Friends of Ahok and Ahok's Friends  

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  • TEMPO.CO, Jakarta - There are at least two reasons why the Friends of Ahok organization grew so fast: the popularity of Basuki Tjahaja Purnama-Ahok's real name-and a shared spirit to fight corrupt political parties. But today this group of volunteers campaigning for Ahok's gubernatorial campaign next year may be facing problems if it is proven, in one way or another, to be implicated in the Jakarta Bay case currently being investigated by the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK).

    Let's be clear from the start: Ahok has scored some positive points since he took over as governor in 2014. He has applied the principle of transparency in preparing his budget, which has led to a number of confrontations with the politicians sitting on the Jakarta People's Representative Council (DPRD). It did not take long for the public to place him in the 'white' category and his opponents on the council in the 'black' group.

    Governor Ahok has also forced property owners who violate regulations to pay 'fines' in the form of projects. Although the legal basis for such transactions may be questionable, Ahok's decision has led to fast action because, under these circumstances, funding for a project does not need the approval of the council. Take, for example, the Semanggi multilevel intersection, which is being built with fines paid by companies for violating the construction coefficient. Through such innovative breakthroughs, Ahok's popularity and electability has soared.

    He is now preparing to campaign for a second term, and one option is to consider the independent-non-party-route. This has been on his mind since 2014, at the height of his confrontation with the council. Then along came Sunny Tanuwidjaja and Hasan Nasbi, two close associates who conceived the idea of a movement of volunteers, which came to be known as Friends of Ahok. Sunny is now on Ahok's special staff, while Hasan heads a political consulting company.

    The approach really caught the interest of Jakarta's youth and those with a healthy distaste for political parties. In no time at all, Friends of Ahok had gathered momentum and more members. People eagerly volunteered copies of their ID cards in what they saw as a shared struggle against corrupt politicians. Celebrities, who in 2014 backed Joko Widodo for president, now chimed in, accelerating the support for the Jakarta governor.

    Everything went without a hitch until the KPK exposed a bribery case involving developers who wanted to influence the drafting of regulations over the reclamation of islets in Jakarta Bay. Investigation pointed to the involvement of a number of council leaders as well as business people owning reclamation licenses. The trail is said to have led to Sunny, Ahok's confidante. KPK Chairman Agus Rahardo told the House of Representatives (DPR) last week that the agency was also tracking an alleged cash flow from developers to the Friends of Ahok network.

    A former manager of Hasan's consulting company informed the KPK that some of the money had indeed come from reclamation developers and that Rp30 billion were later used to pay for the activities of Friends of Ahok. Tempo confirmed some of the details, such as the purchase of a car.

    The organization of volunteers supporting Ahok and his hand-picked running mate, Heru Budi Hartono, is actually an example to be emulated. In raising campaign funds through a variety of public events, it could help bring an end to any well-meaning politician's strangling dependence on political party funding and all that entails.

    Public funding, which is usually not very significant, creates a positive relationship between the candidate and his or her backers. There is a precedent. It was similar fund-raising that collected enough money needed to build the new KPK building. So far, there have been no other successful examples during local and regional elections.

    Yet, today Friends of Ahok, the movement with noble intentions, might end up to be slightly tainted. Money from companies holding licenses to build on reclaimed land proves there have been 'piggy-back' riders. They have been able to inveigle their way into politics either through the independent or political party route. They find paths to get through to politicians, including clean candidates like Ahok. Eventually, they will have to face KPK charges.

    It is not too late for Friends of Ahok to continue as a movement of volunteers. The organization must immediately rid itself of those who could damage its cause. Having collected close to one million signatures as a show of support for Ahok, it would be too costly to pull up stakes now. Ahok himself can be affected if he is accused of receiving gratuities of one form or another. The results of the KPK investigation will determine whether he remains as the knight on a white horse or whether he is to be moved to the blacklist. (*)

    Read the full story in this week's edition of Tempo English Magazine