Jakarta. Analysts have warned that the party of President Joko Widodo is committing political suicide by not endorsing the popular and highly regarded Tri Rismaharini for another term as mayor of the East Java capital Surabaya.
The Surabaya chapter of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle, or PDI-P, has made a unanimous decision not to support the mayor, popularly known as Risma, in the election this December, after backing her in the previous ballot.
The PDI-P will instead nominate Deputy Mayor Wisnu Sakti Buana.
Wisnu was the Surabaya City Council’s deputy speaker before taking over from the post vacated by Risma’s previous deputy, Bambang Dwi Hartono, who quit to mount an ultimately failed bid for the East Java gubernatorial election in 2013.
During his time at the council, Wisnu and other PDI-P councilors have often sparred with Risma, reportedly over her refusal to approve an Rp 8 trillion ($680 million) toll road project in the city.
Wisnu was among the city councilors who spearheaded a bid to call a vote of no confidence in the mayor in 2011 over her opposition to the toll road project. The bid ultimately fell flat, as did the project, which was also widely opposed by residents.
Risma even threatened to resign when the PDI-P named Wisnu as Bambang’s replacement without consulting her.
Wisnu, who is also the PDI-P’s Surabaya chapter chairman, said Risma had failed to improve the city or show loyalty to the party, which nominated her in 2010.
“Tri Rismaharini became mayor because of the PDI-P’s support. But she left us in pursuit of her own popularity instead of maintaining the dignity of the PDI-P’s constituents,” he said.
The rest of the world, though, would appear to approve of what Risma has achieved while in office.
In February last year, the City Mayor Foundation named Risma its world mayor of the month, and on Friday the influential US business publication Fortune declared her one of the world’s 50 greatest leaders.
“Elected as Surabaya’s mayor in 2010, Rismaharini has transformed her city of 2.7 million people into a new kind of Indonesian metropolis, one that celebrates green space and environmental sustainability,” Fortune said.
Risma rose to fame in 2005 as the head of the Surabaya parks department, which was responsible for rejuvenating the city’s parks and developing more green spaces.
The mayor has been praised for her hands-on approach to the city’s problems, such as picking up trash along the roadside or getting out of her car to direct traffic.
Arbi Sanit, a political analyst at the University of Indonesia said the PDI-P “has made terrible mistake [...] given the fact that they lack strong candidates outside of the mayor.”
“It’s not hard to say that the PDI-P will lose the local election. It will lose its popularity,” Arbi said. “Now the other parties are trying to lure Risma to join them. That’s good for her.”
The National Mandate Party (PAN), the Great Indonesia Movement Party (Gerindra) and the National Democrat Party (NasDem) are among those that have expressed an interest in supporting Risma after the PDI-P ditched her.
The PAN’s Surabaya chapter on Friday offered its “unconditional support” to Risma, while Gerindra said it hoped to work together with the incumbent “to determine who her running mate will be.”
Cecep Hidayat, a UI political analyst, said PDI-P chairwoman Megawati Soekarnoputri likely felt threatened by Risma’s growing popularity.
“Should people continue to support Risma, the mayor could pose a threat to Megawati and even Puan,” he said, referring to Puan Maharani, Megawati’s daughter and heir apparent to the PDI-P chair.