Combative Jokowi moves to finally unleash Indonesia's potential

Indonesia President Joko Widodo lays out his long-term economic vision for the Southeast Asian nation.


Indonesia President Joko Widodo lays out his long-term economic vision for the Southeast Asian nation. FMTNews

Indonesia President Joko Widodo lays out his long-term economic vision for the Southeast Asian nation.

Commonly known as Jokowi, the 58-year-old leader of the world’s fourth most-populous nation routinely flashes a disarming smile while laying out his long-term economic vision for in a mix of English and Indonesian, the language that unites the diverse archipelago of 17,000 islands.

“I will do my best for this country,” Jokowi said in an interview Friday. “I have nothing to lose.”

He quickly got Indonesia’s finances in order, winning a credit-rating upgrade, though ran into trouble taking on entrenched interests that benefit from protectionism and endemic corruption.

So far, investors have given him a vote of confidence. Indonesia’s stock market has gained about 8% since he was declared the winner on May 21, while the currency is up 3% against the dollar.

He touted moves during the first term to build a range of infrastructure projects, which included a subway line in Jakarta that had been planned for at least three decades.

“I am sceptical that the president has as strong a hand as he suggests,” said Aaron Connelly, a research fellow at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in Singapore, adding that many lawmakers are more loyal to patronage networks than political parties.

To do so, he’ll have to increase tax revenues that have lingered around 10%-12% of gross domestic product, one of the lowest rates in the region.

“Everyone knows that this is why the business community is not investing any more in labour-intensive industries,” said Sofjan Wanandi, the chief adviser to outgoing Vice President Jusuf Kalla. “Even Indonesian companies are going to Vietnam.”

He mentioned that both the unions and the business community aren’t completely happy with the government’s policies.

Jokowi’s ability to push through tough compromises on the economy will also signal whether he can ease social divisions that flared up in recent years, particularly over the role of Islam in the world’s most populous Muslim country.

“Indonesia is moderate Islam, modern Islam, tolerant Islam,” he said.

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