Redefining Indonesia

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As a captain mandated by the people, I’m asking the entire nation to board this ship that is the Republic of Indonesia and to sail together toward a Great Indonesia. We will stretch sturdy sails. We will face storms and ocean waves using our own power.” The stirring essence of Joko Widodo’s inaugural presidential speech on October 20 last year caught the attention of the world even as Indonesia is being steered to a new dawn and a new hope. The story of Jokowi, as he is fondly known, is more than just an inspiration. Positioned against the complex, culturally entrenched Indonesian society, Jokowi’s rise from a commoner on the streets of Surakarta to the presidential seat is that much more remarkable. In fact, it is a testament that it is still possible to realise one’s dreams in a nation such as Indonesia. In this issue, Top 10 of Asia takes a look at Indonesia’s new president- a leader to watch, a beacon of inspiration and hope for Indonesians and the world.

As he was sworn in as the seventh president of the Republic of Indonesia, Joko Widodo (Jokowi) entered the Indonesian political arena bringing with him a renewed sense of hope for generations of Indonesians striving for political and economic transformations. Once languidly observed as a dynastic regime, engulfed in political tribulations and widespread street unrest, Jokowi’s political foray is a refreshing breath of vigour and energy, reflecting the dynamic spirit of Indonesia. The slumbering Garuda has awakened. The country has abundant resources be it people, land or natural resources. The missing factor has been effective leadership which Indonesians feel can be fulfilled by a new calibre of leadership. Jokowi possesses the capability of taking on the challenge of elevating Indonesia to greater heights of prosperity.

Born on June 21, 1961, Jokowi epitomises the rags-to-riches story of Indonesia’s middle-class. As a young man living along the river-side habitats of Surakarta, Jokowi gained an introspective experience of urban poverty. He has a profound understanding of the dire needs of the urban poor that has ingrained in him the trials and tribulations of survivorship. Subsequent to securing a degree in forestry, he served as a forest ranger before deciding to move into the furniture industry in Surakarta. Jokowi felt that his forte was in actualising art through wood rather than preserving them.

After moving back to Surakarta, Jokowi faced head-on the city’s ruthless cycle of extreme poverty. With his gung-ho spirit of resolving issues, Jokowi found himself on the ground interacting and spearheading changes that brought about discernible improvements for the people of Surakarta. Winning the post of mayor of Surakarta was a smooth transition that enabled Jokowi to demonstrate his style of political leadership – a stark contrast to the political leadership style of his predecessors.

Jokowi’s people-oriented style of walkabouts, termed as blusukan, and displaying a personal touch has gone down well with its citizens. His altruistic intentions of cleaning up the country through honesty and transparency could be considered as naïve pragmatism but has realised results. The refreshing optimism of ‘can-do’ or punya gaye has instilled a greater level of self-confidence amongst Indonesians, that it is possible to elevate oneself despite the persistent and challenging odds of coming out of the vicious cycle of poverty. Indonesians, who for decades were used to dealing with political figures remotely from plush offices, have taken positively to this striking new style of down-to-earth leadership. After all, a president travelling in economy class is a novelty for most Indonesians.

His success as mayor of Surakarta was followed by another major win as governor of Jakarta, which eventually led to presidential nominations. Jokowi’s presidential win was quite unexpected given that by default, leaders were associated with the scions of elite political and military families. The perseverance, fortitude and skill in emerging as a champion by beating all odds define Jokowi. His meteoric journey to the presidential seat had been encumbered by intense rivalry hurdles that existed not only within the opposition but also within his own party, the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P).

Jokowi’s test of his political mettle will come into play during his tenure as presidency. The leadership of a complex country such as Indonesia calls for the savvy skills of a politician par excellence. Since taking office, Jokowi’s presidency has resolved to focus on Indonesia and her people with a three-pronged policy of improving infrastructure, fighting corruption and strengthening tax collection.

Policies which hitherto had been ineffective have been re-invigorated with a domestic direction, including strategic defences of military, police and maritime. Foreign policies outlined by Jokowi’s administration have refocused from an internationalist world view to a pro-people direction that prioritises Indonesians, such as increasing protection for overseas Indonesians, protecting the sovereignty of Indonesia and intensifying economic diplomacy.

Although the new administration provides direction in enhancing Indonesian’s position within the domestic and socio-economic arena, the reality of execution has to take into consideration the surrounding complexities of the bureaucratic systems, transformation of mind-sets and a political will in realising results. The diplomatic skills of the president’s administration have to be broadened to allow for greater flexibility and prioritisation of situations, taking into consideration entrenched institutional norms.

Jokowi’s rise to presidency has raised the hope of Indonesians that the impossible is in fact possible, a new dawn on the brink of prosperity. It’s a reconfirmation that the old-fashioned attributes of hard work, dedication and perseverance has not gone out of style.

Issue 8/2015

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