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The stumbling blocks in Jokowi’s plans to take Indonesia forward

As the Indonesian President starts a new term, the programme Insight looks at his challenges ahead, such as corruption, a global economic slowdown and the rise of religious conservatism.

The stumbling blocks in Jokowi’s plans to take Indonesia forward

Mr Joko Widodo aims to help make Indonesia the world’s fourth largest economy by 2045.

JAKARTA: Textile trader Anton Umar was disappointed when Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo was re-elected.

The country needs “someone with a strong religious foundation”, insisted the 51-year-old from the textile market neighbourhood of Tanah Abang, where protests had turned violent after the official election results were announced.

“As a good Muslim, it’s clear that Jokowi is lacking compared to Prabowo (Opposition leader Prabowo Subianto),” Mr Anton told the programme Insight. (Watch the episode here.)

Mr Joko, a moderate, is often accused by his opponents of being insufficiently Muslim and even anti-Islamic, even as others acclaim him for his welfare programmes for the people and for his infrastructure developments during his first term of office.

In his first term, Mr Joko gave freehold land titles to people, among other programmes.

Following his inauguration this month, he enters his new term aiming to help make Indonesia the world’s fourth or fifth largest economy by 2045 — the Vision Indonesia 2045 he launched in May to unleash the country’s potential.

But the 58-year-old faces fresh challenges as the country struggles against growing religious intolerance, corruption as well as to attract foreign direct investment. Will religious conservatism, a widening rift in the society and growing trade deficits derail his plans?

READ: Indonesia's Widodo faces test on reform credentials in second term


Most Indonesians practise a moderate form of Islam. But the recent election has been described as the most polarised campaign in the country’s history, marked by a surge in populist rhetoric and identity politics.

“People who might not have been a religious conservative suddenly carry the banner of religion, just to advance their agenda or just to gain traction with the constituents,” said Wahid Foundation director Yenny Wahid.

Ms Yenny Wahid, daughter of former President Abdurrahman Wahid, was part of Mr Joko’s campaign team.

This conservatism can affect Indonesia politically and economically, said PT Danareksa (Persero) chief economist Moekti Prasetiani Soejachmoen.

Take, for example, last month’s anti-government rally loosely organised by the 212 Movement, the same group that came together to prevent former Jakarta Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama (better known as Ahok) from winning the 2017 gubernatorial election.

Mr Anton, who took part in the rally, said: “(We) hope that one day, Indonesia will be led by someone who has a strong character, who has the ability to control.

“As we’re a Muslim majority, the main foundation is religion … and knowledge. These are needed in order to take care of Indonesia.”

Mr Anton Umar also took part in a protest in May against alleged poll irregularities.

Setara Institute for Democracy and Peace deputy chairman Bonar Tigor Naipospos thinks this polarisation may worsen because “many students and religious figures in Indonesia take reference and learn from what’s going on in the Middle East”.

“They think that Islam from the Middle East is purer. That’s why when they return to Indonesia, they become more conservative,” he said. “They’re the ones who then spread these views to the society.”

Some Middle Eastern countries have been funding scholarships for young Indonesians since the 1970s and 1980s.

And analysts like Mr Bonar believe that Indonesian Islam has become more conservative after years of financing by Saudi Arabia-based Wahhabist religious organisations, which insist on a literal interpretation of the Koran and an austere form of Islam.

The majority of Indonesians tend to be religious, Mr Bonar noted.

Dr Said Aqil Siradj, the leader of Nahdlatul Ulama, the country’s largest Islamic organisation, agreed that some returnees have contributed to the Arabisation of local Muslims.

“I studied for 14 years in the Middle East … I majored in Islamic philosophy, and I only brought back knowledge,” he said. “I didn’t bring back the (Arabic) culture, as it wasn’t suitable for us here.”


An indication of the rising religious extremism in Indonesian society today is the knife attack on chief security minister Wiranto earlier this month.

Authorities said the two suspects belong to the terror network Jamaah Ansharut Daulah, which is among dozens of radical groups that have pledged loyalty to the Islamic State group in Indonesia.

READ: Indonesian security minister's attackers belong to Islamic State-linked terror network: Official

Mr Wiranto, the retired chief of the armed forces, was the first senior politician to be attacked in recent years.

Indonesian security minister Wiranto was stabbed during a visit to Pandeglang, in Banten province. (Photo: Pandeglang Regional Police)

Yet despite the growing religious consciousness, Mr Made Supriatma, a visiting fellow in the Indonesia Studies Programme at the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute, said the country’s terrorist groups are less capable today than a few years ago.

For instance, the recent attack was not made with guns, he cited.

“There are also (fewer) bombings,” he said. “I think the attack was a matter of luck because the attackers, from what I heard, didn’t know who Wiranto was … The attack shows that the terrorist groups are much weaker now.”

Also, in a surprise move, Mr Joko recently appointed his rival Mr Prabowo as defence minister, who is expected to help tackle radicalism given his expertise in this field.

READ: Jokowi's new Cabinet shows commitment to fight extremism, improve education: Analysts

But Mr Edbert Gani Suryahudaya from Jakarta-based think-tank Centre for Strategic and International Studies warned that the appointment would disappoint Mr Joko’s supporters, as Mr Prabowo was backed by Muslim hardliners during the election campaign.

“The question remains whether it would undermine political stability,” the political scientist told CNA last week.

Indonesian Defence Minister Prabowo Subianto gestures towards journalists as President Joko Widodo unveils his new cabinet on the steps of the Merdeka Palace in Jakarta, Oct 23, 2019. (Photo: AFP/Adek Berry)

And in the longer term, will religious conservatism prove to be a stumbling block in Mr Joko’s efforts to transform the archipelago and achieve his Indonesia Vision 2045?

Mr Made believes that conservatism “can’t go hand in hand with progress and modernisation”.

“The main challenge for Jokowi is: How to reconcile this conservatism with progress? he said. “It’s impossible. No country in the world has ever done it … so now he has to choose.”


Already, Mr Joko has fallen short of the 7 per cent economic growth he promised when he took office in 2014. Annual growth hovered at about 5 per cent over his first term.

And the GDP target of US$7.3 trillion (S$9.95 trillion) — to become one of the world’s top five economies — demands an average annual economic growth of at least 5.7 per cent, according to experts.

Dr Moekti, who cited the Sino-American trade war, the global economic slowdown and rising tensions in the Middle East as challenges, said 5 per cent “isn’t enough to (achieve) all of his targets”, which include infrastructural improvements and poverty eradication.

“We have to change the way our economy behaves,” she said, pointing out that
Indonesia must attract more investments, develop its manufacturing sector and depend less on commodities.

“With this slowing global economy, the prices of commodities (have) dropped quite heavily. So it’s also affected our export revenue and our growth.”

Dr Moekti Prasetiani Soejachmoen.

The country’s struggle to attract foreign direct investment has been one of its “big weaknesses” relative to other East Asian economies, noted IHS Markit’s Asia-Pacific chief economist Rajiv Biswas.

“If you look at Vietnam, Malaysia and Thailand, they’ve been very successful in the last 20 years in attracting investments related to exports or manufacturing,” he said.

Improving the skills base of Indonesia’s working population would help to attract more foreign investment and offset its persistent current-account deficit.

But the country also suffers from a shortage of engineers.

Based on data compiled by the World Economic Forum in 2015, Indonesia produces fewer than 50 engineering graduates a year per 100,000 population — fewer than in Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia and Singapore.

“Infrastructure is heavily dependent on having those skills,” said Mr Biswas. “If Indonesia can’t produce sufficient talent domestically, it’s going to be a very big obstacle, particularly in this modern age when technology is so critical to competitiveness.”


While achieving high economic growth seems to be Mr Joko’s top priority, with red tape being cut and processes being streamlined for businesses, he is faced with protests about another issue just as his second term starts.

The law governing the country’s Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) was revised last month by the Indonesian parliament a way that some believe limits the agency’s independence and power to investigate and prosecute graft cases.

READ: So much for eradicating corruption in Indonesia — a commentary

A supervisory council will now oversee the KPK’s policy-making and operational activities, such as wiretapping.

Indonesian students gesture as police shoot tear gas during a protest outside the parliament building in Jakarta on Sep 30, 2019. (Photo: AFP/Adek Berry)

And the public is unhappy with the notion that “the authority to wiretap, and (to select) the supervisory board, is granted to only one person, the president”, said Centre for Strategic and International Studies researcher Arya Fernandes.

If the corruption issue is not handled well, it could undermine Mr Joko’s legitimacy, said Mr Made. “What I’m afraid of the most is that he’ll become a lame duck president for the next five years.

“Because he’s split in the middle, between serving the interests of the elites and doing what people who elected him really want.”

Mr Joko may be giving in to lawmakers’ demands in the hope of getting their support for his 2045 vision, thinks Ms Wahid, who was part of his election campaign team.

Since its formation in 2002, the KPK has jailed corrupt judges, businessmen and over 200 politicians.

“There are many ‘untamed’ oligarchs who are still pulling strings behind the political process. That includes elements of the military, and there are many corrupt groups that try to influence the way things are organised in this country,” she said.

She believes, however, in Mr Joko’s commitment to change Indonesia for the better.

“Democracy is a space where anyone can fight for their interests, and (it does) not necessarily (follow) that the pro-democracy groups will win the battle. It’s always negotiated, it’s always a long-term process,” she added.

“But I still (pin) my hopes on Jokowi because, at the end of the day, we don’t have an alternative.”

Watch the episode here. The programme Insight is telecast on Thursdays at 8pm.

Only time will tell whether Mr Joko's plans will be thwarted.
Source: CNA/dp


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