Next Jokowi could emerge from new wave of reformists

Next Jokowi could emerge from new wave of reformists

Their most famous counterpart may be President Joko Widodo, but this "gang of young mayors and leaders" - the name they gave their WhatsApp group - are making a name for themselves.

They represent a new wave of young reformist leaders who might emerge as the next Jokowi, as the Indonesian President is popularly known.

Acting Jakarta governor Basuki "Ahok" Tjahaja Purnama publicises his mobile number to get direct feedback from the people.

Surabaya Mayor Tri Rismaharini picks up rubbish on the road alongside refuse collectors.

Bandung Mayor Ridwan Kamil orders his district heads to send him before-and-after photographs after they complete their assigned tasks.

Mr Joko's rise from mayor to governor and then Indonesia's President - notably, his break into the ranks of the elite - has shone a light on these young, up-and-coming mayors and governors with a similarly fresh approach to governing.

Mr Joko was known for making ad hoc spot checks, or blusukan, when he was mayor and later governor. Many Indonesians now expect the same transparency and direct engagement from their leaders, after years of enduring slow bureaucracy and long processes that stifle progress.

As Indonesia's democracy matures, these directly elected leaders are gaining support and putting pressure on other leaders to be responsive to residents.

"They are the new generation of principled leaders who want more transparency and hold on to the values of the Constitution - they are young and using all sorts of ways, including technology, to connect with residents," said Dr Hendro Prasetyo, research director of Indonesia Survey Institute.

The "leader of the pack" was Mr Joko, who not only set an example, but changed the way that leaders ought to reach out to their electorate.

Mrs Rismaharini, elected in 2010, personally checks on the progress of construction projects, and has been seen getting into muddied trenches with her pant legs rolled up.

In May, the no-nonsense 52-year-old Surabaya mayor earned praise from residents when she chided organisers of a free ice-cream event for failing to control the crowds, which trampled on and damaged plants in the park.

These leaders do not shy away from taking on chronic problems and tackling them head on.

Mr Basuki is known for telling off under-performing city officials. The 48-year-old styles himself as a loudmouth and as a tough-talking and fearless governor-in-waiting after his boss, Mr Joko, left the post to become President.

"I'm the new chief of thugs now. Government's official thug in uniform," he warned motorists when he declared war on illegal parking in the congested capital. He ordered hefty fines for errant motorists and cars to be wheel- clamped or towed away.

Similarly, Mr Ridwan, a 43-year-old architect turned mayor, seeks feedback from Bandung residents via Twitter. He has 856,000 followers and posts as many as 40 tweets a day.

To maintain high standards among his officers, he has implemented a scorecard system for each department. High performers are rewarded with overseas training courses. Those who fail to meet minimum standards are redeployed.

"I find the culture of professionalism where I come from totally different from this new culture of bureaucracy. It's slower," he told journalists at a recent discussion. "I am not really happy and that is why I am pushing for faster change by using the reward and punishment concept."

The tech-savvy mayor is big on tapping creative methods in governance, and has introduced mobile apps for each department.

"We are inspired by Singapore - Singapore has 300 apps for public service. Bandung will start with at least 150. Everything about Bandung will have an app, to make it transparent," he said.

It was his idea to wire up Bandung mosques with Wi-Fi to make them multi-functional and attract younger worshippers.

To learn from one another and keep themselves motivated, Mr Ridwan and Mr Basuki are part of a WhatsApp group with counterparts like Banyuwangi district chief Abdullah Azwar Anas and Bogor mayor Bima Arya Sugiarto. They use the mobile chat app to exchange policy ideas and tips on governing.

But the search for the next Jokowi could stall unless a newly passed law that ends direct elections for local leaders is overturned. "The system of direct elections is not perfect, but it is better compared with the system... which leaves it to legislators to elect leaders," said Dr Hendro.

Up-and-coming leaders

BASUKI TJAHAJA PURNAMA, 48, ACTING GOVERNOR OF JAKARTA

He became vice-governor in 2012 when Mr Joko "Jokowi" Widodo was governor. An ethnic Chinese who speaks fluent Mandarin and a Christian, he is now the highest-ranking minority leader in Indonesia. He is expected to take over as governor officially.

Mr Basuki shot to fame after a video showing him berating officials at a meeting went viral on YouTube.

In September, he quit the Gerindra party, led by former general and defeated presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto, in protest after the Gerindra-led coalition voted to end direct elections of local leaders like him.

RIDWAN KAMIL, 43, MAYOR OF BANDUNG

An architect by training, he won 45 per cent of the votes in last year's mayoral election and has since become a hit with younger voters whom he engages on Twitter. He uses creative ways to rekindle a sense of identity among Bandung people, such as creating a movie park, a skateboarding park and even a park for singles.

He has come up with a slogan for every day of the work week, including "No Smoking Day", "Speak English Day" and "Sundanese Day". The facade of his house is decorated with 30,000 Red Bull bottles.

TRI RISMAHARINI, 52, MAYOR OF SURABAYA

She is the first female mayor in Surabaya and ranks among the most influential women in the country. Since taking charge of Indonesia's second most populous city, she has cleaned up its slums, shut down Dolly, a nickname for the large prostitution den, and earned a reputation for being a strict leader who does not hesitate to scold her officials for underperforming. She is also known to stop at parks to persuade delinquent students to go back to school.

zubaidah@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on Nov 10, 2014.
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