Indonesian election: What to expect in Joko Widodo’s second presidential term

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  • Joko Widodo has indicated he will focus on human development in his second and final five years as president


  • He is also likely to continue launching more infrastructure projects, including joint ventures with China


Several hours after polling stations closed in Indonesia on Wednesday, a crowd gathered in downtown Djakarta Theatre to get a glimpse of President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo as exit polls showed he was leading the the presidential race where he is seeking his second and final term.
When Jokowi, 57, appeared to thank them for their support, speaking in his usual slow, measured voice, the crowd roared.
But Jokowi’s first term in office has been anything but a slow train. His presidency was marked by a period of rapid development, which saw the construction of new ports, airports, thousands of kilometres of new roads and other big-ticket items across the country in a span of five years.


Read more on the Political Analysis of Indonesia


In the next term, Jokowi will be focusing on human development,” Yenny Wahid, a member of Jokowi’s campaign team, told the Post. Jokowi has been criticised for not doing more to address abuses of human and minority rights, as well as rising extremism, to prevent alienating hardliners in the world’s most populous Muslim nation.

Exit polls showed that Jokowi lost in several provinces including Sumatra, South Sulawesi and West Java, indicating a rise in identity politics that does not sit well within a plural, diverse Indonesia. Muslim scholars believe it is Jokowi’s vice-president Ma’arfu Amin, a Muslim cleric, who would be well-positioned to handle these issues.

“Ma’aruf Amin has the capacity to strengthen moderate Islam because his programmes are focused on [Muslim] followers,” said Ahmad Suaedy, director of research centre Wahid Institute.

Indonesia limits the country’s president to two terms, so Jokowi will not be entitled to stand again. Many hope this will lead him to govern with more independence.

“He does not have to worry about re-election so he has more leeway in asserting his leadership,” said former environment minister Sarwono Kusumaadmatja.

Widodo's second presidential term
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Among Jokowi’s key decisions is the selection of talented cabinet members to ensure sound policies are formulated and implemented.

Researcher Arya Fernandes, from the Center for Strategic International Studies (CSIS), hopes Jokowi will fill his cabinet with candidates of higher calibre this time around.

“Jokowi should have more confidence to produce a professional cabinet even though political accommodation will still be done,” Fernandes said.

Professor Greg Barton of Deakin University, a long-time observer of Indonesian politics, painted an optimistic yet cautious outlook for Jokowi’s next five years.

“At best, Jokowi will continue to push for basic reforms and developments in infrastructure and in the development of Indonesia’s labour force and human potential,” Barton said.

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“His conservative instincts and the realpolitik nature of his elite backing mean that he cannot be expected to act as a truly enlightened humanitarian reformist,” he said. “It is not realistic to expect him to champion human right reforms to the full extent needed or desired. Nevertheless, there remains considerable scope for progress.”

The same can be expected of the country’s economic policies, Barton said. “Similarly, in the economic sphere, Indonesia will likely continue to remain overly protectionist and nationalistic but here too some reform can be expected and encouraged.”

During his time in office, Jokowi built more than 2,650km of arterial roads and 782km of tollways, 10 airports and 19 ports. He also lined up more than US$300 billion of infrastructure projects, which led to the opening of Indonesia’s first subway line last month after 34 years of planning.

Many of the infrastructure ventures were made possible with Chinese backing, leading to accusations Jokowi had sold out the country by accepting massive loans from China that could lead to a debt trap.

China has also invested massive amounts in Indonesia’s mining industry, such as the joint venture to develop a US$980-million industrial mining park in Morowali regency, Central Sulawesi.

Jokowi’s opponent Prabowo Subianto had railed against Jokowi’s openness to Chinese investment during his campaign, pledging to review the Beijing-funded Jakarta-Bandung high-speed rail project.

Post-election, Jokowi looks set to stay the course in the country’s ties with China.

Widodo's second presidential term
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“He will pursue business ties with China, Japan, Saudi Arabia and other countries as usual. I think it is important to have investments to grow our economy,” said Eric Thohir, chairman of Jokowi’s campaign team. “He will be flying on April 25 to China to attend the Belt and Road Initiative Forum.”

The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is Chinese President Xi Jinping’s signature foreign policy plan to boost trade through investment in infrastructure projects across more than 80 countries in Asia, Europe and Africa.

Last week, the Indonesian leader flew to Saudi Arabia to perform the umrah (pilgrimage), and also had a meeting with Prince Salman bin Mohamad.

Jokowi, a moderate Muslim whose opponents have long painted him as anti-Islam, managed to raise the quota for Indonesians to perform the haj in the holy city of Mecca by 10,000, a development that will burnish his Islamic credentials.

“Our current quota is 221,000 people. Now it has been increased to 231,000,” said campaign manager Thohir.

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