In July, Joko Widodo, universally known as Jokowi, won a decisive victory in Indonesia's presidential elections. Even before assuming office in October, he faces extravagant expectations in a nation that has endured mercurial (Sukarno), repressive (Suharto) and feckless (B.J. Habibie, Abdurrahman Wahid, Megawati Sukarnoputri and Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono) leaders since gaining independence from ruinous Dutch colonial rule.
In a nation with a messianic streak, Jokowi inspires enthusiasm across the spectrum, from the poor and marginalized to businessmen, secularists and moderate Muslims who all invest high hopes in him. He is bound to disappoint, not because he lacks the courage of his convictions, but because so many powerful players have so much to lose if he succeeds.
With Jokowi enjoying a massive lead in public opinion polls the elections were supposed to be a landslide, but his rival Prabowo Subianto hired U.S. Republican political strategists who crafted a nasty campaign of innuendo and false accusations (wasn't Jokowi really born in Singapore?!) combined with lavish advertising and patriotic spectacles to make it a closely fought election. Prabowo contested the results, alleging massive fraud, but his appeal was rejected and the results stand, Jokowi having won 53 percent of the 140 million votes cast with a stellar turnout of about 75 percent in this nation of nearly 255 million.