At a recent national congress in early April 2015, former Indonesian president Megawati Sukarnoputri – the leader of current President Joko Widodo’s (Jokowi’s) Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) – had a clear message for party members, including Jokowi.
“You’re a product of the party, and you remain at its service,” said the daughter of Indonesia’s founding president Sukarno. A clear signal to tow the party line.
Illustrating a rising tension with Sukarnoputri, Jokowi remained slumped in his front-row seat and shortly left the three-day convention after only a few hours. He had not been asked to give a speech.
Regardless of the reasons, public perception is everything when you’re president, and Jokowi’s swift – and elitist – departure showed a naïve leader intimidated by established power.
Allowing petty issues to interfere with important problems might explain Jokowi’s recent series of flip-flops.
He backtracked on a requirement for foreigners working in the country to pass Indonesian language tests last month.
“Six months in, we’re still facing a big question mark about whether Jokowi is really in the driver’s seat,” said Jakob Sorensen, head of the European Business Chamber of Commerce in Jakarta.
On 20 April 2015, Jokowi had another chance to steer his country in a better direction at the World Economic Forum on East Asia.
“If you have any problems,” he told investors, holding an imaginary phone to his ear, “call me.” The question is – as always – if you, the president, can he actually act or is this just another populist agenda? If he gives me a phone number I got a few thoughts to share.
Expired Trail Period
As a former furniture salesman, Jokowi’s rise to the political elite was largely based on social engineering his presidency. But the emerging pattern of awkward blunders and bad decisions have many wondering if he’s just all style and no substance.
When an unsupportive parliament stood in the way of getting this year’s budget passed, Jokowi passed the task to his advisors rather than handling it himself.
He soon regretted the lazy decision. His aides caused public fury by offering stubborn lawmakers a doubled allowance of US$15,000 for down payments on new cars.
Jokowi was forced to reverse the mistake – a reminder that jaded Indonesians have no patience left when it comes to corruption. The country’s frustration over bribery was, after all, the basis of fresh-faced Jokowi’s rise to power.
A member of the presidential office, Eko Sulistyo, said, “The realpolitik situation is taking energy away from the real work; the economic program, the roads and ports that need to be built.”
But Indonesians are still hungry for change, so the mistakes and rocky friendships of Jokowi’s first six months in office get a free pass – forgiven, but not forgotten.
Jokowi seems to be aware his image is on the line, and recent actions show an attempt to change his back-and-forth persona into a tough reputation. On 29 April 2015, an Indonesian firing squad executed eight convicted drug traffickers – among them seven foreigners – despite a string of pleas from other nations and UN condemnation.
The move fell in line with the harsh death penalty stance adopted by Jokowi when he took office to combat the country’s war on drugs.
A ninth prisoner from the Philippines, a 30-year-old mother of two who was used as a drug mule, was spared at the last minute, reportedly due to a new agreement between Jakarta and Manila to cooperate against regional drug trafficking.
Jokowi immediately clarified what the reprieve meant – in case anyone saw it as another turn-around – by pointing out that he only spared Veloso because of the bigger trafficking case and saying she will eventually be executed.
“This is not a cancellation but a postponement,” he said. His statement will yet to haunt him as he backs himself yet, into another corner.
Jokowi has enjoyed widespread Indonesian support over the controversial executions, although supporters convinced he’s on a path to change should beware the eerie similarities between Jokowi and US President Barack Obama.
With their goofy grins (and gaffes) and lack of political experience outside of the presidency, the two both got off to weak starts that were momentarily forgiven due to their monstrous load of “change.”
There’s also the love/hate relationship between Obama and powerful Former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, that makes the recent Jokowi/Sukarnoputri feud seem tame.
Is life imitating art, art imitating life, or is life imitating life?
By: Anne-Marie Gris