Jakarta Governor points the way for London Mayor Sadiq Khan

June 2, 2016

Jakarta  Governor points the way for London Mayor Sadiq Khan

by Kishore Mahbubani*


The election of Sadiq Khan, a practising Muslim, as Mayor of London was rightly celebrated across the world. It confirmed that openness and tolerance, hallmarks of western civilisation, are alive and well. More surprising, perhaps, is that this spirit can be found in parts of the Islamic world, too.

Indonesia is the country with the world’s largest Muslim population. Its capital city, Jakarta, is run by Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, a Chinese Christian popularly known as “Ahok”. This is highly significant. Why? As recently as 1998, Jakarta saw anti-Chinese riots in which more than a thousand people were killed. Mr Purnama and his family had to defend themselves with sticks, Molotov cocktails and machetes.

After 17 months as Governor of Jakarta, Mr Purnama remains immensely popular. He has made some bold changes: closing down trendy but disruptive nightclubs, cleaning up red-light districts, evicting people from slums (while providing them with better housing) and dredging clogged-up canals.

He has also demonstrated his willingness to make difficult policy choices, such as discontinuing a long-stalled monorail project in favour of a more cost-effective and efficient light rail system. Even more significantly, an underground railway, which had been held up by bureaucracy for more than 25 years, is going ahead.

Mr Purnama also believes in transparency. The entire budget of the city of Jakarta is online. Citizens can scrutinise all spending. Even his mobile phone number is public, meaning that he receives a large number of text messages, many of which he responds to personally. The city’s inhabitants feel that their lives are improving.


The City of Jakarta skyline

This is why the attacks on him by hardline Islamist groups such as the Islamic Defenders Front, also known as Front Pembela Islam, are not working. In theory, appeals to religious loyalties by such groups should work against Mr Purnama. In practice, however, they have failed — suggesting that in Jakarta, as in London, a corner has been turned. The big question is why.

One reason could be greater access to information. A little-known fact about Indonesia is that its social media penetration rates are among the highest in the world. There are more than 80m users of social networks in the country. In the new climate of transparency, there is increasing evidence for Mr Purnama’s claim that conditions in Jakarta are improving.

How to succeed politically? Be prepared to die. I am ready to die. Tweet this quote

Corruption is also declining in what was a notoriously corrupt city. Video clips of Mr Purnama berating officials of the city’s transport administration have gone viral. Despite the traditional Javanese preference for avoiding confrontation, he has adopted a brash, in-your-face style that has clearly angered many. He has acquired enemies.

When I met him earlier this year, I asked him for his views on how to succeed politically. He replied: “Be prepared to die. I am ready to die”.

His courage is obvious. And for a Chinese Christian in a largely Muslim society to have displayed such courage could have been politically suicidal. Instead, it has proved to be a vote-getter. A grass roots campaign to put him on the ballot as an independent candidate to run again as governor in 2017 has drawn wide support from the city’s predominantly Islamic population. He has received more than enough nominations.

Mr Purnama’s success in Jakarta is not just a local phenomenon. It demonstrates that we are moving into a new world in which people make more informed and rational decisions on the basis of greater access to information. The citizens of Jakarta are aware how backwards their city had become, even in relation to its Asian peers. So when a Chinese Christian promises that he will study best urban practices from Singapore and Taipei and bring them to Jakarta, they support him.

This is why I believe that we are witnessing globally a fusion of civilisations, not a clash of civilisations. Societies around the world are beginning to learn best urban practice from others.

The brash Chinese Christian Governor of Jakarta is popular among the Islamic population of Jakarta because he says to them, in effect: “You can see on your phones how the rest of the world has moved ahead. Follow me, and I will bring the world’s best practices to Jakarta.”

In theory, an Islamic population ought to have been reluctant to follow a Christian leader. In practice, they are embracing him. This is as significant as the election of Mr Khan.

Ambassador Kishore Mahbubani is Dean and Professor in the practice of public policy in the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy NUS, Singapore.


9 thoughts on “Jakarta Governor points the way for London Mayor Sadiq Khan

  1. Social.media can be largely positive human behaviour in it are also the darkest recesses, the worst of the worst. It’s not simply about numbers. Just because most behaviour are positive, it can enable the horrors of horrors to negate all that is good. It all depends on humanity desire to affirm the positive.

  2. The London Mayor has inherited a Mercedes Benz SL500. It now up to him to turn into a Mercedes Benz L600. Drive the SL 500 carefully and do not try to find out how the Mercedes Bends.

  3. Indeed Ahok is a brave man, I have lived in Jkt for almost 8 years . You can see the great difference today. Yet being a Non Muslim you will be surprised that he can quote the Quran and leave
    many like me and KH (ulama) speechless. Bless Indonesia to move forth with him as the Governor for another term of DKI.

    Ahmad. J,

    Ahok is not afraid to die in the line of duty to his people and country.I admire him.–Din Merican.

  4. he was not elected to the post but rather took over from president jokowi . both of them are squeaky clean. it is this quality and coupled with his ability as an administrator/ leader that has enabled him to get the support of the masses. even though there are attempts to disbar him from contesting in 2017 governorship race by individuals and political parties, nevertherless with jokowi’s support he will prevail.
    give both of them 10 years and one will see real rapid development in Indonesia. this is the kind of leadership quality that Malaysia hungers for.

  5. While most populous Muslim country Indonesia and an advanced society of Christian populated country of UK brazed with an exemplary integration of race card, Malaysia is regressing in its race policies with fools like Hadi-Najib alliance by disintegrating too much of one track minded.

    When do these religious and race bigots in Malaysia set to improve in their mental intellectualism to pave way for a better society to live in Malaysia?

  6. My humble opinion is that, Muslims in general the world over, REFUSE to believe that it is the Scientific culture of the Christian tradition that has made this world a better place to live in , in many many ways….. and made Secularism as the key-word for Success.

    On the contrary, the Muslims are ONE-SIDED , emphasis being substantially by way of spirituality and of religion , which concerns the Hereafter…..of the next life after death…..too much of fear and indoctrination on the masses , about perceived Punishments in hell by God , whereas The Lord is in fact a Merciful and Loving God…..

    This world or the next world are two sides of the same coin, so Sciences or discoveries thereof , CONFIRM and PROVE ‘ Spirituality ‘ , rather than detract Spirituality…..

  7. Ahok treats every Indonesian an Indonesian equally.

    Ahok understands people’s basic needs are universal,regardless of their political,personal or religious beliefs. He delivers inclusively and honestly.
    He is potentially a candidate for the presidency.

  8. There are plenty of predictions made 1437 years ago on Scientific matters in the Qura’n , and indeed for the first 600 years the Muslim Scientists were the first pioneers – followed by Albert Camus not more than 500 years ago. There were a lot of suppression by the Muslim clerics themselves , so the Islamic initiative died down…..

    Next point : If the Lord is a Loving and Merciful God, why is there description of gory Punishment/s in ” Hell ” ? – Muslims/Non-Muslims read the Qura’n properly .
    ( In the translated copy by Sir Al – Suhrawardy ) There are a few Injunctions reflected in the holy Verses :

    ” Verily your deeds will be brought back to you , as if you yourself were the creator of your own punishment ”

    ” It is your own conduct which will lead you to reward or punishment , as if you had been destined therefor ” –

    SO , MAN HIMSELF IS THE CREATOR OF HIS OWN REWARD OR PUNISHMENT ! – In His Absolute Judgement , Lord remains the Loving & Merciful God….He will Judge the Best…..

  9. Time will tell whether Sadiq Khan will be as good as Ahok.

    I mean, in the 4 years (counting in his 2-year Vice Governor period) he’s in office, he really has proven himself by turning the city around. More parks were built, the rivers and lakes cleaned, public services improved significantly, and we finally started constructing the MRT project the people have been clamoring for so long (I think his feats have been described quite aptly in the article).

    Will Sadiq Khan be able to match that (though considering London is more developed than Jakarta, where can he take London)?

    Also, I find this a better comparison article than the ones comparing Jokowi to Obama regarding how they were elected. Looking at their track records now, I find that Jokowi is everything Obama failed to be. They should’ve compared Obama to SBY instead!

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