At Glover Cottages on Tuesday evening, 3 March, the well-known journalist Hamish McDonald and an Indonesian desk officer from DFAT, Zulaika Chudori, gave a packed audience their perspectives on Indonesia under President Joko Widodo. Hamish brought along copies of his latest book Demokrasi: Indonesia in the 21st Century, an introduction to the Indonesia that emerged after Suharto.
Hamish said that slightly more than four months into his presidency, Jokowi continues on a very steep learning curve. He adheres to many of the habits of his humble origins and continues to be an inexperienced politician at the national level. Compounding his inexperience is the fact that he remains beholden to Megawati Sukarnoputri, who as head of the DPIP promoted him as a presidential candidate, and considers herself as his political guide and mentor. Nevertheless, Jokowi has at least two runs on the board. He has taken successful steps to halve the petrol subsidy that has distorted the Indonesian market, and he has sensitively handled a recent air disaster in which an Indonesian-owned airliner, QZ 8501, crashed into the Java Sea with the loss of all on board whilst en route from Surabaya to Singapore.
Hamish observed that since Suharto, Indonesian presidents have had far less power than before, and can fall prey to the machinations of a corrupt parliament, a veritable casino for brokerage and patronage. In the sensitive and somewhat vulnerable situation he finds himself, it is natural for Jokowi to resist any suggestion that he is being bullied by outsiders, including perceptions that he is being pressured to provide amnesty for convicted drug dealers and couriers. In this context, a recent attempt by the Australian prime minister to persuade Jokowi to commute the death sentences of Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran by reminding him of Australia’s generosity in providing disaster relief aid, was a misstep which probably reinforced Jokowi’s determination to allow the executions to proceed.
Under Chatham House rules, Zulaika Chudori added some interesting embellishments to Hamish’s observations.
Report by Richard Broinowski