The Fallout from the Jakarta Gubernatorial Race

The strong electoral win by Joko Widodo, the popular mayor of the central Java city of Solo, in the Jakarta governor’s race is being regarded in Indonesia as having two important consequences.

The first is that Jokowi, as he is known, is widely regarded as a reformer who was named Indonesia’s best mayor for cleaning up the city of Solo and who now has a chance – or the burden – of taking on Jakarta itself, a sprawling, traffic-choked, polluted conurbation of 10.1 million people governed by a maze of conflicting jurisdictions. The city is sinking toward sea level because of the wells that have drawn down for groundwater. Its sewage system is nonexistent.

It is a city that Fauzi Bowo, the ousted mayor by a vote of 54 percent for Jokowi to Fauzi’s 46 percent, was largely unable to keep astride of. Whether Jokowi can or not remains to be seen. But on the surface at least, he appears to be that rarity in Indonesian politics, a relatively incorruptible figure.

The second consequence is a look at the kingmaking abilities of Prabowo Subianto, the former general, Suharto son-in-law and onetime head of an Indonesian Special Forces unit that is suspected of fomenting the 1998 riots in Jakarta that took the lives of an estimated 1,000 Chinese and resulted in the rapes of 160 women.

Prabowo was also accused of attempting to crush the East Timorese independence movement in the late 1990s by using hooded "ninja" gangs dressed in black and operating at night to assassinate and intimidate the insurgents.

Allegedly rehabilitated and now a prosperous businessman, Prabowo headed the Gerindra Party and became the vice presidential candidate and running mate of Megawati Sukarnoputri, the head of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle, or PDI-P, in the 2009 presidential race that was won easily by President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

The Jakarta gubernatorial race was described as a contest between surrogates lining up for the 2014 presidential race. Prabowo, who aligned with the PDI-P to back Jokowi, is considered to have successfully brought the organizational skills and financing to bear on what became a big-spending race.

Prabowo’s signal coup appears to have been to bring the deputy gubernatorial candidate, Basuki “Ahok” Tjahja Purnama, a Christian Chinese, into the race, thus mollifying the fears of the Chinese community, who have not trusted Prabowo since the events of the 1990s.

At the moment, Prabowo appears to be the odds-on favorite for the 2014 presidential race. He is well-funded. Despite reports of his mercurial temper and sometimes irrational behavior he appears to have gained the confidence of at least some of the Chinese because he is thought to be philosophically aligned against the rising Islamic radicals who have been given a relatively free hand by Yudhoyono. The president has periodically issued stadtements about cracking down on the radicals after each fresh new atrocity, only to take no action.

The rest of the presidential field is slim indeed. Aburizal Bakrie, the billionaire pribumi businessman and head of the vast –if troubled --Bakrie family empire and head of Golkar, the country’s biggest political party, announced earlier that he intended to run. However, he has reportedly suffered a stroke in recent weeks although whether he was seriously incapacitated has been denied by company spokesmen.

Bakrie’s chances were always slim, partly because of the huge mud volcano blowout that has inundated a big area of Sidoarjo, East Java, as a result of negligence by a Bakrie company, PT Lapindo Brantas, although the company has denied it. The foul-smelling mud has swamped at least 12 villages since 2006 and is predicted to go on erupting for 20 to 80 years, displacing about 50,000 people.

In addition, a local brokerage reported recently that Bakrie Coal, the corporate flagship, may be forced into bankruptcy because of falling revenues and rising debt.

If Bakrie were forced to drop out, Jusuf Kalla, who served as SBY’s running mate in his first term, has been suggested as a possible Golkar candidate. But political observers give Kalla little chance, partly because he is not from the island of Java, which dominates Indonesian politics.

Golkar combined with the Democratic Party, which Yudhoyono heads, to back Fauzi Bowo for the gubernatorial seat. However, the party has been badly damaged by a long series of scandals, the biggest over the multimillion dollar construction of an athlete’s village for last year’s Southeast Asian Games. Party officials all the way up to party leader Anas Urbaningrum and possibly SBY himself have been implicated.

The next question is how the parties realign themselves as the 2014 races loom closer. Under Indonesia’s political system, Prabowo’s Gerindra Party appears unlikely to gather the 20 percent of the votes necessary to win nomination as the presidential candidate. Jakarta’s elites, growing increasingly uneasy over the possible inevitability of a Prabowo presidency, reportedly have belatedly come to the conclusion that they need to find a way to stop him.

The question is whether anyone wants to align with Gerindra and Prabowo. Although he is reported to have matured and mended his ways from the time he allowed his troops to run wild in the riots, he is not trusted. The old guard of the PDI-P, despite the fact that he was Megawati’s vice presidential candidate in the most recent presidential race, doesn’t want to make common cause with Gerindra again, especially since the party would like to see Megawati run for the presidency again.

Prabowo has also been organizing dinners and meetings with wealthy Indonesians and rather remarkably has become at least tolerable to the Chinese businessmen. He also has been crisscrossing the country, meeting with regional groups in a well-coordinated plan to shore up his rural base. The 1998 events are now 14 years behind him. In a country in which more than 30 percent of the population is under the age of 15, those events are slipping into history along with the rule of his onetime father in law, Suharto, and his New Order government.