Thursday, November 14 2019 | ASIA TODAY INTERNATIONAL - Reporting the Business that Matters in Asia
INDONESIANS OPT FOR ONE OF THEIR OWN
JOKOWI’s tenure as President will depend on his political cunning, his ability to negotiate the Indonesian Parliament and, perhaps, the whims of his Party’s matriarch, Megawati Sukarnoputri . . .
INDONESIANS have elected — dare we say it — a most un-Presidential candidate in Joko “Jokowi” Widjojo – in style and demeanour — to succeed the patrician Javanese, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, as leader of their country.
Jokowi is unlike any of Indonesia’s previous Presidents.
But he has won the Presidential election, beating former Army General Prabowo Subianto — who presented with the bearing of an incumbent. The contrast between the two could not have been greater.
Prabowo was born into a life of privilege and moves in the rarified circles of the Indonesian elite (he married the daughter of former President Suharto, Siti Hediati Haryadi (Titek), and his brother is the billionaire businessman, Hashim Djojohadikusumo).
Widjojo appears as a humble family-loving man who lives a low-key existence with his equally low-key wife, Iriana. He comes across as the friendly man-next-door. And that is precisely his appeal – a sense of connectivity with ordinary Indonesians.
Jokowi grew up poor as the eldest of four children, his father a carpenter. He cut a future for himself by going into the business of manufacturing furniture.
During a television interview, he recalled that the first nine years were difficult. But he was successful enough to afford to send his children to schools and universities in Singapore and Australia.
As his exposure to business is only through his own small company, questions have been raised as to whether he can fully appreciate the demands of business beyond that of SME domestic entities. But Jokowi’s background does provide some inkling into the style of Government he may lead.
He has been introduced to the world as the successful Governor of Jakarta.
Already, he has spoken at length about providing much-needed infrastructure for Indonesia — and through that, access to social support for the bulk of Indonesians.
More than half of the population remains below the poverty line.
During his term as Governor of Jakarta, he made infrastructure development a key priority. Jokowi is now expected to elevate his passion for infrastructure to a national level.
During the campaign, he was quoted as saying that, during his Presidency, he hoped to build 2,000 km of new roads, 10 new airports and 10 new ports — and to create 10 new economic zones.
Indonesian commentators says the new President is very much aware of the obstacles that prevented previous administrations from moving ahead with much-needed infrastructure.
They say he will start to accelerate the process of getting permits. Delays in approvals have dogged construction projects in the past, and Jokowi has promised that his Administration will immediately focus on whatever needs to be resolved quickly to clear roadblocks.
In assessing Jokowi’s likely approach, the Jakarta Post said the Jokowi Administration was unlikely to have a 100-day programme. Rather, he would get to work immediately to improve basic infrastructure. This, in turn would open access to basic social services, such as education and health.
Jokowi was quoted as saying: “We won’t do a programme ‘thing’. But we will get to work as soon as we are inaugurated, particularly on basic needs such as education and health. We will work on accelerating certain processes to improve infrastructure, regarding land acquisitions (and) permits, for instance.”
But many will recall the enthusiasm and promises of SBY when he took office 10 years ago. One of his first actions was to call an infrastructure summit, urging domestic and foreign investors to put their money into
infrastructure. SBY was hamstrung by bureaucratic red tape and corruption.
Jokowi is well aware of these issues, and has promised reform of the bureaucracy. If early price movements on the Jakarta Stock Exchange can be used as a gauge, the market has responded favourably to the new President.
Global investment banks, including Deutsche Bank and Morgan Stanley, in various reports in the lead-up to the Indonesian Presidential election threw their support behind a Jokowi victory. But in truth, support will be guarded, as Jokowi is initially likely to adopt populist policies in line with his concerns for the livelihood and well being of ordinary Indonesians.
There are many issues facing Indonesia, and only a strong Government with the right policies will be able to tackle these.
On the question of trade liberalisation, for example, will Indonesia follow the letter and spirit of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC), which is due to come into effect next year, promoting what will be a common market among the 10-nation community?
Vested interests in Indonesia are naturally voicing concern that Indonesian industry is not ready for a total lifting of import restrictions. They fear that dumping by lower-cost nations will be detrimental to Indonesian businesses.
How will Jokowi deal with the issue of recently-introduced export bans, for example, on raw materials? Will he support existing policy designed to nurture domestic
industries? Jokowi has not enunciated his thoughts on some of these issues.
He is seen as a cleanskin – someone without the baggage of many of Indonesia’s political figures. He has no allegiances
(except to Megawati Sukarnoputri and her party) as such. In this, he is different to Prabowo, who foreign analysts had feared would bring into his Administration his connections to the old Order — and revive the cronyism of the Suharto era.
Indonesia has moved into a more pro-active stance in recent years, especially with ASEAN on regional politics. Will this
momentum be maintained under Jokowi? He is, in a way, similar to Australia’s Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, who had little exposure to foreign affairs when he first assumed the nation’s top job.
In what appeared to be his first overture of co-operation, Jokowi was reported to be supporting Singapore’s move to impose heavy fines against overseas (read Indonesion) polluters, who are causing forest fires and haze that has blighted the air in neighbouring countries.
He is also said to be willing to push to extend a proposed ASEAN pact beyond haze to include other environmental threats.
But the world will have to wait to find out what kind of a leader Indonesia really has for the next five years.
Will power corrupt? Or will political opponents weaken his resolve?
Jokowi will be as good a President as the advice he takes onboard and the support he is able to garner in Parliament. On both counts, there are as yet no clear indications of how things will pan out.
More immediately, Jokowi could be distracted by legal battles.
He faces a legal challenge from an embittered Prabowo over the election result.
There is also a personal challenge. His supporters during the 2012 Jakarta governorship election have filed with the Central Jakarta District Court challenging Jokowi’s decision to leave the Governorship for the Presidency.
His opponents contend that he has no right to leave mid-way through his term (due to end in 2017) – because he will now be unable to deliver his election promise to solve Jakarta’s most acute problems, such as traffic congestion and flooding.
As “an establishment outsider”, Jokowi brings hope of a real fresh start in Indonesian politics, according to the Singapore-based Indonesia-watcher, Derwin Pereira.
Jokowi’s tenure as President will depend on his political cunning and his ability to negotiate what can be the treacherous bear pit that is the Indonesian Parliament.
Not least of all, his tenure could depend on the whims of the matriarch and founder of the PDI-P Democratic Party for Struggle (PDI-P), Megawati Sukarnoputri, herself a one term President for (2000-2004).
Megawati took an inordinately long time to name Jokowi as PDI-P’s Presidential candidate. Sources in Jakarta told ATI her reluctance was due to her desire to ease her daughter, Puan Maharani, into the country’s most powerful job.
Some are rightly concerned that Megawati may not be able to resist pulling strings from the background. Pereira, who runs a political consultancy, believes the “most lethal” challenge to Jokowi will likely come from within his own party.
But having met Jokowi several times in the past year, Pereira also believes Jokowi will be able to meet any challenges likely to be thrown up.
*Florence Chong is Editor of ATI Magazine.