The Peo­ple’s Pres­i­dent

Joko Wi­dodo has laid the foun­da­tions of a new po­lit­i­cal cul­ture in In­done­sia where even a common man can now think of ris­ing to po­lit­i­cal promi­nence.

Southasia - - CONTENTS - By Dr. Raza Khan The writer, a po­lit­i­cal an­a­lyst and re­searcher, holds a Ph.D. in In­ter­na­tional Re­la­tions. He fo­cuses on re­gional is­sues, gov­er­nance, ter­ror­ism and rad­i­cal­ism.

In­done­sia’s Joko Wi­dodo has made his­tory by be­com­ing pres­i­dent of a coun­try where such posts are usu­ally held by the po­lit­i­cal and mil­i­tary elite.

Joko Wi­dodo, pop­u­larly known as Jokowi, has been elected the new pres­i­dent of In­done­sia. From be­ing the mayor of a small city to the gov­er­nor of Jakarta, to the head of state, Wi­dodo’s po­lit­i­cal ca­reer has been marked by many achieve­ments. But it re­mains to be seen whether he can em­u­late his suc­cess as a lo­cal politi­cian at the na­tional level.

The most im­por­tant as­pect of Wi­dodo’s po­lit­i­cal ca­reer is that de­spite his very hum­ble, lower mid­dle­class back­ground, he rose to promi­nence by dint of sheer merit and abil­ity. He grew up in a slum-like lo­cal­ity and started with a small business of sell­ing fur­ni­ture. In a coun­try where an elit­ist po­lit­i­cal cul­ture dom­i­nates, mak­ing one’s way to the high­est of­fice is a huge achieve­ment. From be­ing an or­di­nary in­di­vid­ual to the most im­por­tant per­son­al­ity of the coun­try, the suc­cess­ful jour­ney was made pos­si­ble by Wi­dodo’s hard work, per­se­ver­ance and, above all, his im­age of be­ing ‘the peo­ple’s man’. He formed this im­age by mak­ing him­self al­ways avail­able for pub­lic ser­vice and by show­ing a readi­ness to solve their prob­lems. He reg­u­larly demon­strated th­ese traits while serv­ing as gov­er­nor of Jakarta.

His most im­por­tant ap­proach to gov­er­nance was blusukan – pay­ing reg­u­lar vis­its to low in­come and poor lo­cal­i­ties across Jakarta. Dur­ing th­ese vis­its, he would wear in­for­mal clothes and spend time at mar­kets or walk down nar­row lanes to meet and chat with the peo­ple about their prob­lems, like food prices, hous­ing dif­fi­cul­ties and trans­port woes. This ap­proach made Wododo highly popular among the res­i­dents of Jakarta while he was also noted and com­mended for his ap­proach by na­tional lead­ers. Keep­ing in view Wi­dodo’s sweep­ing suc­cess as gov­er­nor of Jakarta, the In­done­sian Demo­cratic Party – Strug­gle (PDI-P) nom­i­nated him for the of­fice of pres­i­dent, a po­si­tion he even­tu­ally won.

Wi­dodo has def­i­nitely made his­tory by be­com­ing pres­i­dent of a coun­try where such posts are usu­ally held by those who be­long to the po­lit­i­cal and mil­i­tary elite. The rise of a man from a mid­dle­class back­ground to the high­est cor­ri­dors of power is un­prece­dented in In­done­sia’s his­tory. In other words, Wi­dodo has not only clinched the high­est gov­ern­men­tal slot but has also laid the foun­da­tion of a new po­lit­i­cal cul­ture where a common In­done­sian can dream of ris­ing to po­lit­i­cal promi­nence.

How­ever, the new jour­ney will not be an easy one for the pres­i­dent as it is ex­pected that he would try to repli­cate his unique ap­proach to gov­er­nance at the na­tional level. While it is gen­er­ally be­lieved that Wi­dodo will use his ex­per­tise and sin­cer­ity of pur­pose to serve the coun­try, the of­fice of pres­i­dent has never been a bed of roses in In­done­sia. The pres­i­dent is likely to face many chal­lenges in the cri­sis-marred coun­try, which badly needs re­forms. In­tro­duc­ing re­forms is go­ing to be an up­hill task for a num­ber of rea­sons.

There is a huge dif­fer­ence in gov­ern­ing a prov­ince and rul­ing a coun­try, es­pe­cially In­done­sia, which is large and pop­u­lous. In­done­sian so­ci­ety is a com­plex mix­ture of eth­nic­i­ties, so­cio-eco­nomic groups and sub-

groups – each with its own as­pi­ra­tions and in­ter­ests, of­ten con­flict­ing. Cater­ing to the needs, re­quire­ments and as­pi­ra­tions of all the peo­ple and groups is nearly im­pos­si­ble. In ad­di­tion to look­ing after the needs of the pop­u­la­tion, Wi­dodo also has to han­dle the coun­try’s for­eign re­la­tions, which was not the case when he was run­ning the provin­cial gov­ern­ment. For­mu­lat­ing and ex­e­cut­ing for­eign pol­icy is a dif­fi­cult task and will be a test of Wi­dodo’s diplo­matic skills.

Another big chal­lenge for Pres­i­dent Wi­dodo is to deal with an an­tag­o­nis­tic and pow­er­ful par­lia­ment known as the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives (DPR). Cur­rently, two-thirds of the seats in the DPR are held by Wi­dodo’s ri­val party, Prabowo Su­bianto and its al­lies. The PDI-P and three of its al­lied par­ties con­trol 37 per­cent of the par­lia­men­tary seats. A par­lia­ment con­trolled by ri­val groups al­ways acts as an ir­ri­tant for the rul­ing party in the way of de­liv­er­ing po­lit­i­cal prom­ises. As the pres­i­dent is de­pen­dent on the par­lia­ment for the ap­proval of many poli­cies, it will re­quire a lot of his time and en­ergy to mean­ing­fully en­gage and ma­nip­u­late it to achieve re­sults. This will mainly de­pend on his ne­go­ti­a­tion skills.

Also, the of­fice of pres­i­dent in In­done­sia is not used to the in­for­mal ap­proach to gov­er­nance which was the hall­mark of Wi­dodo’s ad­min­is­tra­tion at the lo­cal and provin­cial lev­els. There­fore, he is likely to face tough op­po­si­tion if he tries to in­tro­duce new val­ues to the po­lit­i­cal and ad­min­is­tra­tive arena. A coun­try where most politi­cians support the sta­tus quo, a re­formist leader like Wi­dodo is des­tined to face re­sis­tance. Nev­er­the­less, only a per­son of his cal­iber can bring about and lead real po­lit­i­cal change.

The new pres­i­dent will also have to face chal­lenges on the eco­nomic front. The fore­most chal­lenge in this re­gard will be to re­vive the in­creas­ingly slug­gish na­tional econ­omy. To con­vince for­eign in­vestors to put their money in the largest econ­omy of South East Asia is go­ing to be a dif­fi­cult task. Wi­dodo will have to come up with sound eco­nomic poli­cies. One chal­lenge for him in the eco­nomic arena will be the with­drawal of sub­si­dies on fuel amount­ing to nearly $20 bil­lion. For years, the World Bank and other in­ter­na­tional fi­nan­cial in­sti­tu­tions have been urg­ing In­done­sia to end fuel sub­si­dies. But none of the past gov­ern­ments dared to take this step for fear of up­set­ting the mid­dle­class, which ben­e­fits the most from the sub­sidy, and the oil mafia which con­trols the im­port and ex­port of fuel.

Although the new pres­i­dent promised that he would with­draw the sub­si­dies, the step would be equal to stir­ring up a hor­nets’ nest. Phas­ing out th­ese sub­si­dies is un­der­stand­able as they are a bur­den on the na­tional econ­omy. End­ing them is also needed so that the money thus saved can be di­verted to other sec­tors such as ed­u­ca­tion, health and phys­i­cal in­fra­struc­ture, which are in tat­ters. But, at the same time, many an­a­lysts con­sider the pro­vi­sion of sub­si­dies nec­es­sary as poverty is ram­pant in In­done­sia. There­fore, in or­der to play safe, Wi­dodo will have to make up for the sub­stan­tial amount of sub­si­dies through other eco­nomic mea­sures. This will prove a Her­culean task as the coun­try’s fis­cal deficit is al­ready quite high and the World Bank has pre­dicted that it might reach 2.4 per­cent of GDP.

De­spite th­ese and many other chal­lenges, Wi­dodo has the ca­pac­ity and the con­vic­tion to de­liver – only if the in­ter­nal and ex­ter­nal con­di­tions re­main sta­ble enough for him to achieve his goals.

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