Ubud encounters: Goenawan Mohamad names, reserves judgment on Indonesia’s ‘next president’

Indonesia’s renowned author and foremost man of letters Goenawan Mohamad said he expected Joko Widodo to be the country’s next president. That’s not an uncommon sentiment, even though the Jakarta governor, commonly known as Jokowi, has yet to declare his candidacy,

Unlike many people predicting Jokowi’s election, though, Mohamad didn’t offer an endorsement. “I like Jokowi, I’m watching him,” Mohamad said, but wasn’t convinced he’d vote for him. In an Asia Times article based on a series of interviews and discussions at the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival in Bali, Mohamad also contends that the next president will have limited impact on Indonesia.

Mohamad praised several of Jokowi’s policies enacted during his just completed first year as governor of the nation’s capital and commercial hub. Mohamad said Jokowi and his team had done a good job of dealing with the notorious preman, thugs, who have controlled Jakarta’s Tanah Abang market and other key areas.

Mohamad drew a bright line between premanism and the rampant corruption that infects government and society at every level. “Organized crime is alarming. Premanism is small compared with organized crime behind the scenes. Maybe we are like Sicily a little bit,” Mohamad, founding editor of newsweekly Tempo, observed. “The violence in 1965 [when a million or more people were killed in a purge supposedly aimed at Communists in the wake of the military ouster of President Sukarno that brought General Suharto to power until 1998] was a horrifying example of what happens when gangsters have a free hand.”

Mohamad, dubbed the conscience of his nation, sighed, “I don’t have any answers for this.”

Totally globalized native New Yorker and former broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, high finance, and cheap lingerie. See his bio, online archive and more at www.muhammadcohen.com; follow him on Facebook and Twitter @MuhammadCohen.