What to expect from Widodo 2.0


Indonesia President Joko Widodo salutes during a ceremony to mark Independence Day at the Presidential Palace in Jakarta, August 17, 2017 PHOTO/Twitter

Incumbent Indonesian leader’s landslide election win was made official on May 21. Now the hard part begins

Confirming he will carry out a limited Cabinet reshuffle after the annual post-Ramadan holidays, President Joko Widodo has offered a tantalizing clue to the most intriguing question of all: Will Indonesia see a very different president in his second term?

“In five years’ time I will have no more burden. I can’t be re-elected again, so whatever I do will be for the benefit of the country,” he said recently in what may have been a sign of a new resolve, free of the political restraints that have marked his policies so far.

Announcing the official result ahead of tomorrow’s deadline to take the steam out of threatened protests over alleged voter fraud, the National Election Commission has confirmed Widodo won the April 17 election by 55.5% to 44.5%.

The 11% gap, or more than 15 million votes, gives the government justification for taking firm action against Islamic hardliners and other opposition groups seeking to turn the election outcome into a people’s power uprising.

Security forces have gone to their highest alert status, with paramilitary police patrolling downtown Jakarta streets and Army Strategic Reserve (Kostrad) troops conducting rappelling exercises in Merdeka Square in the heart of the city.

The leaderships of the country’s two largest mass Muslim organizations, Nahdlatul Ulama and Muhammadiyah, have called on their more than 100 million members to stay away from the protests called by losing ex-soldier candidate Prabowo Subianto.

Prabowo Subianto supporters attend a rally for the declaration of his victory in the 2019 Presidential election in Jakarta, April 19, 2019. PHOTO/Andalou Agency/AFP Forum/Eko Siswono Toyudho

Anxious to put the election behind him, the president has already turned to business as usual, offering as a distraction his idea of moving the capital to what he now thinks is the best alternative – a site close to the Central Kalimantan province capital of Palangkaraya.

Widodo’s predecessor, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, never had it in him to change in his second term. In fact, by discarding previous vice president Jusuf Kalla, the one man who had cajoled him into making tough decisions, he simply coasted along on a commodity boom some thought would never end.

Widodo doesn’t have that luxury. Vice President Ma’ruf Amin is not going to be of any help on anything, let alone economic issues, and with growth stagnating on five percent he is under pressure from reformists to change the nationalist course he inherited from Yudhoyono.

Economists like Australian Hal Hill aren’t hopeful, predicting the new administration will be “pragmatic and cautious,” apart perhaps from taking a few bold policy steps at the outset, as Widodo did with fuel prices after his hard-fought victory in 2014.

Nor are many Indonesian reformists, including former ministers and other senior officials who believe Widodo will find it difficult to separate himself from the five or six political parties making up his ruling coalition and, more importantly, the vested interests that come with them.

What analysts do agree on is that without a significant revamp of the presidential office, poor coordination in policy implementation and an underperforming Cabinet will continue to weigh heavily on the new government’s effectiveness.

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