Indonesia is the largest and most populous country in the Malay world, a trinity of countries that used to be grouped under the Maphilindo (Malaysia, Philippines, Indonesia). Despite the racial bond and the fact that we are physically a smaller Indonesia (a smaller archipelago but just as prone to killer volcanoes, killer earthquakes and killer typhoons), there are no strong cultural and commercial bonds that tie the two countries.
The Laxamanas (the original version is Lacsamana) who have lived for generations in my own barrio in Lubao, Pampanga, and the Solimans—who have lived for generations in other Pampanga towns—are not even aware of their Indonesian heritage. And that they still carry the surnames of their Indonesian ancestors in an age that draw baby names from things cyber. For example, babies named Hashtags.
All the glorious blood ties and sense of brotherhood that are expected of peoples with the same ethnicity, unfortunately, have been chipped away by the 400 years of Spain and the subsequent (and undying) love affair with Coke and Hollywood. And currently, with tablets and smart phones.
In 2016, the next presidential election, this might change. We might reconnect with Indonesia in a fundamental way. We might follow its lead in electing the country’s leader. In the July 2014 presidential election of Indonesia, the putative frontrunner is Joko Widodo, the governor of Jakarta, who was a former small-town mayor. Unless Widodo self-destructs, analysts say there is no way he would lose the upcoming presidential election in Indonesia.
Who is Widodo? Why is he expected to win the Indonesian presidential election in July? Why is this wiry and ever-smiling politician (who can’t play a role in our local showbiz except that of the proverbial comic) the rock star of Indonesian politics? Why would the natural affinity of Indonesian voters with legacy politicians, former military officers and philosopher-kings change overnight in favor this outsider?
And the most important question. Why would local voters clamor for their own Widodo in 2016?
The journalistic accounts have described Widodo as having sprung from community-organizing roots, just like President Obama, who once lived in Indonesia with her mother, and has an Indonesian-American half sister.
He is a populist with a clean image and who can get things done. “He wades into floods, sits down with local shopkeepers and settles disputes on-site with neighborhood leaders,” wrote Bloomberg View writer William Pesek of Widodo.
In short, a leader ordinary people can talk with. A leader who shares the pain of his constituency. He is of the common man.
Widodo, the context has to be provided, can only achieve this level of popularity under a favorable environment—the fatigue of ordinary Indonesians with legacy politicians, strongmen and the leadership of cold, hectoring technocrats.
Based on conventional political wisdom, the 2016 presidential election would be a walk in the park for the chosen one of President Aquino. After all, the president has ushered in years of sustained economic growth. The GDP numbers have been the second best in Asia, after China. The determined efforts to stamp out corruption have borne results and biddings for the big-ticket infrastructure projects undertaken via public and private partnership have been transparent and conducted according to the bidding rules.
The Philippines has gotten credit upgrades from the rating agencies. The multilateral institutions have sang hosannas and alleluias on the economic performance of the Philippines under Mr. Aquino.
Why would voters reject a clone of Mr. Aquino given these sterling numbers? Simple, the impressive numbers have not improved the lives of the ordinary Filipinos. Growth has been mirthless, joyless and jobless. The income gains have been vacuumed upward. While the number of Filipinos on the list of global billionaires has been increasing and a Filipino is now on the list of the Top 100 in the world in terms of wealth, the urban slums and the blighted countryside are as poor and as desperate as ever.
More, President Aquino, while being praised for his personal integrity, has no connection or any form of bond with the ordinary Filipinos. He is seen as honest but cold, distant and remote, more enamored of nice growth charts than the reports on enhanced and empowered lives.
Widodo wades into floods. Mr. Aquino inaugurates office towers of commanding heights. Widodo visits slum areas unannounced. Mr. Aquino’s photo ops are 99 percent with plutocrats and oligarchs. Widodo establishes kinship and brotherhood with the 99 percent. Mr. Aquino with the top 1 percent.
Widodo shares the pain and the anguish of the unfortunate. Unfortunate lives are an afterthought to Mr. Aquino.
Mr. Aquino’s growth-at-all-cost leadership has also the misfortune of peaking at a time the developed world has been turning out magnum opuses on the great divide, the rise of “patrimonial capitalism “ and—unless reversed by bold political decisions—the return to the Gilded Age or Belle Epoque.
From Pope Francis to President Obama, great leaders across the globe have recognized that inequality is the major challenge of the times.
President Aquino is the outlier during these challenging times, still stuck to his GDP charts and the upgrades from Moody and whatever. Isolated and remote, still clinging to economic orthodoxies that have been jettisoned and dismissed as bunk.
In 2016, voters will say “ thanks for the nice GDP charts but no thanks.” And they will turn to the candidate who will feel their pain, hold their hand and be with them through floods, poverty and chaos.