Joko Widodo: 100 days as president

Joko Widodo: 100 days as president
Indonesia's President Joko Widodo.

Today marks Mr Joko Widodo's 100th day as Indonesian President. Despite criticism that he is an inexperienced lightweight, he has been tougher, more decisive and luckier than anyone expected.

"He has shown that he is extremely energetic and has done more in the last three months than what the previous administration did in its last three years," said Jakarta-based political analyst Paul Rowland.

Mr Joko's high score has been tainted by his controversial choice of a police chief-turned-graft suspect and a zero tolerance approach to certain issues, which has resulted in the blowing up of illegal fishing boats and execution of drug convicts.

While this earned him populist points, it annoyed foreign friends.

Still, Mr Joko, 53, has neutralised a boisterous opposition even while implementing risky policies such as raising fuel prices.

As a result, his Cabinet ministers are already trying to capitalise on the popularity of their boss by mimicking his casual leadership style, some launching high-profile campaigns to get noticed as they carry out his instructions.

Indeed, the President's rise has bolstered optimism about reform being back on track and injected renewed vigour into the fight against endemic corruption.

Early on, Mr Joko showed political cunning when he deferred to the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) to screen names of potential ministers.

KPK, which is among a few organisations perceived as credible, then issued a list of problematic picks, allowing Mr Joko to eliminate names put forward by other political interests.

By doing so, he earned public support.

Another big test he passed was to wean Indonesians off decades of subsidised fuel so that the savings can be channelled to key areas such as infrastructure development and education.

Within a month of taking office, he raised fuel prices and, by the beginning of this year, had removed the subsidy altogether, replacing it with a system that essentially gives the government more control over fuel prices.

Luckily, oil prices were already plunging at the time and, combined with the fact that he did it at a strategic time - when many people were on holiday - the response was unusually muted to such a political hot potato.

"Kudos are due to him for seizing that chance and floating gasoline prices," Singapore-based OCBC economist Wellian Wiranto told The Straits Times.

"The act not only freed up money for much-needed infrastructure development, but also served as a powerful signal to would-be investors that the new administration can get things done."

In fact, an opposition coalition greeted his incoming administration by voting out direct local elections, raising fears of a deadlock. But this week, Parliament reinstated direct elections.

Market watchers cheer this as a sign that the Indonesian Parliament can work together with Mr Joko's minority ruling coalition, and raised hopes that implementing reform could be smoother than anyone thought.

Whether or not this is due to Mr Joko's political genius, it is clear is that he limited his involvement, allowing the country's parties themselves a chance to polish their image for a public that had grown impatient with badly behaving politicians.

Mr Joko's decisions to blow up illegal fishing boats as a "deterrent effect" and to stand firm in the face of diplomatic backlash against his decision to execute six drug convicts have earned strong backing at home.

He is now seen as someone who can be as tough as his defeated presidential rival, former general Prabowo Subianto, who earned almost half the votes. But globally, this was read as a nod to nationalistic tendencies.

Now, a major test looms that could undermine his credibility as Mr Clean and a president who is independent of the influence of his party leader Megawati Sukarnoputri: What to do with police chief nominee Budi Gunawan, who is accused of corruption.

Within hours of Mr Budi being named a suspect, Mr Joko called a press conference to announce that he was "delaying, not cancelling" Mr Budi's appointment.

Disappointed, some of his biggest backers turned against him.

On social media, a hashtag #ShameOnYouJokowi made it to the list of top 10 trending topics on Twitter for a day, an indication of how fragile his public support can be.

A front-page editorial in Kompas last Sunday reminded him not to take the high level of public trust in him lightly.

"Support of the people who have chosen and pinned their hopes is certainly not a blank cheque.

"Do not let your white shirt be faded because people are embarrassed to use it," it read, referring to Mr Joko's trademark white shirt worn with black trousers, a look associated with his clean and humble values.

While many acknowledge that the President has done well overall in his first 100 days, many are also hoping this is not a honeymoon that ends too soon.

zubaidah@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on Jan 23, 2015.
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