of Jakarta: Get Re-elected or Die!
16, 2017 "Information
him “Ahok”, and according to many, he is the
best thing that ever happened to Jakarta – this
enormous, polluted and until recently unloved
capital city of Indonesia.
loosely translated, “Ahok” is an abbreviation of
the Chinese words (yes, he is ethnic Chinese).
The meaning is: “never stop learning” (ban-hok),
a piece of advice given to him by his greatest
role model – his father.
learning he is! Instead of just doing what his
predecessors have been doing for decades –
aimlessly travelling to Western Europe, the
United States and Japan, ‘Ahok’ goes where he
can actually really discover things that are
implementable in his city, one so full of grave
problems – China and Latin America.
him, almost everyone gave up on Jakarta. The
city’s reputation was terrible, and the verdict
and diagnoses of many became short and dark:
“Beyond salvation, beyond repair!”
has been suffering all imaginable ills: from
endemic corruption, toxic bureaucracy and
inefficiency, to the epic traffic jams,
pollution, deadly annual floods (due to its
terrible drainage system), lack of modern
garbage collection and garbage processing,
appalling filth (rivers and canals clogged with
trash, waste covering sides of the roads),
notorious lack of green spaces and parks, and
the almost total lack of cultural institutions.
Public transportation could be described at best
as a joke.
talented brains were leaving. Expats found it
impossible to convince their families to follow
them to the “Big Smoke” (one of the city’s
nicknames), and most of them decided to settle
in Singapore or Kuala Lumpur, ‘commuting’ to
Jakarta on a weekly basis.
and pro-Western to the core, Jakarta has been
offering some of the most cynical images of
social inequality on Earth: posh 5-star hotels
and shopping malls, and deadly slums in their
vicinity. Poor people simply ceased to exist;
their plight didn’t matter.
over two years, Jakarta has changed. Its
infrastructure has been getting better: there
are new green areas and parks, and new public
transportation projects. Canals and rivers are
being cleaned and the drainage is improving (as
a result, during the rainy seasons, the floods
are not reaching their previous devastating
above all, there is now hope. It lifts and it
transforms the entire city and its surrounding
areas. Expectations of the people are suddenly
Khairul Mahadi, a retired civil servant, is
opinion, there is great progress achieved
under Ahok’s leadership, especially when it
comes to the public services. There are also
some significant changes in work ethics of
the local government. Their services are
faster, and the culture of bribes is almost
Hinawan, an architect, agrees:
most important thing about his leadership is
that the local government’s budget is not
used for bribes and corruption. Funds are
now used for development, and it is visible.
I’m very optimistic, and I support his
leadership. If elections are fair, he should
have no problems of winning.”
are right around the corner, scheduled for
February 15, 2017. ‘Ahok’ is supported by over
40%, which is nearly double the backing enjoyed
by the next most popular candidate.
is stepping on too many feet, and his
anti-corruption drive is not necessarily popular
with the ‘elites’ of the country. Even less so
are his attempts to relocate and house the poor,
and to provide them with adequate medical care.
enemies are ingenious and venomous.
Now he is
on the election trail, but he is also facing a
trial for ‘defaming Islam’, a twisted case
brought against him by his political opponents
and based on a gross manipulation of the
things worse, some Indonesians loathe him for
being ethnically Chinese, in a country that is
known for its racial intolerance, for the
genocides in East Timor and Papua, and countless
most of Jakarta residents are pragmatic. The
Governor’s performance seems to be much more
important to them than his race or religion.
Mustika Purwanegara, a professor at the
prestigious Bandung Institute of Technology (ITB)
is all praises for ‘Ahok’:
admire what he has been doing for Jakarta.
He is a great leader, and he works for the
people, unlike what we have here in West
Java. Other cities in Indonesia should be
following his example.”
But is he
doing too much, in such a short time? Can he
really survive in a country that is constantly
dragged down by inertia and by the corruption
rooted in Suharto’s era?
Rachmad Mekaniawan, the CEO of a construction
management company, ‘Ciria Jasa’:
“’Ahok’ is insane! But Jakarta needs truly a
crazy person as a leader. Who else would
dare to start tackling, for instance,
seemingly unsolvable problems of capital’s
traffic congestion by beginning to build
various modern modes of public
Mekaniawan is an ‘Ahok’ fan, but even he is
uncertain about whether the governor can get
re-elected, with all those powerful political
and economic forces trying to derail his
years ago, in a backroom of a restaurant, a
prominent Indonesian businessman told me, that
no comprehensive public transportation network
would ever be allowed to grow in Jakarta,
because the foreign car and scooter makers had
already totally corrupted the city government.
An effective mass transit scheme would
significantly reduce their profits.
‘Ahok’ dares. Now there are ten-carriage
secondhand Tokyo subway trains running on
rapidly improving commuter rail tracks, two
elevated LRT lines are being constructed, the
airport rail link is about to open by the end of
2017, and 11 previously notorious bus-ways are
receiving new and modern vehicles.
there is hope, but there is also fear.
the evening, I visited his Rumah Lembang in
Central Jakarta, a support center for the
‘Ahok’s campaign’. There I informally spoke to
his two volunteer aides, one Muslim, one
atmosphere was tense. It was clear that what is
taking place in Jakarta is having an enormous
impact on the entire Indonesia. People all over
this vast archipelago are watching, and
beginning to demand the same changes that are
taking place in the capital.
expect the elections to be manipulated?” I
see that there is definitely such a
possibility,” I’m told by Mr. Rekky Silalahi. He
are determined to vote for ‘Ahok’ are already
facing some serious problems: like getting their
election cards issued…”
the elections are rigged? Would there be an
explosion?” I wanted to know.
would be a big one,” I was told. “If he’d lose
fairly, than it’s ok. If rigged, there would be
Asia is boiling, awakening: Thailand before the
coup, Philippines under the present
administration, and now Jakarta, the enormous
and scarred capital city of perhaps the most
complex nation in the region.
changes have come with the new and enlightened
leaders. Some of them have managed to plant
fragile seeds of hope, something that had not
been done for decades, under the
Western-sponsored dictatorships and
pseudo-democracies. After that, the expectations
of people grow very quickly. And with the
expectations comes a strong determination to
fight for, to defend even those small gains that
have already been made.
Andre Vltchek is a philosopher, novelist,
filmmaker and investigative journalist. He has
covered wars and conflicts in dozens of
countries. Three of his latest books are
and two bestselling works of political
Lies Of The Empire”
Against Western Imperialism”.
View his other books
Andre is making films for teleSUR and Al-Mayadeen.
his groundbreaking documentary about Rwanda and
DRCongo. After having lived in Latin America,
Africa and Oceania, Vltchek presently resides in
East Asia and the Middle East, and continues to
work around the world. He can be reached through