After months of intense speculation, Indonesia’s rising political star Joko Widodo, known affectionately as Jokowi, has officially announced that he will run for president.
The decision is a major game changer for Indonesia’s upcoming presidential elections this July.
Megawati Sukarnoputri, the head of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), gave her blessing for Jokowi to run late Friday.
“I’ve been given the mandate by PDI-P chairwoman Megawati Soekarnoputri to become the presidential candidate representing the PDI-P,” Jokowi confirmed during an impromptu visit to a slum in North Jakarta.
The announcement comes several days after a symbolic trip to Blitar, East Java, where Megawati and Jokowi paid their respects at the grave of her father Sukarno, Indonesia’s founding father.
The timing is also likely to give Megawati’s PDI-P a huge boost in the legislative elections scheduled for April 9. For a party to elect a presidential candidate without forming a coalition, they must win 25% of the vote.
According to local media the so-called ‘Jokowi effect’ could see the party up to 30% of the vote.
Since being elected as Jakarta Governor 18 months ago, Jokowi has become a household name across the country for his down-to-earth style and habitual blusukan, impromptu spot checks that now keep lazy government officials on their feet.
In a country where the parliament is largely seen as ineffectual and corrupt and politicians rarely mingle with the populace, Jokowi’s approach has quickly made him a man of the people.
The former furniture salesman and mayor of Solo is known to be humble and hardworking, and the noticeable changes his administration has made to a desperately overrun Jakarta have won him huge praise.
Even before it was official he would run Jokowi has been the overwhelming frontrunner.
A poll published in the leading daily Kompas this January showed Jokowi winning 43% of the vote – four times higher than the next closest candidate, Prabowo Subianto.
Subianto, a former army general with a questionable human rights record, has embarked on a mammoth social media campaign in an attempt to prove his political credentials but failed to achieve the support garnered by Jokowi.
Incumbent President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has already served the maximum two terms and the other main contenders this year include another former army general, Wiranto, and wildly unpopular businessman, Aburizal Bakrie.
For months it has been said that if Jokowi runs, Jokowi will win.
Much like the groundswell generated in the first election of Barack Obama in 2008, Jokowi has come to represent hope for Indonesia’s future in a political landscape dominated by an elite with strong ties to the former dictator Suharto.
On Friday afternoon excited Indonesians took to social networks to express their support. Those that have grown apathetic of Indonesia’s political realities expressed excitement for a politician for the first time in years.
Within hours the hashtag “Jokowi” was trending worldwide.
Referring to the ink used to identify those who have voted, Jakarta-based writer and poet Putri Minangsari summed up the mood in one tweet.
“Glad to know I won't have to get my pinkie finger and my conscience dirty come election day.”