Joko Widodo: Heavy metal fan tipped for Indonesian presidency

JAKARTA - He's happiest when making an impromptu visit to the teeming slums of the Indonesian capital, upbraiding lazy officials during surprise inspections or headbanging at a heavy metal concert.

It is precisely this hands-on approach and his image as a regular citizen that has set Jakarta governor Joko Widodo apart from an aloof, Suharto-era elite that long dominated Indonesian politics, and made him the frontrunner to be the country's next president.

"I think people are looking for someone who they feel they can associate with," said Tobias Basuki, an analyst with the Jakarta-based Centre for Strategic and International Studies.

"This is something new for Indonesians - to have a leader who is also a grounded figure." His party, the main opposition Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), was on course to win the biggest share of the vote in Wednesday's parliamentary polls, which will determine which parties can field candidates for July's presidential election.

The 52-year-old, known universally by his nickname "Jokowi", came from a humble background, having grown up in a riverbank slum in Solo, central Java.

He completed a forestry programme at an Indonesian university, worked in a business selling furniture, and then entered politics in 2005 as mayor of Solo.

He won plaudits in that job - successfully implementing a tram system and relocating local street hawkers - and gained national attention that helped propel him to the capital's top job in 2012.

The slightly built father-of-three has thrown himself into tackling Jakarta's many problems, and is often spotted out and about, visiting the city's poorer districts in casual clothes or checking up on officials.

Work has begun on a subway to ease the city's notorious gridlock and bolster a threadbare public transport system, and he has introduced policies aimed at improving access to health and education for the many poor people in the metropolis of 10 million.

Despite his heavy workload, he still takes time off to indulge his love of heavy metal and is sometimes spotted at gigs in Jakarta.

His time leading the capital has not been without criticism, however.

His flagship healthcare policy, aimed at extending cover to the poor, backfired when hospitals couldn't cope with a surge in patient numbers. Jakarta was also hit by serious flooding in January despite Widodo's pledge to stop the inundations, which happen most years.

Nevertheless, the criticism does not seem to have dented his popularity, which has spiked since the PDI-P nominated him as their presidential candidate on March 14.

A survey by pollster Roy Morgan International last week found 45 per cent of nearly 2,000 respondents said they would vote for Widodo at the presidential polls.

It was a jump of about 10 per cent from before his nomination and put him far ahead of his nearest rivals, ex-army general Prabowo Subianto and tycoon Aburizal Bakrie.

Some have doubts about whether a man who has no experience in national politics is ready to run the world's biggest archipelago nation, however, pointing out he has spoken little about what his policies might be.

"If he wins, he has a very steep learning curve - it's a much bigger operation to run the country than it is to run a city or a province," said Paul Rowland, a Jakarta-based independent political analyst.