from Asia Unbound

What Jokowi Should Do Now

July 21, 2014

Indonesia's presidential candidate Joko "Jokowi" Widodo gestures to supporters a day after he was named winner in the presidential election in Taman Proklamasi, Jakarta July 23, 2014. REUTERS/Darren Whiteside (INDONESIA - Tags: ELECTIONS POLITICS)
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Certified as the winner of Indonesia’s presidential election by the country’s election commission, Joko Widodo, or Jokowi, has a tough road ahead of him. To defeat challenges to and establish his authority as president, Jokowi will have to work quickly and operate, at least at first, in a style that is not his norm. The former Jakarta governor is a low-key politician, uncomfortable making weighty stump speeches, and unused to the gravitas that comes with the presidency; he has a mayoral style and prefers walking the streets, talking to people, and coming up with pragmatic solutions to problems. But now, Jokowi will have to move outside his comfort zone if he is to establish his legitimacy. For one, he and other leaders of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) should move quickly to logroll other parties into joining their coalition in parliament. The Golkar Party already seems uneasy with the “permanent coalition” its leaders had declared with the party of Jokowi’s rival, Subianto Prabowo, and Golkar should be the first target for PDI-P to bring over to its side. Several of the Islamic parties, too, probably could be won over to the PDI-P coalition in these early days of the Jokowi presidency. Though PDI-P leaders are uncomfortable allying themselves with some of the Islamic parties, Jokowi himself is personally popular with the rank and file of several Islamic parties, who officially backed Prabowo’s coalition only because their leaders had made deals with Prabowo. (Prabowo was never a natural choice for the Islamic parties anyway; he is divorced, not particularly devout, and backed by his rich, born-again Christian brother.) PDI-P and Jokowi should overcome their hesitancy about these alliances and try to tie them up as soon as possible.

Jokowi also should announce what aspects of his policy agenda he intends to push forward immediately. Although he prefers to canvass the public, understand public concerns, and then craft a policy agenda at a slow pace and pressure the bureaucracy to implement it—a very democratic type of strategy—Jokowi does not have time to wait, as he did in Solo and Jakarta. He should immediately launch one or two of his highest priorities, stealing some of Prabowo’s possible argument that Jokowi is unprepared to be president and unpresidential in style. Using his first one hundred days to address some of the economic nationalism concerns that Prabowo has raised—and that clearly resonate with Indonesians—also would help Jokowi.

The president-elect and his allies also should lean on the current president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (SBY), to use all the powers of his office to remind Indonesians that the election is over, barring any judicial challenges. Although his two terms have been somewhat disappointing, SBY clearly wants to be seen in Indonesia and the region as a statesman, as someone who upheld and strengthened Indonesian democracy. Whether he actually did so is debatable, but Jokowi and other PDI-P leaders need to play on SBY’s desire to leave as a statesman. Facilitating a smooth transition and not allowing Prabowo to undermine Jokowi’s first days through street actions and other means would go far toward enhancing SBY’s reputation.

Finally, since Prabowo is almost sure to challenge the election verdict in the courts, Jokowi and PDI-P should have their own, Bush v. Gore-style, team of expert lawyers in place imminently to argue before the Constitutional Court. If they have not already assembled such a team, Jokowi and PDI-P will be one step behind Prabowo.