Saturday, 16 August 2014

The promise of Jokowi's presidency

By Luhut B. Pandjaitan, Published The Straits Times, 15 Aug 2014

DESPITE winning this year's election, Mr Joko "Jokowi" Widodo must await the final and binding decision of Indonesia's Constitutional Court. Still, it is only a matter of time before he is sworn in as the nation's seventh president, most likely at the end of October.

Unlike his main rival, a former military man, Mr Joko cut his political teeth in post-Suharto Indonesia and is a product of the Reformasi generation. He comes from the ranks of problem-solving small city leaders rather than a national political organisation. He made his mark with his impressive capacity for getting things done peacefully. He stands out because he rose to national power through merit rather than the family, military or business connections that have helped Indonesian politicians in the past.

Under such a leader, one who has broken the mould, politics will not be business as usual. Mr Joko has not become president simply to enjoy the trappings of power for a few years. He is determined to make a difference and has the capacity to achieve much.

What are the implications of his rule for the nation and the region?

Mr Joko will take over from President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono a politically stable nation, a growing economy and a young, rapidly changing society. Major political threats such as terrorism, ethnic violence in Maluku and the Aceh separatist insurgency have been contained or resolved. Internationally, Indonesia commands respect and is once again exerting constructive leadership in ASEAN.

This means that Mr Joko can focus on domestic, mainly economic, challenges. He will inherit from the Yudhoyono administration many long-term plans, most of them well-crafted. He is aware of the long list of things that need fixing in the economy. But he also needs to focus on a few key issues. Some areas where he can make a big difference include infrastructure, fiscal policy, corruption and education.

In infrastructure, his genius for trouble-shooting could turn a long list of planned projects into reality. In his two years as Jakarta Governor, he demonstrated a remarkable ability to identify and clear bottlenecks. Take the underground mass transit project, which is now moving ahead after years of delays under three previous governors. Indonesians can expect similar progress with many road and power projects that have been stuck in bureaucratic logjams for more than a decade.

In implementing government policies, Mr Joko showed courage by moving ahead with unpopular policy actions necessary for long-term progress. He resolved the case of street traders who aggravated the traffic gridlock in Jakarta by occupying roads. He persuaded people to accept uncomfortable changes and implemented key policies without triggering a political backlash.

Expect him to do likewise in areas such as removing fuel subsidies. This will not be popular, but Mr Joko understands the futility of persisting with a failed policy. He will deploy the resources released through this reform to build infrastructure and provide direct welfare benefits for the poor.

If most of his programmes are implemented well, I am sure Indonesia will achieve economic growth of 6.5 per cent to 7.5 per cent before the end of his term in 2019.

During television debates ahead of the election, Mr Joko showed a clear grasp of national interests and an ability to defend and promote them despite his limited diplomatic experience. His foreign policy will be based on the need to create a stable environment to promote economic growth despite growing regional turbulence. In essence, Indonesia will take the following pragmatic approaches:

First, as an archipelagic state, it will pay greater attention to resolving border issues.

Second, using its "middle power" diplomacy, Indonesia will seek to become a regional power that gives priority to issues directly related to the interests of the nation and its people.

Third, it will seek to consolidate its ASEAN leadership, while strengthening ASEAN cooperation and the regional security architecture.

Fourth, Indonesia can be expected to build up its foreign affairs ministry so that it can support economic diplomacy within the framework of the global economy.

The next five years might not be easy as Mr Joko tackles domestic challenges. But with time and perseverance, Indonesia will become stronger internally as infrastructure constraints are eased and fiscal and other policies are sharpened.

A strong and rapidly growing Indonesia that pursues its interests rationally and pragmatically will be good for the region. Indonesia also values a cohesive and vibrant ASEAN. Indeed, for the past 50 years, Indonesia has been a force for good in South-east Asia, exerting a light touch to help steady regional dynamics.

Under Mr Joko, that same pragmatic and fraternal leadership will be strengthened, with substantial benefits for all of Indonesia's friends in ASEAN and beyond.

The writer, who was a four-star Indonesian general, an ambassador to Singapore and a trade/industrial minister, is now a senior adviser to Mr Joko Widodo.

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