Sat, Sep 28, 2013 - Page 9 News List

Rare Indonesian governor speaks, and listens, to the people

By Joe Cochrane  /  NY Times News Service, JAKARTA

Since becoming governor in October last year, Joko has followed through on his campaign promises, including issuing welfare payments on the equivalent of electronic gift cards that allow people to pay for healthcare and education supplies directly, and ensure that government officials do not take a cut off the top. He also instituted an online tax payment system to prevent graft and jump-started long-delayed plans for a mass rapid transit system for the capital.

He has invested the most effort and political capital on two projects in particular. The first was to move street vendors off the roads surrounding Tanah Abang, the largest textiles market in Southeast Asia, who were causing traffic jams throughout central Jakarta, and give them space inside a nearby building. The second is the relocation of 7,000 poor families squatting around the Pluit Reservoir in northern Jakarta into lost-cost public housing so the reservoir can be dredged for the first time in 30 years to help alleviate annual flooding.

These projects might seem obscure given the many pressing problems of a city of 10 million people, but they address the two most important ones for average people: traffic and flooding. To win community support, Joko visits both areas at least once daily to make sure that city officials are following through on the projects and to assure local residents that he is not planning to turn the land over to shopping mall developers.

‘MAN OF THE PEOPLE’

Joko’s “man of the people” tag is not concocted, analysts say. He is a former carpenter and ran a small furniture export business near Surakarta, a city of 520,000 people also known as Solo, before running for city mayor in 2005.

Last year he ran for governor in Jakarta and his landslide win against the incumbent, Fauzi Bowo, who was backed by most of Yudhoyono’s governing coalition, was viewed as an emphatic rejection of the political establishment.

Joko ultimately will not decide whether he will run in the presidential election. Megawati firmly controls the party, which decided at a recent congress that she alone would name its presidential nominee. She had been expected to run herself, but analysts say it is increasingly likely that she will step aside for Joko to help her party try to regain the presidency after 10 years.

Party officials say Megawati has hinted as much in recent weeks, calling herself at 66 “old” and “a grandmother.” Megawati and Joko have also appeared side by side at party events in recent weeks, prompting even more speculation about his candidacy.

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