My driver is rather pleased with himself. He and a friend made a wager on who would win Jakarta’s gubernatorial election. He put his money on Joko Widodo, known as Jokowi, and came home with two big boxes of cigarettes and Rp 50,000. He is a Betawi, a native of Jakarta, so I asked him why he would back a man from Solo.
“I really have no respect for Foke [Fauzi Bowo],” he said of the incumbent governor. “He said that Betawis that didn’t vote for him, should get out of Jakarta. I mean, who does he think he is? Jakarta doesn’t belong to him.”
But why was he so sure that Fauzi would lose? “Because the guy is not a nice person.”
I guess that makes a lot of sense. Alone in the polling booth and faced with a choice between someone you know but actively dislike and someone whom you don’t really know but looks like a nice person, it’s probably easier to choose the latter.
Nice seems to carry a lot of weight when choosing a leader these days. A waiter whom I spoke to the night before the election day in a cafe I frequent made his preference very clear. He would vote for Jokowi and Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama. He also had no doubts about the outcome.
“In my neighborhood there were these fliers telling us not to vote for Jokowi-Ahok because Ahok is not Muslim and he’s Chinese,” he said. “The fliers said really nasty things about them and how we must vote for Foke. I vote according to my conscience, not because of the promise of money or what some awful fliers tell us. These people must think we’re stupid.”
I asked what made him so sure that Jokowi-Ahok would win. His calculations were simple. He said that 45 percent of people in Jakarta are Javanese, so they would vote for Solo candidate Jokowi. Now, say 10 percent of Jakartans are of Chinese descent and Christians. No doubt they would vote for Ahok. So that’s 55 percent. Plus, there’s the unhappy Betawi denizens living in burned slums who, when they asked for help from the governor, were kindly told to go and live in Solo.
He was smart and right. Jokowi-Ahok were undisputed winners in the quick count.
My friend who picked Fauzi reasoned that Jakartans like stability and would pick the devil rather than risk a new face that would disrupt the order of things.
“There are still many programs to be implemented,” he said. “It’s not easy to get the bureaucratic machinery going, and a new leader means starting over.
“Moreover, a lot of Indonesians are still primordial in their thinking. Things like religion and ethnicity might seem irrelevant to us, the educated middle class, but they matter to the masses. Besides, Jakarta is home to the Betawi people, so why should they pick a mayor from Solo to run their city?”
It turns out that Jakartans are happy to import a mayor from Solo and a Chinese businessman who is Christian to boot, to entrust with their metropolis. And contrary to some beliefs, they are not easily swayed by religious or ethnic considerations. They were fed up, and wanted change.
Perhaps it was because Jakartans are frustrated with the messy state of the city and what they’ve had to put up with in the last five years.
Jakartans, like my waiter, don’t need politicians with too many promises who act as if they’re smarter than the people they serve. They also cannot be hoodwinked and manipulated to further the interests of parties who cynically use religion and ethnicity to garner support.
“I voted Jokowi-Ahok because I want change,” said one supporter.
It’s too early to tell if the victorious pair will live up to their expectations and produce change. What is clear is the real change was made by the 53 percent of Jakartans who voted Jokowi-Ahok.
Desi Anwar, a senior anchor at Metro TV, can be reached at desianwar.com or dailyavocado.net.