Based on quick-count results, Joko Widodo, the mayor of Solo, seems to have defeated incumbent Jakarta Governor Fauzi Bowo with what could be a significant margin in Thursday’s runoff vote.
While it cannot be denied that Jokowi’s rock-star status as Mr. Fix-It created massive euphoria and played a major role in his victory, Fauzi (Foke) and the people in his camp made a lot of missteps that contributed to Jokowi’s victory. Fauzi’s campaign could actually become a case study of what not to do in an election.
There was plenty of blame to go around in Foke’s electoral loss. Three people, however, were disproportionately responsible for the result: Rhoma Irama, Nachrowi Ramli and Foke himself.
Rhoma, the dangdut legend, single-handedly damaged Foke’s re-election prospects shortly after the first round of voting by declaring that Muslims should only vote for fellow Muslims, and insinuating that Jokowi’s mother was not a Muslim. These thoughtless statements, especially when it was revealed that Jokowi’s mother was in fact a devout Muslim, caused so much outrage that they set the tone for the remainder of the campaign.
Thanks to the artist’s “foot-in-mouth” moment, Foke wasn’t able to go on the offensive to make a strong case that he was more experienced than Jokowi in managing Jakarta’s affairs.
Instead, he had to spend precious time defending himself because people were accusing him of turning a blind eye to his supporter’s race- and religion-related statements.
Worse yet, the undecided voters felt alienated, and Jokowi’s supporters were outraged enough to become even more enthusiastic over the election.
Foke’s campaign team failed miserably in damage control, partly because of Rhoma’s blunders.
Had Foke’s team distanced itself from Rhoma, this would have alienated them from their core supporters, the religiously devout, and less-educated people that made up the bulk of Foke’s voters.
Had his team decided to not do anything, however, it would have alienated the urban, highly-educated, Internet-savvy middle-to-upper class supporters, and especially the prickly Chinese minorities who are a significant voting bloc in Jakarta.
As a result, the race was seen as being between the establishment figure who would use any means possible — including inciting racial and religious hatred, to score cheap political points, and the grass-roots, anti-establishment figure and his ethnic Chinese running mate Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, or Ahok, who would transcend the racial and religious divisions while hoping to create a new Jakarta.
Foke might have thought that Rhoma’s blunders happened so early that time would allow the wounds would heal, leaving him time to take the swing voters — especially the Chinese — away from Jokowi and Ahok. Almost all of the ethnically Chinese voters threw their support behind Jokowi and Ahok in the first round of the election but Foke was hoping that he could turn the tide and attract some of them. In fact, last Sunday, Foke visited several Buddhist temples and promised his support in the establishment of a Chinatown if re-elected.
During a cringe-worthy moment in the second gubernatorial candidate debate, however, Foke’s efforts went down the drain.
Nachrowi Ramli, or Nara, Foke’s running mate, through an insensitive racial joke managed to alienate the Chinese community for good. This thoughtless comment was on top of his already-lackluster performances in debates, even though Foke himself actually performed quite well.
With Internet users in uproar over Nara’s comments, Foke’s performance and, importantly, Jokowi’s missteps in the debate, were largely overlooked and ignored.
To be fair to Foke, his tenure as the governor of Jakarta is not as disastrous as many of his critics suggest. As a bureaucrat with years of experience, Foke had insider knowledge of what was going on in government. He understood the problems facing Jakarta, and he actually tried to do something to fix them.
His aloofness toward journalists and his temper, however, worked against him. Many of his achievements were being largely ignored by the press as a result.
Coupled with the blunders of Rhoma and that of his running mate, this meant that Foke just wasn’t in a good enough position to make a strong case for a second tenure.
It wasn’t so much Jokowi’s win, but rather Foke’s loss.
Yohanes Sulaiman is a lecturer at the Indonesian Defense University (Unhan).