Published daily by the Lowy Institute

This week in Jakarta: Ahok's temper and the 'New Jakarta'

This week in Jakarta: Ahok's temper and the 'New Jakarta'
Published 5 Jun 2015 

When Jokowi rose from Jakarta governor to become Indonesia's president last year, his deputy, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, better known as 'Ahok', took on the role of governor and with it the responsibility to create a 'New Jakarta', a modern, orderly and humane city with clean and responsive governance envisioned during the pair's campaign.

While the teeming megacity is still far from fulfilling this vision, there is daily evidence of transformation, with large parts of the city in the process of either being built up or torn down. Ahok is leading this change, with his renowned fiery temperament now directed against one and all.

Jakarta Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, known as Ahok. (Flickr/Sipahutar.)

This week, Ahok's temper came up against his new deputy, Djarot Saiful Hidayat, who hosted an unsuccessful and poorly organised folk fair over the weekend, reportedly without first informing the governor of his plans. Ahok publicly admonished his deputy for signing documents for the fair on his behalf and accused others in his Administration of misusing the money it generated. Stall owners, who were reportedly charged high fees but received less than the promised facilities, staged a protest at the fair. Ahok expressed his anger to local media: 'Next year, (Djarot) may not sign such documents. I don't want to hear about another mess like this again,' he said.

This is the kind of outburst that earns Ahok respect in Jakarta. It demonstrates his commitment to clean and transparent governance and shows that he's not afraid to stand up to those in power, even if that means telling off his own closest colleague. But the public reaction can be different when Ahok's temper is unleashed on less powerful groups. [fold]

Also this week, Ahok lost his temper when faced with a group of mothers and children who came to City Hall to protest their relocation from an illegally constructed neighbourhood in North Jakarta. The mothers accepted their eviction and the city government's offer to move them to low-cost apartments. However, they asked to be placed in different apartments to those offered by the government, requesting ones that were closer to their workplaces and their children's schools. Ahok was unsympathetic. 'You're using children for your protest. Don't use children,' he said, reportedly raising his voice.

Incidents like this give Ahok the reputation of having an attitude problem. A poll released last month shows that Jakartans are generally happy with Ahok's performance and he remains a strong candidate for re-election in 2017. However, voters feel there's room for improvement in his communication style and connection with ordinary people. This gap in Ahok's leadership skills was previously filled by Jokowi when he was governor. Conversely, Jokowi as president has been criticised for lacking the bold and decisive characteristics of his former deputy.

It's encouraging to see that Ahok is pushing ahead with plans to transform Jakarta, even after last year's political campaigns are well and truly over. However, he should be careful not to let his attitude alienate those who will benefit from the 'New Jakarta' — namely, ordinary Jakartans.

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