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Jakarta contest wide open

It is a typical early evening in Jakarta, and when my interview ends, darkness has fallen and it has begun to rain, lightly at first, then heavily.

We call several taxi companies; none respond. After waiting in vain for half an hour, we push up our umbrellas and start trudging along the ill-lit pavement.

About 20 minutes later, by some kind of minor miracle, the headlights of a taxi approach out of the satanic deluge and the car stops and picks us up.

When we get to my colleague’s place, he gets out and I ask the driver to continue to my downtown hotel. His expression turns sour, but he relents and sets off.

Several times, we have to churn through quite deeply flooded sections of road and I fear he will refuse to continue and leave me stranded again.

But he presses on and finally we arrive, a mere two hours after my suburban appointment had ended. The receptionist gazes at me and smiles. “Do you realise what I went through to get here?” I say. Drolly, he replies: “I think I probably do, sir.”

Like other Jakarta residents, it’s a given that he’s been through much worse himself many times. Raining or not, the traffic in Indonesia’s capital is horrendous.

It makes even street-clogged Ho Chi Minh City and Manila appear to have swift and stress-free vehicular movement.

And it pales in comparison to once gridlocked Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur, which now have extensive and efficient public transportation systems.

Jakarta has no such saving grace. That is why Governor Fauzi “Fuke” Bowo faces a tough battle in the campaign, which began yesterday, to win another five-year term.

The July 11 gubernatorial race involves half a dozen candidates, but in reality the fight is between Fauzi, 64, and his dynamic younger rival, Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, 51.

Fauzi, backed by the Democratic Party of Indonesia’s President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, remains the favourite, but that could change as fast as rising flood waters during the current rainy season.

Not unexpectedly, a recent poll confirmed press reports that flooding and incessant traffic jams are the key issues for most voters and that most don’t think Fauzi has done much about them in his first term.

Indeed, his indecisive performance echoes that of his party boss, SBY, whose modus operandi reminds one of the old English ditty: “She didn’t say yes, she didn’t say no; she didn’t say stay, she didn’t say go.”

Still, in Fauzi’s defence, about half of those polled said they feared a new governor would do no better than him in tackling the chronic traffic and flooding problems.

They blame KKN: Korupsi, Kolusi dan Nepotisme.

Widodo, however, claims he will cut through corruption, collusion and nepotism and do for the capital what he has done for Solo, his home town in central Java.

There, he has been named as one of 25 leading mayors in a global competition after successfully marketing small, but culturally renowned Solo as “The Spirit of Java” and by upgrading municipal services.

As well as being backed by former president Megawati Sukarnoputri’s Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle, he is supported by presidential wannabe Prabowo Subianto, the controversial former Kopassus boss.

Meanwhile, much is being made of demographic loyalties, with Fauzi being half-Betawi, a local Jakarta ethnic group with 27 per cent of the city’s population, while his running mate is also a local Jakarta boy.

That gives him an advantage over Solo-born Widodo, who is a generic Javanese, while his running mate is a Chinese Christian, which may appeal to that demographic, but could alienate the majority Muslims.

So it remains a toss-up. And that makes it a much more exciting prospect which I shall witness in Jakarta as the votes are counted.

My only fear is that I shall be stuck in a traffic jam in the rain when the result is announced.

Contact our regional insider Roger Mitton at



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