Rock music and prayer ignite Jokowi supporters as president makes final Indonesia election pitch
JAKARTA: In 2014, Joko Widodo was the youthful, enigmatic leader Indonesians clamoured to vote into power.
The daily grind of politics can take the sheen off any politician, but the man popularly dubbed “Jokowi” returned to his rockstar ways on Saturday (Apr 13), fronting a massive crowd of red and white clad supporters at a sports stadium in central Jakarta.
A line up of prominent Indonesian music stars warmed up a bustling crowd, melting for hours in the repressive heat. They were all waiting for the headline act – the incumbent president.
As members of the audience succumbed to the heat, Jokowi delivered a speech he hopes will ignite momentum among a supporter base suspected of lacking the energy they possessed five years ago.
“I want to state that this country, Indonesia, will not fall apart. We’re currently on the right track. We are optimistic that Indonesia will be more advanced in the future,” he said.
His presidential race rival Prabowo Subianto has narrowed the race to fewer than 10 points, according to the latest opinion polls, and anecdotally at least, has run a more dynamic campaign than the incumbent.
Prabowo’s event at the very same location – Bung Karno sports complex – just days before also drew an impressive crowd. Rumours swirled around both camps of the number of attendees reaching one million people, an implausible suggestion but rife in a global political environment where facts matter less than perhaps they once used to.
Jokowi riffed on usual themes throughout his address, talking up his major achievements in infrastructure development, his efforts to steer the economy, drive to end poverty and his mantra to maintain unity nationwide.
He has faced challenges to convince the nation that slow, expensive and often foreign-managed projects are a wise long term strategy. In the age of social media, selling a vision is an unenviable task for today’s government.
“Don’t ask for something instant, there is nothing like that,” he said.
“Not a single developed and prosperous country does not have good infrastructure. Not a single developed country does not have good and quality human resources.
“And not a single developed and prosperous country has their citizens divided.”
But Jokowi also drove home a message of something more intangible, of feelings rather than feats. He spoke of hope, a subtle reminder to Indonesians of why they voted for him in the first place.
“This evening, I ask you not to be pessimistic. We have to keep optimistic in order to succeed. Don’t let us be pessimistic, weak and feeling low because this country, this nation, is big and has a good future,” he said.
“Our country’s economy will be stronger for farmers, fishermen, teachers, labors, doctors, civil servants, Indonesian military, national police, artists, creative workers, MSMs, and big businessmen.”
The president was joined on stage by his new running mate Ma’ruf Amin and his old one, Jusuf Kalla, the outgoing vice president. Neither are renowned stage orators, but have served strategic purposes in Jokowi’s image building in respective campaigns.
They are very different accomplices. Jusuf, the connected businessman from the east, and Ma’ruf, the softly spoken Islamic scholar from Java’s west. The latter’s unlikely elevation to the president’s right hand speaks not only to a diversity of thought, but a response to the rise of identity politics.
Jokowi has weathered much throughout this electioneering period, including accusations of vote tampering, a litany of “fake news” labelling him a Christian or a communist and an opponent keen to exploit division using nationalistic rhetoric and threatening protest.
Even the sky turned dark over the stadium in Jakarta, pre-empting his appearance and threatening to dampen his moment. The clouds passed, as they mostly have for Jokowi in the testing times that come often in this country.
He will be hoping Indonesia is calling out for an encore when they rock up to the polls on Wednesday.