Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - The region’s dynamic duo

The region’s dynamic duo

Former Philippine President Joseph Estrada, now a mayor, inspects a recovered shotgun used in a criminal case at a police station in Manila in July.
Former Philippine President Joseph Estrada, now a mayor, inspects a recovered shotgun used in a criminal case at a police station in Manila in July. REUTERS

The region’s dynamic duo

In the recent past, two men who could hardly be more different have been elected to govern the capital cities of their countries.

That they have their work cut out goes without saying, for Manila and Jakarta are two of the region’s biggest and most unmanageable cities.

Manila’s new mayor, the ex-film star Joseph “Erap” Estrada, is a former president of the Philippines and resembles a kind of Ronald Reagan figure – if Reagan had ever played a rakish bandit, instead of clean-cut sheriffs.

In contrast, Jakarta’s new governor, Joko Widodo, known as “Jokowi”, is a simple man of the people, who can wander into a wet market, grab a bowl of noodles and share life stories with the paisanos.

Yet despite their orthogonal differences, they are two men who almost everybody would love to have as uncles. There would never be a dull moment.

It would be like living in a milieu that resembled a cross between Yes, Minister, The Sopranos and The Lone Ranger.

Yet, setting aside their opposing personalities, Erap and Jokowi have one crucial similarity: They both know how to win elections. And in politics, nothing else is more important.

As an Indonesian minister recently remarked when asked if a colleague was a suitable presidential candidate: “It does not matter if he is suitable, or if he is good or bad. What matters is: Is he electable?”

Erap and Joko have proved they are consistently electable, often under conditions of adversity that, in the eyes of the media, caused them to be rated as rank outsiders. Yet they always triumphed.

Consider Erap, whose nickname is formed from the reverse spelling of the Tagalog word Pare, which, as befits his nature, means “Buddy”.

Big “Buddy” Estrada, the paunchy, moustachioed, philandering Marlboro Man, was widely ridiculed when he entered politics, and especially when he made a bid for the nation’s highest office in 1998.

But Erap, who hails from a relatively affluent family, is smart, and while he knew his image upset the establishment, he knew it clicked with the masses who recoil at bogus political correctness.

So he stayed non-PC and never denied smoking, drinking and fathering five ninos by various mistresses – and still became president by the biggest margin ever recorded in Philippine elections.

Three years later, he was deposed by an uprising instigated by the military and the Catholic Church, jailed for life, pardoned by his successor Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, and now he has become mayor of Manila.

So it’s déjà vu all over again. As it is, in a way, for Jokowi, who, despite being a diametrically different politician, shares Erap’s capacity to win elections by displaying the common touch.

Jokowi is a slim, non-smoking, teetotalling family man, whose only nonconformist trait is a love of rock music – he was once the proud owner of a guitar signed by a member of the eardrum-busting band Metallica.

For sure, he’s no stern ascetic. Yes, he puts in prodigious hours, but really he’s just a regular Jo, who loves to strum his guitar and sing along with the folks in suburban slums and rural heartlands.

It was this quality that enabled Jokowi to become well known as the mayor of the small city of Solo in central Java, where he first used his people skills to relocate stall holders to new and more amenable retail areas.

Then, after winning last year’s Jakarta governorship poll, he again went down to the barrios and persuaded recalcitrant vendors and squatters to move so that traffic and flood alleviation measures could be taken.

It is now clear that barring a disaster, Jokowi is going to use the governor’s post as a stepping stone to the presidency of this region’s biggest and most powerful nation.

Last week, Indonesia’s most influential publication, Tempo, had a photograph of him on the cover, with the headline “Run, Joko, Run”.

If he runs, he will win. Because, like his opposite, Erap, he has that ineluctable quality of electability.


  • Draft law on state of emergency pending finalisation

    Prime Minister Hun Sen will lead a top-level meeting on Tuesdays to review the draft law on imposing a state of emergency. Meantime, he has decided to close all casinos in Cambodia effective April 1. In the press conference after the National Assembly met today, Hun

  • State of emergency on table amid pandemic

    Prime Minister Hun Sen, his deputy prime ministers and legal team will meet on Tuesday to review the draft law on declaring a state of emergency, as Covid-19 cases rose to 107 in the Kingdom on Monday. Speaking at a press conference after a parliament meeting

  • Stranded passengers petition UK for help

    Some 10,521 people have signed an online petition calling on British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and relevant officials to fly nearly 200 passengers out of Cambodia. The petition is targeted at 15,000 people. Most of the passengers are British nationals, who are stranded in Cambodia after airlines cancelled

  • Many in limbo as tension heightens

    As the Kingdom restricts travel and prepares for a state of emergency, some foreigners in Cambodia are scrambling for a way home. Foreign embassies in Phnom Penh are making efforts to get their citizens out, but cancelled flights have become common due to the coronavirus

  • Covid-19 Pandemic: Force majeure and legal consequences

    Is the Covid-19 pandemic considered an event of force majeure? The World Health Organisation declared the novel coronavirus (Covid-19) outbreak a pandemic on March 11. Following this declaration, the Ministry of Health and other ministries have taken various legal and administrative measures to prevent the rapid

  • State of emergency draft law set for NA

    A draft law aiming to place the Kingdom in a state of emergency amid the Covid-19 pandemic is set for a debate at the National Assembly (NA) after going through the Council of Ministers’ Standing Committee meeting led by Prime Minister Hun Sen on Tuesday.