Indonesia’s 7th president

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His first foray into politics was in 2005 when he ran for office as mayor of the City of Surakarta. Many doubted he would win considering his modest background as a property and furniture businessman and an upbringing in a riverside slum. But Joko Widodo, more popularly known as Jokowi, proved them wrong. His accomplishments in seven years were impressive.

Among the things he did were build new traditional markets, construct a city walk for pedestrians, revitalize parks, impose stricter regulations on cutting trees, rebrand the city, promote the city as a center for meetings, incentives, conventions and exhibitions, conduct blusukan or impromptu visits to hear directly from the people their plaints, prohibit family members from bidding for city projects, provided healthcare insurance for all, set up an efficient public transport using double-decker buses and railbus, and established a techno park. These are programs which clearly were felt by the people.

In 2012, he was selected by his party to run for governor of Jakarta. He defeated the incumbent. To many, it was widely seen as reflecting popular voter support for “new” or “clean” leaders rather than the “old” style of politics in Indonesia. Jokowi’s popularity rose sharply following his election as governor and in 2014, he was thrust into the limelight with his nomination as presidential candidate against an ex-general with strong links to an autocratic past for an opponent. He won 53% of the votes and in next month Jokowi will be sworn in as President of Indonesia.

Jokowi ran on an ambitious reform program and vowed to rid the country of corruption-riddled politics and attract more foreign investments by creating a more conducive environment for business: cutting red tape and building infrastructure. Businessmen complain that it takes a lot of steps just to get a permit, a familiar plaint we hear in the Philippines but has since been addressed.


An archipelago like the Philippines, Indonesia has poor infrastructure that has made it difficult to move goods from one island to the other. Indonesia was ranked 53rd in a survey of distribution efficiency of countries by the World Bank. By comparison, Thailand ranked 35th and Malaysia 25th. But the infrastructure needed for the economy to function, specifically, road networks, is sorely lacking and does not match the pace of growth.

About half of Indonesia’s 250 million population, the largest among Asean countries, are aged under 30. That means the country will continue to enjoy the demographic bonus, or the economic benefits of having a large proportion of working-age people, until around 2030. For the first time, Indonesia topped the list of countries cited by Japanese manufacturers as the most promising investment destinations in a survey by Japan Bank for International Cooperation conducted in 2013. But the country could squander the demographic window of opportunity unless it takes effective steps to deal with the raft of structural and policy challenges confronting its economy.

It is clear what the Indonesian government should do to stoke economic growth. It needs to develop the country’s industrial infrastructure while taking measures to ease regulations and attract foreign capital. The ministry in charge of the nation’s industrial policy recently released a report on Indonesian exports involving some 4,000 product categories. The report said 69% of Indonesia’s products are not competitive in Asean markets. A senior official at the ministry says the cost efficiency of many Indonesian industries is low because of their heavy dependence on imported materials and fuels. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joko_Widodo)

He will still maintain his man-of the people approach to governance, reports say, but this alone will not do to run a graft-ridden government. Pledging not to engage in “transactional politics”—cutting deals to give people ministerial posts—he wants to prove politicians can use their positions for the good of the people, and has vowed to champion policies to help the poor and improve welfare. But analysts say while such an approach is commendable, it may prove difficult in a notoriously fractious parliament, which is home to 10 parties and where deal-making and graft have long been the norm. However, Jokowi points out that as Jakarta governor, he had only a small minority in the local parliament but still managed to push policies through by appealing directly to the public to get momentum behind his initiatives.

“Our support is from the people,” he said, adding that “a good program for the people” was the way to success.

He may be in for a surprise. We have seen many who started with good intentions only to be swallowed by the system in the end.

God is Great!

thelmadm@yahoo.com

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1 Comment

  1. it should be mentioned Indonesia is ASEAN’s biggest economy at more
    than $800 billion compared to the Philippines’ $210 billion. What is apparent Indonesia is a favorite amongst foreign investors with the JICA describing it
    as the most promising destination for investments in the region. Since the
    Suharto days and after the Asian financial turmoil of 1998 Indonesia has
    strengthened it’s financial system, and focussing on it’s export industries.
    A Thai automobile-manufacturers association has concluded Indonesia will
    emerge as the biggest automobile producing country in ASEAN. It’s foreign policy that Jokowi might be severely tested on given his lack of exposure.