The house at a corner on Jalan Proklamasi, Central Jakarta, has been overflowing with visitors in the past few months.
From the banners and posters decorating the venue, it is clear the location is a hub for Alex Noerdin’s campaign to become Jakarta governor. The South Sumatra governor, paired with retired army general Nono Sampono, is one of six candidates for the capital’s top post.
But the reason for the heavy foot traffic in the house recently had more to do with the notices posted on the front gates and offices. “For every 100 new recruits, campaign team members can collect Rp 250,000 [$27],” the posters read.
“The aim is not just to collect photocopies of people’s ID cards, but also to get them to fill in a form to receive insurance,” it continues, adding that the rewards can be collected at designated booths.
The so-called insurance program is Alex and Nono’s “commitment” to their supporters, Fatahillah Ramli, a campaign manager, told the Jakarta Globe.
“Holders of insurance cards are entitled to Rp 5 million if they are involved in an accident, another Rp 5 million if it results in a disability, and Rp 2 million for their next of kin should death occur,” Fatahillah said. He added that the cash reward is an extra incentive for people to “educate others.”
“The main point is to spread the word, build a large base of supporters, and for more people to join the insurance program,” Fatahillah said.
“For every 200 recruits the reward grows to Rp 400,000,” he continued, adding that motorcycles, cars and pilgrimages to Mecca were also up for grabs.
“This is to prove that we are not just spouting empty promises, but we can deliver on them even before Alex wins the race,” he said. The public’s response, Fatahillah said, had been positive. “To date, at least 1.3 million people have registered as supporters, which means they are also holders of our insurance card as a token of our promise.
“But of course this is not a guarantee that they will vote for Alex,” he said.
‘Free education and health care’
The messages that Alex and Nono have been hammering home during their campaign is their commitment to free education for all and universal health care.
“I will provide free education and health care starting from the day after I am elected,” Alex said during a visit to Tanjung Priok, North Jakarta, this week.
Alex has been filling his campaign schedule with visits to neighborhoods, offering free medical checks and treatment.
“In South Sumatra, these kinds of events are unheard of because people can already be treated at no cost,” Alex said, adding that he has been running such programs since 2002, when he was the district head of Musi Banyuasin in his home province.
Alex’s promises might sound basic for a city as complex as Jakarta, but analyst said it showed Alex’s political savvy.
“So far they are the only candidates who can back their campaign promises with actual numbers,” said Yunarto Wijaya, an analyst from political think tank Charta Politika.
In his campaign, Alex also promises to provide a safer Jakarta within a year of taking office, followed by less traffic jams, fewer floods and a more humane Jakarta within three years. Like most other candidates in the campaign, he remains tight-lipped on how he will fund his promises.
“He is the only one who has dared to commit to a political contract, which the people can call him on when the time arrives,” Yunarto said. “It can also be used by the public to monitor the regional budget and check if it matches with what he is promising.”
Yunarto also added that the free medical treatment Alex has rolled out in his campaign is consistent with his campaign promises. “With people largely apathetic toward parties, as well as concerns Jakarta will turn into a cash cow once the presidential and legislative elections roll around, I am glad that Alex dares to commit to certain targets,” he continued.
Febri Hendri, a researcher from Indonesia Corruption Watch who specializes in education and health, agreed that Jakarta has always had the funds to provide free education and health care.
“The problem is corruption,” Febri said. “The money is usually spent on procurement projects that are prone to misappropriations. Jakarta also spent hundreds of billions [of rupiah] on scholarship programs but nobody knows where the money actually goes.”
Febri added that the public had to be wary of candidates who were too generous during campaigns.
“The more money they spend during the campaign, the bigger the need to cover losses and get some more when the candidate becomes governor,” Febri said.
“If [Alex] cannot provide a legally-binding contract that he will do the things he promises, then everything he said might as well mean nothing.”
A solid team
Alex’s campaign strategy can be attributed to the fact that he has the backing of one of the oldest parties in the country: Golkar. “Post-Reform Golkar is not the force it used to be, but the party actually has a strong structure and is waiting to be revived,” Charta Politika’s Yunarto said.
Even though Golkar controls only a minority of seats on the city council, its coalition with the United Development Party (PPP), another well-established party, has propelled Alex’s status as a real contender for the job held by incumbent Fauzi Bowo, who is backed by the Democratic Party.
“Newer parties like the Democrats and the PKS [Prosperous Justice Party] are only as good as the charms of their leaders, unlike the older parties who already have solid supporter bases,” Yunarto said.
He added that Golkar’s link to the Suharto regime was insignificant in regional elections. “All parties have their image issues, but regional election are more about personal branding,” Yunarto said.
He added that Alex’s decision to pair with Nono was a good one as the retired general’s credentials includes a strong reputation among the student activists of 1998. “Jakarta is special because it needs not only a good leader but also a good communicator since it has to collaborate with bordering regions as well as the central government,” Yunarto said.
“You cannot hope for a superman who can solve all Jakarta’s problems.”
But Siti Zuhro, a political analyst with the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI), disagreed.
“Jakarta voters are different,” Siti said. “They are not taken in by smooth talkers.”