With Indonesia's presidential election approaching (9 July 2014), investors - both domestic and foreign - have become more hesitant to commit to large investments, instead preferring to wait for the election results first. Obviously, investors want to see a 'market friendly' president to lead Southeast Asia's largest economy for (at least) the next five years; a ruler who can safeguard a conducive investment climate. For the Indonesian people, a just ruler is needed; one who can improve Indonesia's political and social issues.
All recent surveys indicate that the most popular presidential candidate (in the eyes of the people) is Joko Widodo, the current Governor of Jakarta. Widodo - often called Jokowi - has achieved high popularity due to his pro-people attitude and down-to-earth style of leadership. Jokowi, together with Deputy Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama (an ethnic Chinese Christian known as Ahok), brought a new style of governing to Indonesia. Their election in 2012 (chosen by the citizens of Jakarta) to govern Indonesia's capital city was a spectacular one as they broke through a number of traditional barriers. Not money-politics or nepotism were the decisive factors in the election. Not even the fact that Ahok is a Christian could prevent their election (in conservative Muslim circles it is forbidden for a Muslim community to be governed by a non-Muslim ruler) although it did evoke resistance. The pair brought a new sense of hope for Jakarta's and Indonesia's citizens, who have grown increasingly tired of the traditional corruptive nature of Indonesian leaders. Although statistics from Transparancy International indicate that there is less perceived corruption in Indonesian society today than a decade ago, political corruption scandals continue to fill the pages of Indonesia's daily newspapers. In the second term of Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's presidency (2009-2014), a number of separate high-profile corruption scandals were unveiled involving cabinet ministers, members of Yudhoyono's Democratic Party (Partai Demokrat, PD), judges, regional rulers and businessmen. The inability of Yudhoyono to restrain corruption at the top level of the country is the reason why popularity levels of him and his PD party plunged tremendously. The continuation of corruption within Indonesia's government circles is particularly sensitive because Yudhoyono was elected by the Indonesian electorate mainly due to his hard stance on corruption during his election campaigns. However, these high expectations of corruption eradication were not met.
One of the few Indonesian politicians who gives hope to the people - also on the topic of corruption eradication - is Jokowi. His popularity, by far, exceeds that of other politicians. However, there is one problem: it remains unknown whether he will participate in the 2014 presidential election. Up to now, Jokowi stated to focus on his job as governor, not on a presidential bid. This thus brings a high degree of political uncertainty about the future because if Jokowi participates, chances are very big that he will win the race. Other candidates - who have been officially declared by one of the main parties to be the party candidate for the presidency, or who are scoring high in popularity surveys - carry some negative aspects. Aburizal Bakrie, nominated by the country's currently most popular political party (Golkar), is a rich businessman whose companies have been linked to several scandals (corruption cases and a severe natural disaster in East Java). Prabowo Subianto and Wiranto, both former army leaders in the Suharto era, have been linked to severe human rights violations. Meanwhile, Megawati Sukarnoputri (who had been president between 2001 and 2004) still enjoys popularity. She still scores high in current popularity polls because she is the daughter of Indonesia's first president and national hero Sukarno. However, her presidency was characterized by a lack of leadership and political vision.
For outsiders it may be remarkable that these names (apart from Jokowi) are all people that were high positioned by the end of the authoritarian and corrupt Suharto regime. It provokes questions such as 'is there a lack of new leaders, or, did Indonesian politics really change during the Reformation period?' To answer these questions shortly: there is no lack of capable new leaders but it takes time for them to come to the surface of Indonesian politics because some elements in politics have not changed since the Suharto era. Many Indonesians think of Indonesia as a democratic country because of the presence of free and fair elections since 1999. However, people's right to vote every five years does not turn the country into a democracy. Democracy is much more than that. It is a 'state of mind' nurtured by (intangible) cultural heritage. Why do we still see many of the same names in the top of Indonesian politics? Basically because money-politics, status and nepotism are still the dominant factors in politics and society today. The current Indonesian political parties are not democratic institutions in itself but still hold on to this other cultural heritage.
However, Jokowi seems to be one of the few exceptions to this political tradition. He is not connected to any political party (although will need to be nominated by a political party, or collaboration of parties, in order to join the presidential bid) and does not come from the established political-corporate oligarchy (politics and business are highly intertwined in Indonesia) that was influential by the end of the Suharto era. In combination with his style of rule and personality, it makes him highly popular among Indonesians. But can he make a difference? Can he curb corruption, speed up bureaucratic reforms to create a more conducive investment climate, speed up the process of poverty alleviation, and - overall - create a better Indonesia? It will be very difficult for him to make a real difference because political-cultural traditions require a long time - perhaps several generations - to change. However, he is considered a person who can speed up this process. Reportedly, the Jakarta administration is now less bureaucratic and more transparent after almost one and a half years under the rule of Jokowi and Ahok. The pair also pushed for some much needed (but still problematic) infrastructure projects in Jakarta as the city is characterized by severe daily traffic jams resulting in high logistics costs. After only one and half years in charge, it would be a miracle to see any significant changes on the streets of Jakarta - hence traffic jams and floods during the rainy season continue to plague the citizens - but at least there is an air of change in Jakarta's local government. This air of change can be brought to the national level if Jokowi becomes president and is needed to speed up reforms in order to make Indonesia a more equal and prosperous society.