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Asia

Opinion: Election result bodes well for 'Indonesia's Obama'

The opposition Indonesian Democratic Party-Struggle has become the largest party in parliament. The victory heralds the rise to national prominence of presidential candidate Joko Widodo, writes DW's Grahame Lucas.

This election marks the national emergence of a new superstar in Indonesian politics. The hugely popular governor of Jakarta, The 52-year-old Joko Widodo, is already being hailed as the "Obama of Indonesia."

He has helped his party to victory at the parliamentary elections. So-called "quick counts," which have been reliable indicators of the final results in the past, give the Indonesian Democratic Party-Struggle (PDI-P) some 19 percent - making it the largest party in the new parliament. The result is significant because it marks the first time a former ruling party has returned to power in Indonesia, Southeast Asia's most powerful economy, through the ballot box. Moreover, it has set Widodo on course for the presidency at the elections in July.

The outcome also indicates that a shift is taking place in Indonesia's political system. The country is clearly experiencing its "yes we can" moment with the success of Joko Widodo. He is a fresh breath of air on the political stage in a country still findings its way as a democracy 15 years after the end of the Suharto dictatorship.

A steep trajectory to power

Joko Widodo, or Jokowi, as he is widely known, has demonstrated that he can appeal to millions of ordinary Indonesians across traditional political divides. From small beginnings, he has shot to the top of the political tree in just two short years - untainted as he is by the scandals which have rocked the country recently. Elected as governor of Jakarta in 2012, he has cultivated a youthful image, visited the slums of the capital and pledged to help the poor while at the same time proclaiming his love of rock music. Interestingly enough, many people commented on social media that they would have liked to vote for Jokowi, but searched for him in vain on the ballot papers.

Of course, his name was not to be found there because he was not contesting a seat. In other words Jokowi pushed all the right buttons to convince Indonesia's young population that he is the right man not just for Jakarta but also for the country. He has portrayed himself as a consummate "man of the people." In this regard, he has been displayed remarkable talent. His election as president appears inevitable.

The poll also shows that while the "Jokowi effect" was not as strong as some polls suggested, voters are turning away to some extent from their traditional party allegiances. They have punished the ruling Democratic Party of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono because of a wave of corruption scandals which have swamped the present government. Moreover, the five Islamic parties in the world's largest Muslim country have chalked up a poor result, making only slight gains - probably at the expense of the ruling Democratic Party. Voters have thus displayed a new sense of independence previously unheard of in the country. The vote has been a vote against both religious intolerance and corruption.

As yet untested

But with so much hype surrounding Jokowi, little attention has been paid to his ability to lead a nation of 240 million people - the largest Muslim country in the world. Jokowi lacks political experience at the highest level and is untested in dealing with Indonesia's highly complex domestic politics. Traditionally, political parties have tended to follow the dynastical model found widely in Asia. Dominated by particularly powerful families or personalities, they have tended to serve their own interests rather than those of the electorate. This may put them on collision course with the populist Jokowi, the self-proclaimed man of the people.

If Jokowi is elected president with a mandate for change in July, it is difficult to predict how a consensus between voters' desire for a sweeping reform and the interests of the self-centered and well-entrenched political parties in parliament can be forged. Jokowi would have huge expectations to live up to.

Another factor is simply that no-one knows what Jokowi actually stands for. In Jakarta, he has been both tough and pragmatic. In recent months he has gone to great lengths to avoid clear statements about the policies he would follow in power.

Indeed, Jokowi's charisma, say his critics, has completely eclipsed his party's manifesto. Against this background, the success of the PDI-P, which owes everything to its new superstar, will do much to overcome disenchantment with democracy. But Jokowi should note the painful lessons that Barack Obama had to learn. It is very easy to disappoint those with unrealistically high expectations.

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