Jokowi. Image by Iskan Badai.

Jokowi. Image by Iskan Badai.

How much of the ‘new’ politics of president-elect Joko Widodo will get through Indonesia’s transfer of power, asks Hamish McDonald.

Two different types of Messaianism came into play during Indonesia’s just completed election of a new president: a self-proclaimed ratu adil (just prince) in the shape of ex-general Prabowo Subianto, and a more humble ‘one of us’ in Joko Widodo, a carpenter’s son from a squatter settlement.

Joko Widodo, known widely as Jokowi, won the election, but not by the wide margin expected soon after his arrival in national politics via the governorship of the capital city Jakarta, and his small-town start.

His new style of politics was marked by a simple lifestyle, frequent contact with the people who elected him (addressed as the public, ie citizens, rather than the rakyat, the people, signifying more accountability on his part), and use of information technology and social media to reach over the heads of bureaucrats and brokers.

Yet it was placed necessarily, by existing constitutional structures, in a setting of familiar transactional politics and party loyalties. Jokowi now prepares to be sworn in as president on 20 October surrounded by advisors steeped in Jakarta’s ‘old’ politics. The question now is how much of the ‘new’ Jokowi politics will get through the transfer of power.

The transition team set up to advise him shows the hand of Megawati Sukarnoputri, the matriarch of the Partai Demokrat Indonesia Perjuangan (Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle, or PDI-P), who stepped aside for Jokowi only as the election campaign began.

Its chair is Rini Soewandi, who served as trade minister in Megawati’s 2001-4 presidency and before that as chief executive of the Toyota partner Astra. She is regarded as a creature of Jakarta’s cosy big-business and political milieu, rather than someone attuned to the strata of medium and small business that Jokowi says he wants to promote.

Soewandi seems unlikely to turn Jokowi away from the economic nationalism that he was drawn deeper into by Prabowo during televised election debates – notably by expressing support for self-sufficiency in beef and other food items, and by suggesting bureaucrats create obstacles for foreign investors.

As well as his own persuasive skills, Jokowi will need deep economic advice to carry out his declared aim of eliminating the fuel and other subsidies that currently chew up a quarter of government revenue, resources that could go to better targeted education and welfare instead of already better-off vehicle owners.

As yet, the so called ‘Red and White’ camp of parties that backed Prabowo is holding together, with 60 per cent of the membership of the new parliament elected in April. This will be a formidable barrier to getting through unpopular policies, however necessary. Prabowo, still apparently unreconciled to losing the election, could be tempted to show the winner as ineffectual.

However, the return of Jusuf Kalla, a wily businessman-turned-politician from Sulawesi, to the vice-presidency will give Jokowi a powerful aide in political management, especially if Kalla manages to detach the large Golkar block, which he once chaired, from Prabowo and bring it to the government side.

The team’s deputy is Andi Widjajanto, a young academic specialist in defence, who is the son of the late army general Theo Syafei, who joined Megawati and the PDI-P in the last years before Suharto’s authoritarian New Order fell apart in 1998.

Widjajanto is a proponent of modernising the Indonesian military, but it remains to be seen whether he will favour the radical reform of abandoning its “territorial” role, a system of domestic surveillance seen by many experts as an avenue for political interference and corruption. The army, which knows modernisation means a shift of resources to the navy and air force, is using the threat of Islamist terrorism to argue for a continuing domestic security role alongside the police.

Hovering in the background as advisors to the Jokowi transition team or to Megawati are also some retired generals associated with tough security measures as an attempted solution to internal conflicts in Aceh, Papua and East Timor.

Two other team members are experienced political operators from the PDI-P and a smaller coalition partner, the National Democrat Party set up by media tycoon Surya Paloh.

The fifth member, however, is a widely respected educationist from outside the political circus, Anis Baswedan, the rector of Jakarta’s Paramedina University. His inclusion will give substance to Jokowi’s strong but vague campaign plank of helping more young Indonesians pursue schooling to upper secondary levels and beyond.

Civil society representatives who have met Jokowi during the transition have also found him still insistent on openness and accountability in human rights issues. Regarding the 13 activists who disappeared after their arrests during the 1997-98 anti-Suharto protests, Jokowi’s response is: “They must be found.”

He has also met families of Indonesian Communist Party members massacred in 1965-66, who are seeking redress from the government as recommended in 2012 by the National Human Rights Commission.

The outgoing president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, is meanwhile ending his decade in office trying to lessen a widespread sense of a squandered mandate.

His government has belatedly tackled the fuel subsidy (now US$25 billion) by restricting the availability of subsidised petrol at service stations used by private car-owners.

Deals with the big mining companies Freeport and Newmont to end a stand-off over the government’s insistence on domestic processing of ores were dealt a blow on 3 September when the widely-respected Corruption Eradication Commission announced that Yudhoyono’s Minister for Mineral Resources and Energy, Jero Wacik, had been raised from witness to suspect in its long investigation of a petroleum “mafia”.

Slowing deforestation and making Indonesia a major beneficiary of a new global carbon-trading economy was also a declared objective. But a study has just found Indonesia’s clearing of its jungles continues at a rate twice that of Brazil, which has four times the area of tropical forest.

Jokowi does not have all that impressive an act to follow.

Hamish McDonald is journalist-in-residence at the Australian National University’s College of Asia and the Pacific and author of the recent Demokrasi: Indonesia in the 21st Century (Black Inc).

The 2014 Indonesia Update, taking place at the ANU College of Asia and the Pacific 19-20 September, will give a critical assessment of the Yudhoyono years and the challenges facing a Jokowi presidency.