Jakarta’s Jokowi Says Presidential Bid Hinges on Megawati

Jakarta Governor Joko Widodo, who leads popularity polls for Indonesia’s presidential election next year, affirmed his allegiance to the party of former leader Megawati Soekarnoputri and said she would decide if he runs.

Widodo, known locally as Jokowi, topped Prabowo Subianto of the Greater Indonesia Movement party as the number one choice for president in a survey conducted last month by the Centre for Strategic and International Studies. Megawati’s Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle, known as PDI-P, is the country’s biggest opposition party.

“PDI-P is my party,” Widodo, 51, said in an interview in Jakarta yesterday, adding that Megawati as chairwoman is authorized to pick the 2014 presidential candidate. “So you ask direct to Bu Mega, not to me,” he said, referring to the former leader by her nickname.

Widodo’s surge in popularity after winning the Jakarta governor race in September has fueled speculation he may run for the presidency in Southeast Asia’s biggest economy. Since candidates need support from parties that win at least 20 percent of seats in the House of Representatives in April parliamentary elections, either Megawati or Widodo would likely run with PDI-P’s backing.

‘Serious Contender’

“They are a serious contender this time around because there are no other serious candidates besides Prabowo,” said Mohamed Nawab Mohamed Osman, research fellow at Singapore’s S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, referring to PDI-P. “There will be pressure within her party for her to step aside because she has not been able to deliver the presidency.”

Megawati -- the daughter of Sukarno, the country’s first president -- became Indonesia’s first female leader in 2001 after President Abdurrahman Wahid stepped aside in the middle of his term. She lost the past two elections to President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, including a crushing defeat in the 2009 poll when she captured about a quarter of the votes compared with more than 60 percent for Yudhoyono.

The CSIS poll last month of prospective presidential candidates found that if Widodo ran he would win 28.6 percent of the vote, compared with 5.4 percent for Megawati, the Jakarta Post reported. Subianto would win 15.6 percent, while Aburizal Bakrie, chairman of Golkar, the second-biggest party in parliament and a member of the ruling coalition, would win 7 percent, it said.

Megawati Popularity

Tjahjo Kumolo, secretary-general of PDI-P, said a final decision on the candidate will be made after legislative elections next year. The party will assess early in 2014 whether Widodo has proved successful in running Jakarta, Kumolo said, adding that Megawati remains popular in rural areas where voters remember her father.

“The party decision is to let Ibu Mega decide, whether it’ll be her, her with Jokowi as the running mate, or someone other than Ibu Mega,” Kumolo said today. “It will depend on the political dynamics.”

Senior members of Yudhoyono’s ruling Democrat party said they would welcome Widodo to participate in a primary scheduled for next month, the Jakarta Post reported on May 31, citing deputy chairwoman Nurhayati Ali Assegaf. The Democrat party holds 148 seats in the 560-member parliament, compared with 94 for PDI-P, and has yet to circle around a serious candidate for next year.

‘Discreet’ Approaches

Asked whether any parties have approached him to run, Widodo laughed and said: “Discreet.”

“I don’t think about the presidential election, or the vice president,” he said at his office. “I’m still focused in my job.”

Widodo said he’s concentrating on fixing the two biggest problems in the city of 9.6 million people: Floods and traffic jams. Construction of a mass rapid transit system in Jakarta, first proposed in the 1980s, would start in September, he said, adding that this month he plans to make a decision on building a monorail.

Pressure from political and economic interests prompted both projects to be delayed for years before he took office, Widodo said.

“For me, I ask the document, and when the document is ready, I just decide,” he said when asked how he was able to get the stalled projects moving. “If we heard from here, from here, from here, it’s difficult to decide.”

Mass Transit

Sumitomo Mitsui Construction Co. and a group of companies won a 3.6 trillion-rupiah ($364 million) contract last month to build an underground tunnel for the mass rapid transit system. The network’s first phase of 15.7 kilometers (9.8 miles) will be completed in 2017, Widodo told reporters on May 2.

Bank Indonesia yesterday unexpectedly raised its key interest rate for the first time since 2011 as Governor Agus Martowardojo sought to support the currency and cool inflation expectations. Yudhoyono’s government earlier lowered its 2013 economic growth target to 6.3 percent from 6.8 percent, and predicted inflation will quicken to 7.2 percent this year from an initial estimate of 4.9 percent should fuel prices be raised.

The rupiah dropped 0.7 percent this week to 9,875 per dollar in Jakarta, according to prices from local banks compiled by Bloomberg. It touched 9,925 yesterday, the weakest level since Sept. 15, 2009.

Yudhoyono has made any boost in fuel prices conditional on Parliament approving compensation programs for the poor. Failure to lower subsidies in 2012 led to a record current-account gap, hurting the rupiah as foreign investors lost confidence in the country.

Widodo owes his popularity to regular visits to the city’s poorer areas, some of which extend until midnight. That enables him to quickly react when issues arise, he said.

“The politician must know what the people want, what the people need -- not only come to the people around them,” Widodo said. “It’s better to go direct to the people and ask them.”