Jakarta: As Joko Widodo moved through the crowd on Thursday night, ordinary people swayed in his direction, watching avidly. Men reached over the backs of the bustling media pack to present their hand to be touched by the Jakarta Governor. When he spoke, people hung on every word.
Mr Joko – known by his nickname, Jokowi – was standing in the centre of his political domain, Jakarta’s colonial-era city square, launching a food and art fiesta that he hopes will contribute to its long-promised revitalisation.
But his new style of can-do politics exerts an influence far beyond these crumbling facades. As Indonesia goes to the polls this year, the attraction of this man is powerful enough to be described as gravitational.
He has only been Jakarta’s governor for 18 months, and he has not even declared himself a candidate for July’s presidential election, but Jokowi is already the red-hot favourite to replace incumbent Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who, after two terms, cannot run again.
From North Sumatra to West Papua, people are looking to this narrow-shouldered, toothy-grinned Javanese man to break the mould of Indonesian politics and begin unwinding the patronage, corruption and indecision that mar it.
The irony of his position, though, is that patronage is holding him back.
Megawati Sukarnoputri, the daughter of Indonesia’s founding president, Sukarno, leads his party, PDI-P, and so far she has not given the nod for him to run for the nation’s highest office. It is looking increasingly preposterous but some still believe Ms Megawati would like to have another crack, her fourth, and another inevitable defeat.