Joko Widodo appears to have been re-elected to a second term as president of Indonesia, declaring victory in the election held last week. His win is a victory for stability and continuity in Indonesia, Southeast Asia’s largest country and a geopolitical anchor for the region. Jokowi, as Widodo is popularly known, should now double down on his reform efforts as well as resist more strongly the creep of hard-line Islam into what has been a model of tolerance for the Muslim world.
Last week’s vote was a replay of the last general election held in 2014. Then, Jokowi — a furniture salesman turned politician who was governor of Jakarta, Indonesia’s capital — defeated Prabowo Subianto, a former special forces general who had been involved in human rights abuses while trying to crush the East Timor independence movement. He is also the former son-in-law of Suharto, the dictator who was forced to resign in 1998 after the Asian economic crisis. Jokowi was the first president of Indonesia who was not a member of the political and military elite that had run Indonesian politics for generations.
In 2014, Jokowi won with a 6 percent margin of victory; this time, he more than doubled that number, taking 13 percent more ballots than his challenger, according to a sample of polling stations by numerous survey organizations, a tally that has proven to be accurate in past ballots. Jokowi first said that he would wait for the official count to be released — it must be made public by May 22 — but Prabowo’s claim that he had won a majority of votes — a claim that he also made five years ago — prompted the president to change his mind.
The delay in the official count reflects the difficulties in running an election in Indonesia, a country of 17,000 islands and the world’s fourth-biggest population, with 193 million eligible voters spread across more than 800,000 polling stations. By virtually all accounts, voting proceeded smoothly, with turnout topping 80 percent. Indonesian security officials urged the public to respect the democratic process and warned that they would crack down on any threat to law and order — which was a pointed signal to plans by Prabowo’s supporters to hold public rallies.
If there are no disruptions or unanticipated developments, Jokowi’s second-term agenda should be clear. His first priority will be continuing economic reforms that facilitated 5 percent annual growth (a pace that predated his election) and which yielded GDP of $932 billion in 2016. Jokowi’s reforms of energy subsidies were unpopular but badly needed to raise prices and secure revenues for infrastructure projects. One of his most important successes is the completion of a Jakarta subway line that will help reduce traffic and pollution in the chronically congested city.
Economic success will allow him to continue his efforts to strengthen Indonesia’s democracy. Democracy is under siege throughout Southeast Asia, with governments in Myanmar, Thailand and the Philippines moving toward managed politics and increasingly illiberal regimes. Most significantly, Jokowi must do more to fend off attempts by Islamic hard-liners to increase their power in politics. Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim majority nation, has been a model of moderate political Islam, rejecting the intolerance of the more severe strains of that faith found in the Middle East and South Asia.
During his first term, Jokowi worked to co-opt those forces rather than challenge them directly. He has reinforced his image as a pious Muslim by posting photos of himself on a pilgrimage to Mecca and chose a prominent cleric as his running mate. Now, the president must confront the inroads that hard-liners have made and work to reinforce the forces of secularism and tolerance in Indonesian politics.
Japan should be a strong and reliable partner in this effort. Indonesia is a critical country in Southeast Asia, providing 41 percent of the region’s population and 39 percent of its GDP. “Indonesia 2045,” the country’s long-term investment plan, anticipates that it will become the world’s fifth-largest economy by 2045. Japan was, until 2015, the country’s largest export market; it has since been overtaken by China. It remains Indonesia’s largest provider of direct investment. Historically, Jakarta has been the cornerstone of ASEAN and critical to regional geopolitics. Its support for a regional order that is based on open trade, democracy and the peaceful resolution of disputes will be essential to the success of any such framework.
Japan can win support from Jakarta by continuing aid and investment as well as making determined efforts to help train and educate the country’s young people. Nearly 30 percent of Indonesia’s population is under the age of 14 and they need skills to realize their dream of a better life. Japan’s recent decision to open its doors to more foreign workers is one more way that Tokyo can help Indonesia and help itself.
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