Today Indonesia swore in its new President. Being the fourth largest country in the world by population, that should be big news. It occupies an area the size of Europe or the US, is home to 19,000 islands, hundreds of languages and cultures. It’s economy is now the 16th largest in the world and set to grow on the back of its vast resources. The economy is set to be larger than the UK by 2030. It’s also the world’s most populous Muslim country and yet it just elected a man who will celebrate this inauguration by attending a rock concert tonight. Moderate diversity like this needs to be highlighted and upheld.
Equally important, Indonesians voted for a man from outside the political elite and the military for the first time. In true meritocratic fashion, Jokowi is not from any connected family but born in poverty in the slums. He came to prominence as the mayor of cities including Jakarta and addressing the matters that matter, improving the basic health and transport infrastructure of the many. He did this by promising and delivering on hope over fear and what matters to most people, including Muslims; a better life.
This populist approach has and will bring him enemies within Indonesia’s elite. During the election, his opponent, a tainted military man, implicated in various military massacres and the son-in-law of the former dictator Suharto whose family are believed to have been the biggest plunderers of any country in modern times, used every scare tactic from questioning Jokowi’s religion to even his ethnicity. Being of Chinese descent in Indonesia can be dangerous in Indonesia during times of upheaval. Check out the pogroms of the mid-1960s and even 1998.
Jokowi is now president but it won’t be easy. He faces a Parliament controlled for now by the opposition who have already pushed through legislation to scrap elections for regional officials, in a move which already limits Indonesia’s fledging democracy. Soon enough we’ll see moves by the business elites, a small group of entrenched cronies with deep, military links to discredit and undermine Jokowi. They’ve done very well out of the old system.
The standard moves will be used. The police will seek to uncover corruption. The controlled media will pursue it. Local pork barrel politics will ensure a discredited man and the military, who believe themselves to be the guardian of the nation, will talk of the nation being undermined, hinting at intervention. Much will depend on how the economy performs especially resource prices. Indonesia needs to diversity it’s economy. And much depends on whether the twenty and thirty-somethings can keep their dynamic voice heard.
Indonesians have taken a brave step and voted for optimism. It’s not a naive move. It was the only move. All countries should be encouraged and helped along it’s way to greater freedoms and prosperity. Any one who’s visited will remember the beauty of Bali and the outer islands, the orangutan of Sumatra, the temples, and volcanoes of Java (see the banner picture), the delicious food and abundant green but mostly how Indonesians like to talk. They will also remember the shy smiles you encounter. By supporting Jokowi, we’re supporting a progressive Muslim President improving the lives of his many people. It’s no easy task.