FOREIGN AFFAIRS by Peter WestmoreNews Weekly
Indonesia's President-elect Joko Widodo
, August 2, 2014
The announcement by Indonesia’s electoral commission that Joko Widodo, the popular governor of Jakarta, was decisively elected President of Indonesia for the next five years, marks the beginning of a new era in Indonesian politics.
Politically, the history of Indonesia since independence can be broken into three periods.
The first was the Sukarno era, which lasted from 1945, when Indonesia declared independence from the Netherlands, until 1967, when President Sukarno was overthrown. In this period, the nationalist President made a name for himself as an anti-Western, anti-colonialist leader, who was one of the global leaders of the so-called Non-Aligned Bloc.
Domestically, Sukarno built the governing structures around himself, based on a powerful executive presidency, and the guiding philosophy of Pancasila in a state which consists of an island archipelago. Pancasila — meaning five principles — refers to belief in God, justice, Indonesian nationalism, democracy and social justice.
Sukarno strutted the international stage while Indonesia’s economic development stagnated and then collapsed in the 1960s.
An attempted communist coup in October 1965 was put down by the army, and Sukarno, who had sided with the rebels, was sidelined. He eventually resigned in 1967, to be replaced by the army leader, General Suharto.
The second post-independence period of Indonesia’s history, 1967 to 1998, was marked by the ascendancy of the armed forces. An initial period of rapid economic growth was followed by stagnation and widespread government corruption. Suharto was forced to resign in the depth of the Asian economic meltdown of 1998.
The third period lasted from 1999 to 2014, during which popular elections saw the election of the Islamic scholar, Abdurrahman Wahid, then Sukarno’s daughter, Megawati Sukarnoputri, and, most recently, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.
In different ways, each of these leaders represented continuity with the past. President Wahid reflected the overwhelmingly Muslim religious character of Indonesia. Megawati Sukarnoputri’s election had echoes of Indonesia’s first president, while her successor, President Yudhoyono, was a former army general.
Interestingly, in one of his last official actions, President Yudhoyono dismissed the Indonesian army chief-of-staff, General Budiman.
Importantly, the last four presidents of Indonesia have been pro-Western, and have supported close and friendly relations with Australia.
Equally significantly, the last three presidents have rebuilt relations with East Timor, which emerged from 24 years of Indonesian occupation in 1999.
Joko Widodo represents the next generation of Indonesians, who were not involved in the independence struggle, nor with the Indonesian defence force, the TNI, which has been a powerful stabilising force in Indonesia since independence.
Born in 1961, Joko Widodo grew up in a city in central Java, far from the bright lights of Jakarta. His father ran a furniture workshop, and he attended government schools, eventually giving him the opportunity to study forestry and timber at the Gadjah Mada University, one of the oldest and most prestigious in Indonesia.
The family’s eviction from rented properties during his childhood made him acutely aware of the suffering of the poor, and he worked hard to provide a better future for his own family, building up his own furniture manufacturing business.
The experience of visiting the well-planned cities of Western Europe in the 1990s had a profound effect on him, and led him to stand for election as Mayor of Surakarta in 2005.
He was narrowly elected, and then set about building Surakarta (also known as Solo) into one of the best-known cities in Indonesia. His can-do attitude, intolerance of crime and corruption, and commitment to preserving the Indonesian heritage of the city gave him a national reputation.
In 2012, he was persuaded to stand as Mayor of Jakarta, Indonesia’s capital city. After his election he set about dealing with many of the social, transport, communications and economic problems of this huge and bustling metropolis. Again, he acquired a reputation for being genuinely concerned about the ordinary citizens.
Interestingly, when standing for election, he chose as his running mate Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, who is both ethnic Chinese and a Protestant Christian, another man of impeccable reputation, but one who belongs to a maligned racial and religious minority.
Basuki is now acting governor of Jakarta.
During the mayoral election campaign and the recent presidential campaign, Joko Widodo’s association with Christians and Chinese Indonesians was the subject of public criticism from Islamists, but these attacks had little impact.
We can expect Joko Widodo, as the new President, to address many of the nation’s great internal challenges, fight corruption and accelerate its economic development.
The good relations which Australia has enjoyed with recent Indonesian leaders can be expected to continue.