Indonesian president Widodo's foreign policy drifts towards Sukarnoism

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak welcomes Indonesian President Joko Widodo (R) to the Prime Minister's Office in Putrajaya February 6, 2015.
PHOTO: Reuters

Since taking office a year ago, Indonesian President Joko Widodo has pursued a stridently nationalist foreign policy that marks a departure from the multilateralism of his predecessor, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. While diplomats in Jakarta voice concerns about the foreign policy shift, some expect the government to moderate its rhetoric as the president consolidates power and gains more experience.

A decade ago Widodo, or Jokowi as he is widely known, was a small-scale furniture maker with a local degree in forestry. His rise to the presidency of the world's fourth-largest nation was a stunning political achievement, built on his outsider status, a reputation for probity while in local government, and his folksy, "man-of-the-people" manner.

The speed of his ascent meant that Indonesians, and the world, knew little about the political views of a president known mostly for his commitment to bureaucratic reform and a love of street festivals.

Sukarno factor

The one ideological constant of Indonesian politics is nationalism, specifically the brand preached by Sukarno, Indonesia's first president and self-styled "great leader of the revolution." Sukarno's nationalism had a distinct populist flavor designed to appeal to the small farmers, plantation workers, market traders and handicraft makers who made up the bulk of the population during the anti-colonial movement.

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