Just as work on Jakarta's sorely needed Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) system is getting underway, the Indonesian capital risks losing both of its reformist leaders to this year's presidential race.
Jakarta Governor Joko 'Jokowi' Widodo is widely regarded as a sure winner for the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), so long as party chairwoman Megawati Sukarnoputri grants him the opportunity to run for president (see Megawati's silence on Indonesia's next president). And now Deputy Governor Basuki 'Ahok' Tjahaja Purnama is becoming increasingly bold about his intentions to run for vice president, most likely backing Jokowi's main political rival, Prabowo Subianto.
Ahok told local media last week that his colleagues in the Greater Indonesia Movement (Gerindra) party were giving strong indications that he would be asked to join party chairman Prabowo in the presidential race. 'Whether it is to run for governor or president, I'm prepared to serve my party,' Ahok told reporters.
While both are considered reformist figures, the public personas of Jokowi and Ahok could not be more different. Jokowi is renowned for his typically Javanese deferential manner. He has consistently sidestepped questions about his potential presidential candidacy, deferring authority to Megawati on the matter and claiming to only want to focus on his local role in Jakarta.
Ahok, who is ethnically Chinese, is better known for his brusque manner, and has been known to upset conservative figures with his use of colloquial pronouns in official meetings. He has been upfront about his ambitions to run for the top office, reportedly claiming as early as May last year that he would rather become president than governor.
Observers this week speculated that Jokowi was preparing Ahok to take over the Jakarta governorship when the pair took to the streets to visit some city projects in progress. The impromptu street-level visits, known as blusukan, are closely associated with Jokowi's down-to-earth style of governance. Ahok, who rarely joins Jokowi on his outings, reportedly complained about the traffic on the street and worried aloud about the possibility of getting a tan.
Despite their very different public personalities, Jokowi and Ahok have been well received as a pair, with Jokowi sensitive to the needs and aspirations of the people, and Ahok possessing the decisiveness to get things done. But it now appears almost certain they will split after the April legislative elections, when parties are expected to announce their presidential and vice presidential candidates.
Whether one or both runs for the presidential office, Jakartans can only hope that their replacements in the capital will at least complete the MRT.
Photo by Flickr user Mac Coates.