
Disenchantment grows with politics-as-usual
Muhammad Yusuf, an 18-year-old Pemalang resident, told Khabar he wants a new president who remains close to the people. “I think we need a smart figure and humble, just like Governor Jokowi,” Muhammad said.
Hilary Desuari, a 25 year-old Yogyakarta resident, told Khabar, “I find it difficult to trust the political elite.” Jokowi, she said, may be a viable candidate “because he does real work and solves many problems.”
Willy Bordus Tatag Hastungkoro, a 24 year-old Jakarta resident who originally hails from Central Java, said Indonesia needs a president who has a vision for the country, and not just for a political party.
“I think that we need a figure with a good mindset to protect and develop the public’s interests mandated by Pancasila, our guiding principles,” he said.