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Jokowi, a new era of Indonesia, “may god bless us”!

22 October 2014

Joko Widodo, popularly known as Jokowi, was inaugurated as President of Indonesia this week.  “As the captain of the ship as trusted by the people, I urge you all to get on the ship of the Republic of Indonesia and sail towards Indonesia Raya” he said in his inauguration speech.

Raised in one of Jakarta’s slums, Jokowi is an outsider of the traditional Indonesian political elite. He enjoys considerable popularity as a self-made man but at the same time it means extremely high expectation from his people.

Based on his success governing Jakarta, and before that Solo, Jokowi said he intend to lead the country the same way. He would use the public support to sweep the political obstacles away. However, managing a country which has the fourth largest population, and the world’s biggest Islamic nation is not going to be an easy job.

The biggest challenge Jokowi faces is sustainable growth. With 250 million population, half of whom live on less than 2 dollars a day (the World Bank poverty line) and a further 65 million living on less than 1.25 dollars a day (the Indonesian national poverty line), his people expect an improvement in living standards.

From 2010 to 2012, Indonesia grew at over 6% per annum which was impressive given the impact of global financial crisis. Last year, however, growth slowed and Indonesia swung back to trade deficit and high inflation.  Growth in the first half of 2014 was 5.2% which is still impressive but Indonesians are expecting more from Jokowi, the first president coming from the business world.

Jokowi has vowed to fight corruption, improve infrastructure, and strengthen tax collection. The country has rich resources and a large domestic market. But it is also known for its bureaucracy and corrupt administration. Jokowi will have to tackle corruption if he wants to lure back international investors. He seems to understand this is a top priority. In an interview with Time he stated: “By showing that we can change, that we can follow the rules, then we will create a place where investors will want to come.”

On foreign policy Jokowi has said little beyond his campaign message that he will “exercise an independent and active foreign policy”. He has also spoken of the need to abide by international rules when it comes to maritime issues. He wants to build Indonesia into a “global maritime nexus” - a move that may bring him into conflict with China that has been rapidly expanding its presence in the South China Sea.   

Jokowi will certainly have a baptism of fire in foreign policy. In the coming month he has the APEC summit in Beijing, the East Asian summit in Naypidaw, Myanmar, and the G20 summit in Brisbane.

Once he has settled in one hopes he will also have time to review the EU-Indonesia relationship which has been marking time until the new President was in situ.

It is a daunting domestic and foreign policy agenda. Jokowi seemed to understand this when he ended his inauguration speech with a simple “may god bless us”!