News / Asia

Jakarta’s New Governor Pushing an Era of Meritocracy

Jakarta vice governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, known by his nickname Ahok, speaks to journalists at his office in Jakarta, August 14, 2014.
Jakarta vice governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, known by his nickname Ahok, speaks to journalists at his office in Jakarta, August 14, 2014.
Kate Lamb

Indonesia is the world’s third-largest democracy, but few minorities are represented in the diverse nation's halls of power. One exception is Jakarta’s straight-talking new governor, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, who is spearheading a new political culture.

The beginning of Indonesia's transition to democratic rule began after the fall of former dictator Suharto in 1998, but some argue it has taken more than a decade for that transformation to be reflected in the country’s leadership, which had long come from the privileged elite.

This year, two politicians considered outside the privileged class are making their mark.

Joko Widodo, or Jokowi, Jakarta’s wildly popular governor - a common-man politician from a humble background - is set to be installed as Indonesia’s next president this October.

That transition makes way for Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, or Ahok, his no-nonsense, sometimes-brash deputy governor, who will now assume the reins of Jakarta.

As the first openly ethnic Chinese to lead the capital, Ahok said he has long fought against identity politics in the world’s largest Muslim-majority nation.

“If I used the common perception of politics in Indonesia, I would not have had the courage to join politics on this island. I could not be elected,” said Ahok.

Ahok first made a name for himself as a regent (mayor) in Bangka Belitung, an island province off Sumatra, before winning a seat in the national parliament in 2009.

A double minority, Chinese and Christian, Ahok recalls being labeled a kaffir, or infidel, when he first entered politics.

Indonesia is an open and democratic society but there is underlying resentment toward the often-wealthier ethnic Chinese, who have lived here for centuries and account for just over one percent of the population.

While Chinese Indonesians are well known in business, few have entered politics. During the fall of Suharto the minority group was brutally targeted in anti-Chinese riots. The memories from that time are still vivid.

Prominent businessman Sofyan Wanadi says Ahok’s success could reflect well on the ethnic Chinese, but added that it could also escalate underlying social envy toward the group.

“This is my problem because the sensitivity because of this Chinese. Because people are so jealous…They [Indonesian society] are always saying the Chinese are so successful in business, and now suddenly they like to do something in politics too… All these things are not good according to me. You have to show that you are not that nature, that you are Indonesian and what you can do for the country,” said Wanadi.

Several months ago a smear campaign against president-elect Joko Widodo, for example, which falsely painted him as Christian and Chinese, significantly diminished his popularity and almost cost him the presidency.

Leading the capital, said Ahok, is a chance for him to show that results and meritocracy trump identity politics.

“Jakarta is very important to me to show I don’t care if you are a Chinese descendent or what is your religion, all the country needs is a patriot who wants to sacrifice for the people, no corruption, no accept bribery, only obey the Constitution,” he said.

Ahok has developed a reputation for his hardline stance on graft - firing corrupt officials and implementing measures to curb the use of bribes.

He has also spoken out against religious intolerance and made tough decisions such as relocating street vendors and boldly closing Stadium, a notoriously debauched nightclub.

In a recent interview with Voice of America Ahok joked such measures make him Jakarta’s new ‘Godfather’ -- a reference to the paternalistic crime bosses popularized by Hollywood.

“The root of the Indonesian problem is corruption. Only that, it’s very simple. You know it’s like Stadium. Eighteen years and you have narcotics, everything or like Tanah Abang, prostitution, under 20 years old, everybody knows... Now its finished, demolished, including the narcotics... Now we are serious toward this,” he said.

Jakarta’s new governor is set to be installed next month and will remain in office until 2017.

You May Like

Video Russia’s Syrian Escalation Tests Obama’s Crisis Response

Critics once again question whether president has been slow to act on Syrian conflict, thus creating opening for powers like Russia More

Ancient African DNA Shows Mass Migration Back Into Africa

First genetic analysis of ancient human remains in Africa suggests massive migration from north around time of Egyptian empire More

NASA: Pluto Has Blue Sky

New photos also reveal the presence of water ice More

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Hungary Criticized for Handling of Refugeesi
Henry Ridgwell
October 08, 2015 8:02 PM
Amnesty International has accused Hungary of breaking multiple international and European human rights laws in its handling of the refugee crisis. As Henry Ridgwell reports, thousands of migrants and refugees continue to travel through the Balkans to Hungary every day.

Video Hungary Criticized for Handling of Refugees

Amnesty International has accused Hungary of breaking multiple international and European human rights laws in its handling of the refugee crisis. As Henry Ridgwell reports, thousands of migrants and refugees continue to travel through the Balkans to Hungary every day.

Video Iraqi-Kurdish Teachers Vow to Continue Protest

Sixteen people were injured when police used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse teachers and other public employees who took to the streets in Iraq’s Kurdish north, demanding their salaries from the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG). VOA’s Dilshad Anwar, in Sulaimaniya, caught up with protesting teachers who say they have not been paid for three months. Parke Brewer narrates his report.

Video Syrian Village Community Faces Double Displacement in Lebanon

Driven by war from their village in southwestern Syria, a group of families found shelter in Lebanon, resettling en masse in a half-built university to form one of the biggest settlements of its kind in Lebanon. Three years later, however, they now face being kicked out and dispersed in a country where finding shelter as a refugee can be especially tough. John Owens has more for VOA from the city of Saida, also known as Sidon.

Video Bat Colony: Unusual Tourist Attraction in Texas

The action hero Batman might be everyone’s favorite but real bats hardly get that kind of adoration. Put more than a million of these creatures of the night together and it only evokes images of horror. Sarah Zaman visited the largest urban bat colony in North America to see just how well bat and human get along with each other.

Video Device Shows Promise of Stopping Motion Sickness

It’s a sickening feeling — the dizziness, nausea and vomiting that comes with motion sickness. But a device now being developed could stop motion sickness by suppressing certain signals in the brain. VOA’s Deborah Block reports.

Video Making a Mint

While apples, corn, and cranberries top the list of fall produce in the US, it’s also the time to harvest gum, candy, and toothpaste—or at least the oil that makes them minty fresh. Erika Celeste reports from South Bend, Indiana on the mint harvest.

Video Activists Decry Lagos Slum Demolition

Acting on a court order, authorities in Nigeria demolished a slum last month in the commercial capital, Lagos. But human rights activists say the order was illegal, and the community was razed to make way for a government housing project. Chris Stein has more from Lagos.

Video TPP Agreed, But Faces Stiff Opposition

President Barack Obama promoted the Trans-Pacific Partnership on Tuesday, one day after 12 Pacific Rim nations reached the free trade deal in Atlanta. The controversial pact that would involve about 40 percent of global trade still needs approval by lawmakers in respective countries. Zlatica Hoke reports Obama is facing strong opposition to the deal, including from members of his own party.

Video Ukranian Artist Portrays Putin in an Unusual Way

As Russian President Vladimir Putin was addressing the United Nations in New York last month, he was also being featured in an art exhibition in Washington. It’s not a flattering exhibit. It’s done by a Ukrainian artist in a unique medium. And its creator says it’s not only a work of art - it’s a political statement. VOA’s Tetiana Kharchenko has more.

Video Nano-tech Filter Cleans Dirty Water

Access to clean water is a problem for hundreds of millions of people around the world. Now, a scientist and chemical engineer in Tanzania (in East Africa) is working to change that by creating an innovative water filter that makes dirty water safe. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.

Video Demand Rising for Organic Produce in Cambodia

In Cambodia, where rice has long been the main cash crop, farmers are being encouraged to turn to vegetables to satisfy the growing demand for locally produced organic farm products. Daniel de Carteret has more from Phnom Penh.

Video Botanists Grow Furniture, with Pruning Shears

For something a bit out of the ordinary to furnish your home, why not consider wooden chairs, crafted by nature, with a little help from some British botanists with an eye for design. VOA’s Jessica Berman reports.

VOA Blogs