Jakarta. “Do you want to be led by a puppet? A puppet president?” asked Prabowo Subianto, the Gerindra Party’s chief patron at the Bung Karno Stadium in Jakarta one month before the legislative election.
His question alludes, of course, to Joko Widodo, the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle’s (PDI-P) presidential candidate.
Although voiced in March, Prabowo’s question is enduringly relevant.
Joko Widodo was nominated as the party’s presidential candidate only after Megawati — the party’s chairwoman — gave her approval on March 14.
And it was Megawati’s determination of Joko’s nomination that gave grounds to the claim that the Jakarta governor is not a man in control of his destiny.
The claim that Joko Widodo lacks the independence to be a strong presidential candidate is one of the most-cited arguments against him during this election season.
Skeptics question whether Joko has the ability to make his own decisions in policy-making if he is elected.
“In his detractors’ view, Jokowi appears to be very much controlled by Megawati,” said Burhanuddin, a researcher from Indonesia’s Survey Circle (LSI).
“The concern is that, should he be elected later, his policies might be determined by Mega.”
However, he contended that this is true only to a certain extent. Burhanuddin pointed out that PDI-P’s choice of a vice-presidential candidate would be an example of Megawati’s control over Jokowi.
“With respect to his running mate — whether he likes it or not — he has to consult the matter with Megawati as the party’s chairwoman,” he said
“In certain areas, there is some truth to what the anti-Jokowi groups claim.”
M. Qodari, executive director of Indo Barometer, shares Burhanuddin’s concerns. “Mega is very much his leader,” he said.
‘He can say no to everyone’
But despite Joko’s perceived deference to Megawati, Burhanuddin said Joko is not completely under her thumb.
“It would be wrong to say that Jokowi is just a puppet who has no power against Megawati,” explained Burhanuddin, who referred to Joko’s track record, saying that in the past Joko had resisted even those who used to support him. “He has at some points said no to everyone, including Mega.
“For example, he became a governor partly due to Prabowo’s support, but at one point, he was able to go against him.
“In the gubernatorial election, Jokowi was supported by Djan Faridz who has interests in Tanah Abang. Yet, when he saw it necessary to settle the problems in Tanah Abang, he resolved the problems with no considerations of Djan Faridz’s support for him.”
Qodari, similarly, believes that Joko’s track record as Jakarta governor evidenced that he is an independent public servant.
“Look at the policies that he implemented as a governor, or even when he was a mayor, he appeared very independent,” Qodari said.
Burhanuddin argued that Joko’s victory in the PDI-P’s internal struggle is in itself a testament to his political power, and by extension a reflection of how much independence he has in the PDI-P.
“The fact is, he managed to become PDI-P’s presidential candidate. That nomination is not something that can be easily achieved,” said Burhanuddin.
“His nomination was the result of a great internal struggle within the party. There were struggles between his group and the groups which are pro-Puan and pro-Mega.
“That shows Jokowi survived the vicious political atmosphere within the party. You cannot take that nomination for granted — it didn’t just fall down from the sky.”
Burhanuddin contended that Joko may not be as obedient to his chairwoman as many believe him to be, pointing out the governor’s disapproval of Megawati’s choice for his running mate as a possible reason behind the party’s delayed vice-presidential nomination.
“The truth is, Mega herself is not fully certain she can control Jokowi. That is the reason behind PDI-P’s delayed vice-presidential announcement,” said Barhanuddin. “For instance, Ryamizard Ryacudu is Mega’s right-hand man. One would assume that his nomination as running mate would build a stronger hold over Joko.”
There is certainly some weight behind the persistent argument questioning Joko’s strength and convictions as a politician with his own mind.
While an LSI poll conducted in mid-march showed only 12 percent of Indonesians are convinced of Joko’s role as a “puppet leader,” Ade Irawan of Indonesia Corruption Watch contended the smearing campaign made a lasting impression. “It has certainly made an impact,” Ade said.
Burhanuddin, who conducted the survey, admitted the attack on Joko’s integrity has contributed to his recent drop in popularity.
“I’m not sure about now. The survey came out in mid-march.”
“But, If we look at the exit polls and the one currently being done [by the General Election Commission], the impact seems quite significant.
“Joko’s popularity is now in decline. Conversely, Prabowo’s is rising.”
Qodari, however, begged to differ, arguing that Joko’s likability depends solely on his own performance and not on the attacks others have launched against him.
“His fate lies in his own hands. The people’s opinions of him are determined by the degree to which his work in Jakarta is thought to be successful,” he said. “Look at the data taken in the aftermath of the Jakarta floods this year; Jokowi’s popularity remained high, because the public was able to see him working hard. Flooding, traffic jams; these are complex problems.
“First and foremost, the people are able to see for themselves whether the politician is willing to work hard or not.
“There is nothing surprising about getting attacked. Back in [the gubernatorial election in] Jakarta, he was heavily attacked. Yet, he still won.”
It is a truism that the ideal public servant should only serve the public’s interests, and no one else’s. Therefore, there is clearly something amiss when a public servant, and in this case the holder of the nation’s highest office — the presidential office — is someone who is bound to follow the orders of an influential third party.
Ade of ICW explained that for the sake of good governance, it is necessary for a political leader to be independent.
“An independent public servant must have his own rational considerations when making public policies. He does not merely follow somebody else’s decisions.”