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Nailing Indonesia's next president

  • 24 June 2014

On 9 July, Indonesians will vote on their next president by punching a hole in a ballot paper with a large nail. Timor-Leste used the same system for its historic independence ballot in 1999. The issues differ of course but the choices to be made are equally stark. Democratic development and human rights in Indonesia will either advance or regress depending on who is nailed next month.

The two aspirants are Joko Widodo aka Jokowi (pictured), the current Governor of Jakarta, and Prabowo Subianto, a retired general. As dictated by Indonesia's social and religious demographic, both are Muslim and Javanese. On most other counts, including human rights, they are chalk and cheese.

Jokowi's professional achievements are in business and then in local government, first as the popular mayor of Solo then as governor of sprawling Jakarta, one of the world's mega-cities. One could easily conclude that this background and his reputation as a no-nonsense, can-do leader, do not make for best practice in human rights.

What distinguishes Jokowi, however, is his demonstrated sensitivity to people. Faced with the massive challenges of transforming over-crowded, highly stressed urban environments into liveable, modern and functional cities, he has consistently shown great respect for the poor, seeing them as stakeholders with legitimate rights and interests, not as obstacles blocking progress.

Jokowi's approach, marked by patient dialogue, practical alternatives, pioneering welfare measures, and intolerance of incompetence and corruption, has endeared him to masses of people. He has also proved that it works. His modus operandi is the antithesis of the culture of violence, top-down development, opportunism and force that characterised the Soeharto years. The community sees him as one of them, not as overbearing big business and big government. Not surprisingly, his campaign slogan translates 'Jokowi is us'.

His vision statement includes a number of references to human rights, but one senses that his understanding of human rights is not from books but is instinctive and owes much to his humble origins and personal journey. This translates into policies that emphasise human resources, welfare, education and the prioritisation of neglected regions like Papua, the first place he visited during his campaign.

Jokowi impresses as genuine and authentic. His candidacy represents an historic opportunity for ordinary Indonesians to be represented at the highest level and for social and economic rights in particular to be mainstreamed and lift millions out of poverty.

Prabowo's baggage is of a different kind altogether. He comes from a