101 East

Indonesia’s rock governor

We go behind the scenes with the man tipped to become Indonesia’s next president – governor of Jakarta, Joko Widodo.


Joko Widodo, known as Jokowi, is a man on a mission. Since he was elected governor of Jakarta in October 2012, he has undertaken a gruelling daily schedule in his efforts to make the city more liveable for its 10 million residents.

The 52-year-old’s seemingly bottomless reserves of energy have been put to the test – Jakarta has no shortage of pressing issues – but his efforts are paying dividends. Everywhere Jokowi goes, people swarm around him. His popularity has risen so rapidly that he is tipped to become Indonesia’s next president when elections are held in July.

101 East gains exclusive access to follow Jokowi as he tackles Jakarta’s most urgent problems. We reveal his unique style of governing, the challenges he faces and the character of the man expected to become the next leader of the world’s largest Muslim country. We explore Jokowi’s unorthodox approach to tackling Indonesia’s endemic corruption and inefficient bureaucracy – factors analysts say have long impeded the country’s economic growth.

Jokowi, a former furniture dealer, has developed a reputation as a clean politician in a country where citizens have grown weary of corrupt public officials. Even lazy government workers do not escape his wrath when he makes surprise visits to government offices as part of his war on corruption and bureaucratic inefficiency.

With the mega-city of Jakarta notorious for traffic snarls that stretch for miles, Jokowi is trying to improve infrastructure. He has also been known to jump out of his governor’s car and onto the back of a motorbike to beat the gridlock, winning support among frustrated commuters.

A regular visitor to slum areas, Jokowi has introduced free healthcare and education as part of his efforts to reduce poverty. We speak with some of the residents who have benefited from these programmes. We also get to know him off-the-job as he enjoys some down time with his favourite music: heavy metal. He has loved bands like Metallica since he was a young boy and it is still the music he tunes to as he rushes from one appointment to the next.

We trace Jokowi’s humble beginnings as the son of a carpenter, visiting his hometown of Surakarta, the city also known as Solo in Central Java. This is where his political career kicked off when he was elected mayor in 2005. He received much acclaim for transforming Surakarta during his term. We meet his mother and friends who knew him as a boy, and they tell us about an ordinary young man, who they never imagined would one day be a presidential candidate.

But despite the frenzy and solid support from the people, critics say Jokowi is untested and out of his league when it comes to leading a nation of 240 million people.

In this episode, 101 East cuts through the hype surrounding Jakarta’s popular governor to ask: Does Jokowi have what it takes to become Indonesia’s next president?

Does Jakarta’s governor Joko Widodo have what it takes to be Indonesia’s next president? #Jokowi  #IndoRockGov

Reporter’s blog – An Indonesian idol with cheap shoes

By Step Vaessen

Skinny, soft spoken, slightly plain, Joko Widodo looks nothing like a rock star. He could easily be mistaken for a local tax collector instead of Indonesia’s possible new president.

His simple appearance and love for Metallica caught my attention a few years ago when he was still a mayor in Solo. Governing a traditional Javanese city and admitting to be a fanatic head-banger fascinated me. It helps that I like to head bang too.

Covering Indonesia for the past 17 years I figured this man, popularly known as Jokowi, was a different breed of leader. When I first interviewed him I expected to meet a rebel and an outspoken campaigner for change. I have to admit I was slightly disappointed.

Jokowi, who was then running for governor in the metropolis Jakarta, is not a man of many words. I didn’t meet a visionary leader who enthusiastically bombarded me with his ideas. Instead the candidate governor carefully chose his sentences and did not reveal much of his vision.

It was clear his magic hailed from something else. People were lining up to meet the former carpenter and he was quickly turning into a popular idol, an unlikely rock star. Never before have I seen masses so keen to meet a leader, simply wanting to shake his hand. After witnessing these scenes I jokingly told my friends it seemed a new Messiah had come to Indonesia.

Following him for nearly two weeks to make the film Indonesia’s rock governor gave me a better idea of who this new Indonesian hero really is.

The simple answer is Jokowi is just Jokowi – nothing more, nothing less. The magic is in the eyes of the beholder. The Jakarta governor has managed to become the new nation’s idol mainly because people in Indonesia are craving for one.

For years, promises of change turned out to be empty. New leaders were as corrupt as old ones. Nothing much happened really. And then there is this common man whose main goal is to fix things, find solutions for problems and just gets on with it.

For the past two years there has hardly been a day without Jokowi appearing on Indonesian television: moving people from slum areas, giving them free healthcare, creating better access to education, simply filling holes in the streets and planting trees around Jakarta. Jokowi has managed to grab the attention of the media and the public much to the envy of other leaders. Change has suddenly become visible.

Wearing his trademark white shirt with sleeves rolled up and cheap shoes, the governor has smartly created an unbeatable image of simplicity, honesty and hard work. While the image might get him elected as president in July, he will need more than cheap shoes to run a country of 240 million people. Fixing Indonesia’s urgent problems of poverty, religious intolerance and aging infrastructure requires a hands-on leader. But it also needs a smart vision. This is something Jokowi has yet to reveal.

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