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Opinion: Joko Widodo's last chance

Vidi Legowo-Zipperer
April 17, 2019

Joko Widodo is on his way to a second term as Indonesia's president. Now, with little to lose politically, he should address human rights issues that he has been ignoring since 2014, says DW's Vidi Legowo-Zipperer.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo waves
Image: Getty Images/L. Zhang

Joko Widodo, popularly known as Jokowi, has done it again. If the numbers from preliminary vote counts are correct, he has won the 2019 Indonesian presidential election.

To be honest, Jokowi's victory is not a surprise. All of the surveys conducted before the election predicted him as the winner. But, since Donald Trump's win in 2017, we have learned not to underestimate the power of undecided voters.

Read more: Indonesia elections: Personality, religion and politics

The 2019 Indonesian election could have gone either way, and both campaigns were fully aware of this. During his last few days of campaigning, Jokowi did everything he could in order to convince undecided voters.

Deutsche Welle DW Vidi Legowo-Zipperer
Vidi Legowo-Zipperer heads DW's Indonesian service Image: DW/P. Henriksen

For example, before the final presidential debate, Jokowi embraced his rock star image, fronting a massive crowd of red and white-clad supporters at the biggest stadium in Indonesia. The performance reminded Indonesians of Jokowi's charisma, something which helped him into office in 2014.

During the 2014 campaign, Jokowi was strongly backed by millennial voters and was called the "Indonesian Barack Obama." He was seen as a representative of the younger generation and was considered to be an outsider who wasn't from the elite circles in Indonesia's government. This image won Jokowi his first term as Indonesia's president.

Read more: Indonesia election puts Islam on the ballot

But this time around, we have a different Jokowi. He's no longer the new guy carrying the torch of hope. During his first term, Jokowi faced widespread criticism from many supporters over his inclination to accommodate the interests of Indonesia's entrenched elite.

Jokowi 'compromised his values'

Jokowi's decision to choose Ma'ruf Amin as his running mate took many by surprise. Amin is the same man who helped send Jokowi's friend, former Jakarta Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, to prison for blasphemy in 2017.

It's no wonder that many of Jokowi's 2014 voters were hugely disappointed by his choice of running mate. It didn't fit Jokowi's reformist brand and contradicted his stance on advocating religious freedom. With the move, Jokowi compromised his values to win political points.

World in Progress: Indonesia at a crossroads 

This isn't to say that Jokowi hasn't done some things well. He has been successful in getting infrastructure projects up and running. This year, Indonesia opened its first subway line in the capital city, Jakarta.  And let's not forget the health care programs and cash transfer cards.

Jokowi's last chance

Under Indonesia's constitution, presidents and vice presidents are limited to two five-year terms. This means Jokowi's second term will be his last.

Jokowi has received a second chance to fulfill his promises from five years ago. But now he has little margin for error. He doesn't have much time, and the people no longer have much patience.

Jokowi began his presidency in 2014 by signing off on the executions of eight drug offenders by firing squad; ignoring last minute appeals by foreign leaders and the European Union. Jokowi defended the executions, saying those convicted would not receive a presidential pardon because Indonesia was facing a drug emergency.

Read more: Indonesia's rightward tilt under a liberal president

He also vowed to have the government confront the country's mass killings during civil unrest in 1965 and 1966. But Jokowi's administration, like all other Indonesian governments, instead ignored or downplayed the massacres.

Jokowi remained quiet as Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, who now prefers to be called BTP, went to jail on dubious blasphemy charges. And under his watch, security forces have cracked down on Indonesia's LGBT community and religious minorities.

Many human rights issues in Indonesia still need to be addressed by Jokowi. However, many of his critics on these issues are thought to have remained silent during the last phase of the election campaign, in order to not jeopardize his chances.

If this is true, it means that the Indonesian people have hope that Jokowi can still fulfill his promises before he steps down in 2024. It is his last term, and he has nothing to lose. This could be Jokowi's legacy. 

Vidi Legowo-Zipperer is the head of DW's Indonesian service. 

Vidi Athena Dewi Legowo-Zipperer DW-Mitarbeiterporträt
Vidi Legowo-Zipperer Head of DW Indonesia