Joko 'Jokowi' Widodo: the soft-spoken man of action who promises to shake things up

Indonesian presidential election winner Joko Widodo has promised to shake things up

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 23 July, 2014, 1:38am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 23 July, 2014, 7:57pm

To many Indonesians, the election of Joko "Jokowi" Widodo, 53, represents a clean break from the old elite that have clung to power since the fall in 1998 of former authoritarian ruler Suharto.

The former furniture business owner is set to become Indonesia's first leader not to have emerged from the political or military elite.

The can-do, clean image he cultivated as a small-city mayor and, over the past 18 months, as Jakarta governor has propelled him to the presidential palace.

It is Widodo's meteoric rise through the ranks of local government, his refusal to be intimidated by entrenched interests and his famous impromptu visits around Jakarta that have endeared him to a broad swathe of Indonesians, in particular the poor and minority groups.

"Jokowi's the first genuinely post-Suharto figure, everybody else comes from that era," said Paul Rowland, a Jakarta-based political analyst. "He is a different generation of politician and there's a market for politicians like him who are lower-key but who get things done."

Since leading Jakarta, he has succeeded in finally starting a mass transit railway system for the notoriously traffic-clogged city, a concept first proposed over 20 years ago. He hasn't shied away from shaking up the city's inert bureaucracy and has faced down resistance to clearing congested areas.

And he has promised to continue to shake things up as president. In an interview last week he said he would beef up the country's threadbare infrastructure, unravel near impenetrable regulations and sack ministers if they aren't up to the job.

"If [ministers don't succeed] there are more than a thousand other good people in Indonesia to replace them. I can cut and then replace them. It's very simple for me," he said.

Widodo's celebrity-style popularity left the powerful head of his party and ex-president Megawati Sukarnoputri with no choice but to set aside her own ambitions and nominate him for president.

Vice-president-elect Jusuf Kalla, a successful businessman from the eastern island of Sulawesi, served as vice-president in the first term of outgoing president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and earned a reputation for being a shrewd politician.

Kalla said he intended to use his office to complement Widodo's, rather than eclipse the native of Java, who is relatively inexperienced on the national stage.

Kalla, 72, came to the fore during the campaign as he offset Widodo's soft-spoken Javanese style in a series of television debates between the two tickets. Kalla sharply criticised rival Prabowo Subianto's human rights record and choice of coalition partners.

Prabowo's reputation as a strongman and vow to reverse the indecisiveness of the outgoing government won him a following among voters yearning for a return to old-style rule.

But markets had been jittery about a win for Prabowo, a figure from the old guard. The Jakarta Composite Index closed 0.9 per cent lower yesterday, while the rupiah dropped 0.3 per cent.

Concerns persist that Widodo may be overwhelmed by Megawati and her inner circle. He has done little to dispel this image but said that 80 per cent of his cabinet picks will be based on merit rather than on deals made with other parties and key supporters.

Additional reporting by Bloomberg