The Year of Confused Hope: The Indonesian President’s Year In Review

Photo - Muhammad Fadli

purchasing Lamictal Since a tightly-fought election and a hugely celebrated victory in late 2014, Indonesian President Joko Widodo has struggled with slowing growth, environmental catastrophe, and graft. His term so-far raises questions about the promises for renewal and strong-headed leadership he made on the campaign trail.

The election of Joko Widodo in the October of 2014 was a step forwards for Indonesian civilian government. As one of the world’s few poor, but genuine democracies, Indonesia has struggled with sloughing off the legacy of its past of military rule. Indeed, Mr. Widodo’s predecessor was retired Army Officer Susilo Yudhoyono, and his principal rival was Prabowo Subianto, a former Lieutenant General. Jokowi (as Mr. Widodo is most widely known) was, in contrast, an urban administrator before his inauguration, and did not come from a family with wealth or connections to the political élite. During his mayorship of the middle-sized Javanese city of Solo, he became known for his pragmatism and his seeming incorruptibility—which, in a country struggling with graft, was important. He rose to occupy the governorship of Jakarta before his election as the nation’s President.

Jokowi’s image as relatable, humble and antiestablishment carried him into the presidency on a wave of optimism. How has his history of finding solutions and delivering change to the people of Solo and Jakarta served him as the skipper of the Indonesian state? The unfortunate answer is that, in Jokowi’s Indonesia, things move slowly. Since the euphoria of late 2014 and the presidential honeymoon have both faded, the mood in Indonesia and amongst Indonesia-watchers has moved towards angst. Indonesia faced and faces many problems that are beyond Jokowi’s control or that he has inherited: amongst them, a ‘regulatory miasma’ left behind by Mr. Yudhoyono, an El Niño year, and a slowing China. But Jokowi’s test should be how he has tackled the follies of his predecessors, and the global economic (and non-economic) climate that buffets Indonesia.

http://tenzinga.com/wp-json/oembed/1.0// The Economy

On this front, Jokowi’s performance has garnered mixed reviews. He has moved admirably to cut red tape and boost growth by making import permits on certain goods easier to procure, scrapping caps on imports of tires, promoting Special Economic Zones, allowing foreigners to purchase luxury property and open bank accounts, and seriously loosening visa requirements to prop up the tourism sector (link in Bahasa Indonesia). But despite this, Indonesia’s economy has only grown at 5% year-on-year since his election — below its 10-year average of 5.9%. According to Purbaya Yudhi Sadewa, Chief Economist of Indonesian financial services company Danareksa, the country needs to grow at at least 6.7% to absorb the 2 million young people entering the workforce every year.

In an effort to bolster his government and prove his seriousness at reform, Jokowi reshuffled his cabinet in early August. Notably, this new cabinet includes Tom Lembong, a Harvard-educated, ex-Morgan Stanley now-Trade Minister. Despite these motions, and the Jokowi administration’s adroit management of Indonesia’s debt, the Indonesian Rupiah is continuing its precipitous slide in value against the U.S. Dollar, losing a whopping 8% of its value this year.

Much of Indonesia’s economic woe can be pinned on China’s—Indonesia’s biggest export partner’s—slowing demand for Indonesian commodities. But future growth in Indonesia lies in the export of finished goods, and in domestic demand: two areas Jokowi cannot claim to have no control over. He must still fight to make Indonesia a country easy to do business in, and attractive to foreign firms not just for its rich, if rapidly deteriorating, natural wealth.

Overseas perceptions and the Environment

Southeast Asia, for much of the last year, has been plagued by smoke from Indonesian forest fires. Blazes burning across jungles and peatland, at their most intense billowing more greenhouse gasses than all of the U.S. economy, have pushed Indonesia into the unenviable position of the world’s fifth-biggest polluter in 2015. Whilst Jokowi seems more concerned about these fires than his predecessors, even going so far as to cut short a much-touted state visit to Washington to oversee firefighting efforts, it was ultimately seasonal rain which strangled the flames—not effective governance. Jokowi’s government seems unable to manage land use over Indonesia’s vast and poorly-connected archipelago, which spans the width of the continental United States. He also struggled to find the resources to battle the fires. Up to $200 million may have been spent on controlling them in 2015.

The negative externalities of the slash-and-burn farmland clearance in Indonesia had far-reaching consequences for the country’s relations with Singapore, Malaysia, and even Thailand and the Philippines. A country that is unable to deal with a problem of this scale must be seen as poorly run—marring Jokowi’s efforts at closer relations with foreign countries even beyond the reach of the acrid smoke.

Compounding his environmental woes are the reverberations caused by Indonesia’s execution of eight foreign nationals in 2015, including Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, two Australian citizens whose killings brought relations with Australia to a halt in April 2015. Jokowi refused to acknowledge foreign condemnations of Indonesia’s death penalty policy, and defended it vigorously.

In foreign capitals, the early hopes that Indonesia was heralding in an entirely new kind of leadership have so far been left unsatisfied.

Corruption scandal and weaknesses in his rule

The greatest disappointment in Jokowi’s year in office however has been his botched handing of the Chief of National Police post succession; the subsequent spat between the Police and the country’s anticorruption watchdog, the KPK; and the frightening relationship between Joko and his party’s president, Megawati Sukarnoputri, the episode has revealed.

In early 2015, Jokowi nominated Budi Gunawan as Chief of the country’s National Police, to public outcry. Gunawan had been named by the KPK as a suspect in a pending corruption case, but despite this, the government insisted the transfer of power move forwards. As a former police general, his mysterious wealth raised eyebrows, and pitted the KPK against the Police. A battle for power ensued, as Jokowi was pressured by members of his party and the establishment to position a fellow-establishment nominee at the head of the police force, as a counterbalance to the independent KPK. As citizens protested Jokowi’s inaction, the National Police started a crackdown of their own on the KPK, pulling cases out of cold-storage against its members in an attempt to intimidate them into backing down. Jokowi’s only response was with vague statements and further apathy—a nonintervention many have used to suggest his party, the PDI-P, and specifically its leader, Sukarnoputri, really pulls the strings.

Gunawan was a well-known associate of Sukarnoputri’s. Indeed, in a speech to the PDI-P designed specifically to emasculate Jokowi, Sukarnoputri suggested that he owed the presidency to her, and that he should do what he is told by the party. “It goes without saying that the President and Vice President must toe the party line”, she said. “As the ‘extended hands’ of the party, you are its functionaries. If you do not want to be called party functionaries, just get out!’

During this particular party conference, Jokowi was not given the opportunity to speak. It is unfortunate then that at this critical juncture in his presidency and in his country’s history, Jokowi has been so stripped of his power. A frenzied election has given way to a more sober reality: that it takes a long time for young democracies to evolve and to grow, and Indonesia has many problems that remain unresolved. But as glacial as the pace of change in Indonesia’s large democracy is, Indonesians can rest assured that at least their year in review allows for weaknesses to be fixed, and future development to be charted. The change may be slow, but it is inexorable.