Jakarta Governor Ahok under pressure, but all set for 2017 local election

Jakarta Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama (centre) speaking to Asean journalists at his office in the Jakarta City Hall on April 11, 2016.
Jakarta Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama (centre) speaking to Asean journalists at his office in the Jakarta City Hall on April 11, 2016.ST PHOTO: IDAYU SUPARTO

JAKARTA - With less than a year to go before Jakarta's gubernatorial election, Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama is gearing up for a campaign to win the post on his own steam.

Having assumed office in 2014 when he was deputy governor to Joko Widodo who left the governor's office after winning the presidency, Mr Basuki has declared his intention to contest the election.

Better known by his nickname Ahok, the cleanup crusader of Indonesia's sprawling capital city is already facing pressure over his push to resettle thousands of slum-dwellers to low-cost apartments - moves critics say violate the rights of the poor.

He is also under scrutiny over his links to two separate probes by the anti-corruption agency, including a bribery case related to a land reclamation project involving one of his aides.

And in a country where the majority of the population is Muslim, the Chinese-Christian incumbent running as an independent candidate also needs to convince those who may choose to vote along racial or religious lines that he has their best interests in mind as governor.

Ahok made no apologies for his no-nonsense approach to governing the city of 10 million, in an interview with Asean journalists in his office at the Jakarta City Hall last month. He says it is exactly this confrontational style of running the bureaucracy that is needed to tackle Jakarta's urgent problems, which include the frequent floods, the traffic gridlock and widespread slums.

"People always ask me what are my qualifications for being a governor," said the 49-year-old businessman-turned politician. "I just say you don't need to be a smart person to be a good governor, you just need to have tough muscles."

A key focus of Ahok's efforts to cleaning up the city involves clearing settlements which lie along its main waterways or that are erected on state land. Such settlements have been blamed for clogging up the rivers and big drains and authorities say restoring their capacity is an important part of the city's flood mitigation measures.

Ahok said providing homes for the residents remains a priority for his administration. He said critics who decry his forced evictions often neglect the fact that those evicted are offered relocation to rental flats, where they are provided with a host of amenities such as health clinics, parks and playgrounds for a daily service charge of as little as 5,000 rupiahs (S$0.50).

"They tell me that before they would live in a very small road, with no parks, and the children faced many accidents from the container trucks when they played on the road," he said. "Now they play in one compound, they can see a doctor, and they even have urban farming."

Since becoming governor in 2014, Ahok has cultivated a reputation for clean governance. The city administration prides itself on being transparent and uses an e-budgeting system to track budget allocations and guard against any dubious changes.

"We always open our data... Every policy we have, people will know. I believe if you want to eradicate corruption, first you have to promote transparency," he said.

While campaigning for the February election will only begin in November, there are already signs that the road ahead for Ahok will not be a smooth one.

Last month, allegations arose that one of his aides had served as an intermediary between the city administration and property developers for a reclamation project off the north coast of Jakarta. Investigations are ongoing but Ahok has said that the aide was not involved in the administration's decision-making process.

The governor was also recently summoned by the anti-graft agency in another case over a dispute between the Supreme Audit Agency and the city administration involving a hospital land purchase scheme. Ahok has denied accusations that he violated procurement procedures for the hospital's purchase.

Political analysts, however, say those scandals are unlikely to affect Ahok's election chances.

"Ahok can only have his chances ruined if, say, he is charged by law enforcers," political science lecturer Cecep Hidayat of the University of Indonesia told the JakartaGlobe.com news site in a recent report.

Despite being tipped as the favourite in the election, Ahok says he is still concerned that his "double minority" status could hamper his candidacy, even as recent surveys have showed his electability far eclipses that of his closest rival, former Justice and Human Rights Minister Yusril Ihza Mahendra.

Ethnic Chinese form only a little over 1 per cent of Indonesians and Christians about 10 per cent of the 250 million population.

"I want to know who will vote for me," Ahok said. "It's very interesting. I just want to know if people will vote according to meritocracy."