Wiryono Sastrohandoyo. The new Indonesian President Joko Widodo.

Jul 30, 2014

​Joko Widodo is an upright, decent and honourable person.

It is the general feeling in Indonesia that his election is a victory for the Indonesian people and the generally peaceful election process. This is a sign of the growing maturity of Indonesia’s young democracy.
Jokowi was great during his two terms as mayor of Solo, a small city of half a million people in central Java. He has been less impressive during his two years as Governor of Jakarta with a diverse population of more than ten million people. Now he has to deal with a larger and even more diverse population of 240 million.

Indonesians are proud that their nation is the third largest democracy. But we also know that whilst our democracy is maturing , the democratisation process must continue. It will not be easy. But since the first elections in 1999 in the post-Suharto period, Indonesians have been able to have free and fair elections. So I am hopeful.

Probowo’s rejection and withdrawal from the electoral process reflects the inability of his party’s elites and himself to see the reality of his loss. What we need is reconciliation with his supporters who won 47% of the popular vote. They are a significant part of the Indonesian population and must be heard.
But Jokowi’s electoral victory was achieved in a very close race. If the president was elected by parliament, the Prabowo-Rajasa team would have beaten Jokowi-Kalla easily. Jokowi-JK is supported by a coalition of parties controlling only 37% of the seats in Parliament while Prabowo-Hatta is supported by a coalition controlling 52.1% of the seats.

But the president is directly elected and a majority of parliamentary seats does not mean victory. The new president’s first problem, if he is to govern effectively, is how to swing enough of the Prabowo’s coalition parties’ MPs to his side. At this time it is not clear how he is going to do it. But it is not impossible. Party discipline is weak and some politicians have indicated the willingness to swing. Usually – politics being what it is – at a price.

A problem is how independent is Jokowi going to be? During the campaign Party Chairwoman Megawati Sukarnoputri stressed that Jokowi is mandated by the party and that he is to implement party policy. This involves reviving what is known as Trisaki, that Indonesia is sovereign in the field of politics, self-sufficient in economic affairs and with its own distinctive cultural identity. Fortunately this was not  so strongly emphasized later in the campaign but the relationship between President Jokowi and the Party leadership will have to be worked out. Time will tell. Coalition building is not only done for the purpose of implementing desired policy goals but also as rewards.
During the campaign, Jokowi indicated that he wanted a cabinet of professionals. This will be a good indicator of his intentions and priorities.

Jokowi sees foreign policy as a tool for obtaining benefits for the sake of domestic economic and political growth. He said that Indonesian ambassadors should be the salesmen of Indonesia. In other words: promoting business. And in business relations, business usually takes a longer term and more consistent view. It is in other areas of relations that we usually have worrying problems.

On the South China Sea issue Jokowi’s statements suggest that he does not see Indonesia in dispute with China. Indonesia will seek to play a constructive role for we need both China and the West in the Pacific. We need to ensure that the rising power of China and the pivoting US do not end in conflict.

Relations with Australia will continue to be over shadowed by other more important issues. This is particularly so because Jokowi sees that foreign investment should serve domestic economic growth. His focus of attention in this will mainly be people at the bottom, those who are surviving on one dollar a day. Their living standard has to be improved and fast. During his youth he was one of them. But he is also an experienced businessman who knows that Indonesia needs foreign investment. His view on Australia is still to be developed but  he is not confrontational by nature although not unwlling to be tough. In the past there has been too many breakdowns of dialogue. Australians tend to hold dialogue on a head-to-head basis. The Indonesian way is to hold a dialogue on a heart-to-heart basis. The challenge is for both countries to have more cross cultural communication. Australia and Indonesia need to know how to communicate better.

Wiryono Sastrohandoyo was Indonesian Ambassador to Australia from 1996 to 1999.
This article is in response to questions I asked.   John Menadue



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