Why Ibu Risma Can’t Quit?

Why Ibu Risma Can’t Quit?
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By Karim Raslan | The Jakarta Globe Surabaya isn’t a city for the faint-hearted. Indeed, many Jakartans often look down on the “Arek Suroboyo” for their earthy and even explosive personalities. So as news about the city’s mayor, Tri Rismaharini (better known as “Ibu Risma”) gathers in momentum — she is said to be contemplating resignation, which would be a blow to her party’s election plans — it’s worth bearing in mind that there’s a complex set of forces involved. On one side there’s the capital’s establishment, including Home Minister Gamawan Fauzi and the leadership of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P). On the other there is the most socio-economically dynamic of Indonesia’s cities, represented by Risma. Unlike most Jakarta residents, I actually rather like the City of Heroes’ refreshing candor. It’s certainly a safer, neater and more prosperous place compared to 12 years ago. Much of this is due to Risma — who in September 2010 became Indonesia’s first directly-elected female mayor. She is an exceptional leader: tough, uncompromising and ngayomi — possessing an enduring concern for the public interest. The very fact that this former civil servant was elected mayor speaks volumes about Indonesia’s growing political maturity. 13876808111701980750Under her watch, free education and health care have been provided for the poor. Surabaya is also greener, cleaner and cooler: with countless little parks and open spaces. Risma has not shied away from taking on vested interests, including blocking proposed development projects by Surabaya’s big businesses. Her rejection of more toll roads in Surabaya in favor of mass transit is just the most prominent example of this. Moreover, a series of mysterious animal deaths in Surabaya Zoo (reminiscent of a Scandinavian murder mystery) led her administration to take over its management. I was extremely perturbed to watch Risma breaking down on Metro TV’s Mata Najwa talk show, where the talk of resignation first popped up. Knowing Risma, I was surprised by the revelation. Of course, the sad fact is that the mayor has also been under fire from insiders. Surabaya’s powerbrokers were never really at ease with her. Only months after she was elected in 2010, Risma faced an attempt by Surabaya’s city council to impeach her over a decision to increase billboard taxes. Thankfully, the groundswell of public support and Megawati Soekarnoputri’s intervention put the threat to rest. Unfortunately Risma was then saddled with a new deputy mayor, one Wisnu Sakti Buana, replacing Bambang D.H. — who left to run, unsuccessfully, for the East Java governorship. The irony is that Wisnu had spearheaded the efforts to impeach Risma, as deputy speaker of the city council. The PDI-P has naturally dismissed claims that Risma and Wisnu don’t see eye-to-eye. There have also been vague claims of conspiracies to undermine the party. Risma hasn’t denied completely the possibility of her resigning. And Surabaya denizens have meanwhile embarked on a “Save Risma” campaign both online and on the streets. Whatever the truth is behind Risma’s troubles, it would be a tragedy if her political career were to come to a premature end. She’s a symbol showing that politics isn’t just a get-rich-quick scheme and that Indonesian women can be an extraordinarily powerful force for change. Moreover, she’s been one of the PDI-P’s biggest success stories. Like Jakarta Governor Joko Widodo, Risma is proof that talented people can rise in the republic. The controversy has ironically opened a window for Risma to become a national figure. It’s unsurprising therefore that other political parties are said to be eyeing her as a possible vice presidential candidate come July. One hopes that the PDI-P—whose main strength is its human capital—realizes how valuable Risma will be in the political battles ahead. Karim Raslan is a columnist who divides his time between Indonesia and Malaysia. TheJakartaGlobe.com

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