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    Jun 30, 2014

    Jokowi battles 'Megawati puppet' image


    WHEN one of Indonesia's most powerful politicians wanted to be part of a new government, he did not approach Joko "Jokowi" Widodo, the front runner in next week's presidential election.

    Instead, sources say, he went to the home of Mr Joko's political patron, a former president who did not impress in her short tenure and who many fear will be the power behind the throne if the favourite wins the July 9 election.

    The politician, Aburizal Bakrie of the Golkar party, was rebuffed by former president Megawati Sukarnoputri.

    She is the daughter of Indonesia's founding president, Sukarno, and dominates the Indonesian Democratic Party-Struggle, the country's biggest party and Mr Joko's main source of support.

    Ms Megawati's short term was characterised by a rise in corruption and a failure to crack down on militancy after the Bali bombings of 2002 that killed more than 200 people.

    But the fact that Mr Bakrie went to Ms Megawati, not Mr Joko, to seek an alliance underlines the biggest worry about the front runner - he may become president but will not be in charge. Critics say he will defer to Ms Megawati and she will call the shots in the new government in South-east Asia's biggest economy.

    It is an image Mr Joko does little to dispel with his public displays of deference to Ms Megawati. Interviews with senior members of his camp suggest frustration with his modest mien, but they were adamant he will not be anyone's stooge.

    "One thing I can assure you, you cannot dictate to Jokowi, he has his own mind," said Luhut Panjaitan, a former trade minister who quit Mr Bakrie's Golkar party to help run the Joko campaign.

    "People say he's a puppet of Megawati, but I promise you, no. He's very polite and very humble but that doesn't mean that he'll say yes to everything you say."

    Mr Joko has a filmstar following in Indonesia. Born in poverty, he has stormed his way to the top rungs of leadership with a clean image and a reputation for competence in local government - a reversal of the autocracy, corruption and power politics that have weighed down the country for decades.

    The only real worry about him, analysts say, is his relationship with Ms Megawati and how it may affect state policy if he wins.

    The other presidential candidate, Prabowo Subianto, repeatedly warns against electing a "puppet" president, suggesting Mr Joko is little more than a president-for-hire who would be tightly on the leash of his chief political backer.

    Opinion polls say Mr Joko continues to lead the former special forces general, although the gap has narrowed and many voters are sitting on the fence.

    But one close aide to Ms Megawati said of Mr Joko: "He is his own man. But he is Javanese and always listens to input from his seniors... In his eyes, she is his senior.

    "He would seek advice on certain issues from Ms Megawati, but he is not being guided by her. That is crucial. He also seeks advice from other senior people that he feels have more experience than him, not just Ms Megawati."