Surabaya's popular mayor, Tri 'Risma' Rismaharini, hit national headlines in Indonesia last week after she broke down in tears on MetroTV talk show Mata Najwa. Various cuts of her appearance on the show have circulated on YouTube, with a full-length clip (above) getting more than 160,000 views.
Risma, a member of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), is recognised as one of the new breed of Indonesian politicians in the style of presidential frontrunner Joko 'Jokowi' Widodo, and is known for her transparent and hands-on approach to leadership.
Since taking office in Surabaya in 2010, she has transformed the face of the East Java capital by opening up green spaces for public use and taking a heavy hand against the city's notorious red-light district. She has since turned her sights on Surabaya's flooding and traffic problems, making noticeable progress on the former but hitting a figurative roadblock on the latter.
Risma reportedly ran into conflict with her deputy, Wisnu Sakti Buana, who she says was appointed without her approval, and with the PDI-P when she refused to approve plans for a US$680 million toll road project. Her preference was to invest government funds in improving public transport rather than a road to accommodate private vehicles.
But Risma claimed she was hounded by vested interests to change her decision, and hinted that she was prepared to resign over the issue. In the viral interview with host Najwa Shihab on MetroTV, Risma broke down when questioned about her possible resignation.
'I have already given the best I can to the people of Surabaya', she said. 'I have given everything that I have. I have nothing left to give.'
Risma's emotional display of dedication to the people over business or political interests has triggered an outpouring of support on social media. The hashtag #SaveRisma is still trending on Twitter. Meanwhile, the PDI-P has denied putting pressure on Risma over the project or that a rift exists between her and her deputy, urging her to stay put as mayor.
The Surabaya mayor's reported struggle as a clean bureaucrat dogged by vested interests is a lesson for others in the so-called new breed of politicians. While the public preference for non-establishment candidates in the upcoming elections is clear, at least among Indonesia's middle class, the establishment remains in power.
For a figure like Jokowi, who has not yet been named a presidential candidate by the PDI-P but is still topping polls on a wave of popular optimism, Risma's case shows that it takes more than the people's support to effect change in Indonesia's democracy.