Opinion: Perhaps we can | Opinion | DW | 19.10.2015
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Opinion: Perhaps we can

Hailed as a representative of a new generation of politicians untainted by the Suharto era, expectations for Indonesian President Joko Widodo were high. But few have been fulfilled one year on, writes DW's Grahame Lucas.

Back in the heady days of last year's election campaign, Joko Widodo was often compared with US President Barack Obama. Jokowi, as he is popularly known, had a simple message to voters: "Vote for me and there will be a fresh start."

He promised to stimulate the economy, do away with unnecessary regulations and provide ordinary Indonesians with a better deal. And at the same time Jokowi pledged to improve human rights and to combat the curse of the illegal drugs trade. Jokowi had a remarkable record as a man of the people when he served as Mayor of Jakarta. Here was a man who cared. In short it was Indonesia's "Yes we can" moment.

To be fair, Jokowi was in a difficult position from the outset. He lacked a parliamentary majority and faced an entrenched and moneyed elite determined to defend its interests and to make life difficult for the "new kid in town."

As a result Jokowi's credentials as a self-styled man of action have suffered in recent months. His attempts to clean up sleaze in the police force have run into opposition from the old elite anxious to prevent past corruption controversies from being put back on the agenda. There is also little progress on the economy.

Lucas Grahame Kommentarbild App

DW's Grahame Lucas

Despite four much vaunted packages to stimulate the economy, growth is only running at 4.7 percent annually, the worst performance in six years. Measures to deregulate do not appear to go far enough. Restrictions on foreign investment remain. Economic policy appears uncoordinated and confused.

Things would have been a lot worse without the huge fall in the oil price. Jokowi's pledge to return growth to seven percent by the end of his term sounds more than optimistic at the present time. His claim that sluggish growth is caused by factors outside Indonesia's control rings very hollow indeed. But the problems do not stop there.

The haze issue

His efforts to stop the annual burning of his country's vast rain forests are anything but convincing. Two months into the annual slash and burn which engulfs the region every year, the President has reached the astonishing conclusion that - as he put it in a recent interview - "early prevention could have resulted in a different outcome." Isn't the President responsible for leadership in times of crisis?

But one should not, of course, be unfair. It is a huge problem, one that Jokowi has inherited. After all, 1.7 million hectares are on fire. But Jokowi's plan to "push regional governments to do more" does not sound terribly convincing. It sounds more like a blame game. Against this background, his claim that it will take three years for measures to combat the destruction of the forests to take effect sounds feeble.

The death penalty

In the one area where Jokowi enjoyed most freedom to act - the death penalty - he took the wrong decisions. Perhaps it was the realization that the economy would take longer to fix than most people realized that led Jokowi to grandstand on the execution of the "BaliNine." After all, tough action against drugs smugglers enjoys public support in Indonesia.

But the repeated bungling of the judicial appeals process involving a drugs smuggling ring made "BaliNine" a household word around the world. The allegations of corruption amongst officials in the judiciary and the finality of executions which smacked of grave injustice did help.

His pledge to improve the human rights situation in Indonesia took a body blow both at home and abroad. After all, the United Nations does not recognize the death penalty as a just punishment for drugs crime.

The world looked on appalled, even more so when Jokowi began to fight to win reprieves for Indonesians on death row abroad. In a terrible drama which played out over many months, Jokowi lost the moral high ground to which he had aspired. Six months down the line, his hardline stance on the death penalty has not helped him domestically. Indonesians prefer to avoid the subject.

Plummeting popularity

Thus, the first twelve months of Jokowi's presidency have been anything but a smooth and successful ride. His popularity is plummeting. His ratings reached a new low of 46 percent in September. The hype surrounding the rags to riches story of the former furniture salesman made good has vanished and disappointment with the President is beginning to take root.

Barack Obama knows the problem. Promise too much too soon and voters will become disenchanted if little or no progress is made. There is no denying the scale of the task facing Joko Widodo. There is no denying that it will take time to fix the economy and to stop the destruction of the rain forests.

But voters need a vision, need orientation and the feeling that progress will be made. That is what a president needs to do. Jokowi will need to do more than just appeal for more time. Perhaps he can still deliver. But the question is just how much more time voters will give him.

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