The Mayor, The Bull, and The Toll Road

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  • Tri Rismaharini, Mayor of Surabaya. TEMPO/Fully Syafi

    Tri Rismaharini, Mayor of Surabaya. TEMPO/Fully Syafi

    TEMPO.CO, Jakarta - Loyalty to the party ends when a politician is elected to be a public official. This should be a clear and substantive guide to all concerned. Any politician-turned-official who continues to serve his or her party is actually betraying the principles and trust by which he or she has been elected that is to give all precedence to the public interest.

    In practice, all political parties will claim to honor this principle. Yet there are those holding public office who will opt to wear blinkers and remain as a party 'flunkey'. This, however, is clearly not the case with Surabaya Mayor Tri Rismaharini, which is why she continues to be under attack from many of her party associates.

    Risma, who took office on September 28, 2010, is actually no politician. She has no affiliation with any one political party. She is a true-blue bureaucrat, who happened to be courted and then supported by the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) to contest the Surabaya mayoralty, because of her outstanding and exemplary performance as head of the port city's sanitation and parks department. 

    But the PDI-P does not seem to regard her victory as a blessing. Not long after she took over as mayor, she faced attempts by the East Java Provincial House of Representatives to oust her. The dispute followed her decision to increase taxes on billboards around Surabaya, something that made the PDI-P so unhappy it was the loudest party to demand she go.

    Whether it wants to admit it or not, the scenario revealed a collusion of interests between the party and certain influential businesspeople, those who stand to lose the most when there is a tax increase. If opposing voices are heard from the 'people's representatives', it shouldn't be hard to figure out there is an ulterior motive. 

    The ire of provincial legislators particularly among her own PDI-P members became even more pronounced when she rejected plans to build a toll road across the city. As with her reasons to raise billboard taxes, Risma felt the city's problems, in this case the worsening traffic congestion and the need for more equitable development, should take priority.

    As mayor, it should be within Risma's purview to run the city in the best possible way. People may see her as a stubborn, hard-headed person. Yet, her performance so far has been laudable and widely recognized both nationally and internationally. She has received no less than 10 awards from regional institutions in recognition of her work. It is a pity that with such a positive record, Risma continues to be pressured into thinking of the party first, as if somehow it is a debt she owes. 

    The election of Wisnu Sakti Buana as the deputy mayor is a clear indication of the PDI-P's stubbornness to assert its will. The selection process may well have gone according to the rules, as doubtful as that appears, but the very choice of someone who played a major role in trying to oust her makes it difficult for us to see anything positive in the move. 

    There were rumors that Risma chose to resign when her objections to his nomination were ignored. If she had, then it would only have reinforced the perception or misperception of the party's position towards its own members who want to serve the public. Even worse, the collusion between political party and businesspeople would lead to a depletion of resources that would benefit the greater good. 

    To avoid such a destructive outcome, Mayor Risma must remain strong. She should only remember that her main supporters are the citizens of Surabaya and that their support is strong. She should only be loyal to them. Not the party. And most especially not to any businesspeople whoever they may be. (*)