President-elect Joko Widodo talks of the new democracy in Indonesia

 President-elect Joko Widodo talks of the new democracy in Indonesia
Jokowi posing with Wong Chun Wai at his office in Jakarta.

JAKARTA - Joko Widodo, the man who will be the next Indonesian president, has a directive for his officials - end the time consuming ceremonies, lengthy speeches and protocol, which have long been the mark of the Indonesian political elites.

"When I arrived in Jakarta, I was provided with countless security officers but I have cut the number to four. I hate protocol. I don't want protocol to manage me. I don't want it to be difficult for the people to reach me," he said. Neither does he care for an entourage of political leaders and officials, saying bluntly that they should be doing their work.

"This is an era of horizontal leadership; this is the new democracy in Indonesia," he said repeatedly to describe a working relationship that links people across organisational boundaries instead of a vertical relationship that promotes feudal silos.

The hugely populist politician popularly known as Jokowi enjoys megastar status in Jakarta where he is literally mobbed wherever he goes, especially during his "blusukans" or walkabouts to the squatter slums located at river banks.

"It allows me to understand the people's problems. It also helps them understand that I am working to better their lives," he said, adding that he enjoyed listening and talking to the people. He has made surprise visits to villages, sometimes at midnight, catching villagers by surprise but the effect has been electrifying, with news of such visits quickly spreading to other villages.

Jokowi, 53, is fond of telling listeners that his father was a small-time wood collector and that his family lived in shacks on flood-prone banks of a river.

"I know what it is like being poor. Helping the poor, especially in their health and education needs, would be my priority," said the president-elect who will take office in October. He spoke of families who have to queue up daily to draw water from a single well that they share.

According to Inside Indonesia, Jokowi was born in Solo (Surakarta), Central Java, in 1961; he was the oldest of four children and the only son. His family struggled to assist him through school and he eventually graduated with a degree in forestry from Gadjah Mada University in Yogyakarta, in 1986.

Jokowi joined the forestry service of a state enterprise in Aceh before returning to Solo in 1989 to work with his uncle and learn the furniture business from design to delivery. Then he branched out on his own. He was the beneficiary of a small furniture business.

"I know that people have high expectations of me. The only way to meet this is to roll up my sleeves and keep working hard," he said.

It was his performance as the mayor of Solo, a town in central Java, that first gained him attention with his ability to resolve issues like floods, dirty streets and slums. By 2012, he was elected the governor of Jakarta, making him a contender for presidency.

Jokowi's entry has been regarded as a refreshing break from the three decades of Suharto's dictatorship that ended in 1998. He is certainly the first Indonesian president who is not from among Indonesia's elites.

Lean and tanned, he is a contrast to the conventional image of Jakarta's political and business elites, with some dismissing him, at one time, as a "wong ndeso" or a villager, but he appears to have the last laugh now.

"I don't know whether I am accepted (by the elites). You have to ask the ordinary people," he said with a smile.

According to Indonesian journalist Bob Lowry: "Jokowi is not a great or inspiring public speaker, but he is a master of symbolism and 'branding'. Nothing is left to chance, be it dress, mode of transport or unannounced inspections and visits.

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