John Menadue–President Jokowi and Australia

Jul 25, 2014

The election of Joko Widodo as Indonesia’s seventh president is a victory for burgeoning democracy in our neighbour with 240 million people. It was a victory for civil participation by ordinary people to defeat Prabowo Subianto by a margin of 53% to 47%, by 8 million votes and winning in two thirds of Indonesia’s provinces.

Prabowo had a very dubious performance on human rights when he was in the military. But like so many people from” born to rule” elites he now refuses to accept the result. What would the lower orders know about the need for strong leadership from his business and military friends?  It is similar to the way Tony Abbott behaved after the 2010 election. Denied the prime ministership by a vote of the House of Representatives he set about with Christopher Pyne to wreck the place.

Jokowi will not have a majority in the Parliament. He will need to be a good negotiator

All being well and despite Prabowo, Jokowi will be sworn as president on October 20. President Yudhoyono is likely to smooth any troubled waters in the meantime.

What could it mean for Australia?

In the short term I would think not much. Jokowi will be preoccupied with domestic issues that he campaigned on. He has promised two presidential regulations on corruption and expediting business permit licencing. It is also expected that he will release a third regulation that he promised on religious discrimination directed against religious radicals.

Outgoing President Yudhoyono was well disposed towards Australia and we often tried his patience! President Jokowi does not have the same disposition. We should not take him for granted. He will approach foreign policy issues very cautiously in the early days. He will be guided by professional advisers. Who he appoints to his cabinet will be very important and a good indicator of his priorities.

Jokowi will not have the same sensitivity as President Yudhoyono has on spying issues which offended Yudhoyono greatly. Our spying agencies are often a menace.

For Jokowi, boats will simply not be a priority. Given Indonesia’s other problems boats will remain a third rate issue. An important issue however for the Jokowi administration is how it regards the stategic question of the South China Sea. That might begin to emerge in six months or so. All in all I don’t think we will see much departure from existing  foreign policies.

Attitudes to foreign investment  howeverwill be coloured by economic nationalism which remains a major political issue for all Indonesian political parties.

In all of this it should not be assumed that Australia will get any preferred treatment. We don’t deserve it and we won’t get it.

One issue which could shore up the relationship would be a much more robust business relationship, even given Indonesian reservations about foreign investment. Our investment in Indonesia is 0.5% of our total investment abroad. Yet investment into Indonesia from Singapore and Japan pours in. Indonesia is growing rapidly at twice our rate. It is a member of the G20. But our trade with Indonesia as a trading partner ranks number 12.

Business and economic ties could be the ballast in a relationship which has been difficult from time to time. A business underpinning of our relationship with Indonesia would be a great stabiliser.

Our relationship with Japan was underpinned by business relationships. Leaders on both sides helped us through difficult times particularly after WW2.

Enhanced business cooperation between Indonesia and Australia would be a great help in the years ahead. Politics and governments change but business interests usually goes on and on.

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