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In the Indonesian capital Jakarta, a former furniture salesman is the talk of the town, that's because of his meteoric rise to governor of Jakarta. And now, according to some opinion polls, he is the most popular choice for president in elections coming up in 2014. NPR's Anthony Kuhn has this profile of a new political star in the world's third largest democracy.


ANTHONY KUHN, BYLINE: Residents give a boisterous welcome to Jakarta's newly elected governor, Joko Widodo. Most folks refer to him by his nickname, Jokowi. He's here for a town meeting with the residents of Kampung Pulo, a Jakarta slum where residents' shacks overlook the muddy, garbage-strewn waters of the Ciliwung River. Jokowi's administration plans to fix chronic flooding here by dredging the river and moving residents into subsidized apartments. One resident tells the governor that he and his family have been living in this neighborhood since before 1945, when the East Indies were still a Dutch colony, and he doesn't want to be relocated. Some neighbors heartily agree.


KUHN: Jokowi faces a daunting task in fixing this city. Greater Jakarta, including its satellite cities, has grown into a megalopolis of 28 million people. Corruption is rampant. The city's gridlock is notorious and getting worse. After the meeting, Jokowi explains that he isn't prescribing any solutions yet. He just came to this kampung or village to listen.

GOVERNOR JOKO WIDODO: Every day, we come to the people, and then we have meetings from kampung to kampung, and from this, we make the policy.

KUHN: He sketches a vision of Indonesian democracy based on providing services.

WIDODO: You saw today, we have a dialogue with the people. We know what they want. We know what they need. So that means democracy like that.


KUHN: Later in the evening, Jokowi joins factory workers and residents watching a traditional wayang or puppet show.


KUHN: Jokowi built his political track record as mayor of the Javanese city of Surakarta. He won the Jakarta gubernatorial election with a populist touch and an effective social media campaign. Kevin O'Rourke, editor of Reformasi, a Jakarta-based journal of Indonesian politics, says that most importantly, Jokowi offered voters a refreshing change of political culture.

KEVIN O'ROURKE: Previous Governor Fauzi Bowo failed to portray himself as a reformer. He still perpetuated too many of the patronage-style habits of typical entrenched political elites in Indonesia, whereas Widodo very much represents an egalitarian, democratic approach to politics.

KUHN: Jokowi has been helped by Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, his ethnic Chinese vice governor, who has done the political dirty work of battling corruption. Recent opinion polls show Jokowi is respondents' first choice for president in 2014, although he hasn't said he intends to run. O'Rourke says that his rise blazes a new path for successful local politicians to make it into national politics.

O'ROURKE: That's important because it replaces the past avenues for political leadership, which have been from the army and from the civil service, and those are areas that are not producing reformers.

KUHN: O'Rourke adds that there are concerns about backsliding of the democratic and economic reforms that have made Indonesia a popular destination for foreign investment in recent years. He predicts that reform will be a defining issue of the next election, and, to Jokowi's advantage, he says, none of the current candidates have any record of reform. Anthony Kuhn, NPR News, Jakarta.

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