Jokowi – Audacity of Hope Meets “Work, Work, Work”
A smooth, democratic transition of executive power, a new broadly technocrat cabinet whose nominees were first vetted by 2 anti-corruption bodies and a new popular (and possibly populist) president are very positive developments for Indonesia, and another reason to look more closely at this dynamic market.
While the rhetoric has been full-blown and it is easy to point at the difficulties this massive nation of 250 million people spread over 1,000 inhabited islands faces, there is real positive potential.
On the minus side, 40% of the population lives on under $2 a day, education levels are relatively low, infrastructure is inadequate, and corruption has been rife.
But the upside potential is huge. The election of Jokowi (as he is universally known) is more than symbolic. It represents major change and an overturning of traditional elite-controlled power blocs. The single most positive sign to date was the president’s decision to have his list of cabinet nominees vetted by anti-corruption bodies, who flagged 8 nominees. In dropping these nominees, Mr Widodo achieved 2 goals: he was able to drop some of the toxic legacy that horse-trading with traditional power-brokers had hobbled him with, and he was able to signal clearly that cracking down on corruption is a clear priority.
And while pundits have pointed at the horse-trading for positions in government as a sign of weakness (Jokowi controls a fifth of the legislature), it is a sign of pragmatism, and this augurs well going forward. In short order, President Widodo has put together a cabinet that is politically acceptable and consists of some strong technocrats. The mandate is to improve the economy and infrastructure, and this can only benefit the country.
The appointees to three most important cabinet positions (from the viewpoint of development) are encouraging.
Bambang Brodjonegro, the new Finance Minister, is an economics professor who has spoken frequently on the need to cut fuel subsidies and encourage manufacturing. His actions on reform will be critical.
To capitalise on this, major improvements are required in infrastructure investment. Indonesia’s roads are a mess. As the maverick who reformed management at Indonesia’s national rail company, Ignasius Jonan is a critical figure in his role as Transport Minister.
Anies Baswedan is a former dean of a private university and comes to the role of Education Minister with a track record of reform. He has his work cut out for him. Indonesia performs badly on international tests and a lack of resources has meant that in many rural area and smaller islands, the only sources of education are Saudi-funded madrasas.
If progress can be made in these three areas and if priority remains on making real inroads against the country’s chronic corruption, Indonesia’s future (and attractiveness as a market) looks bright indeed. Jokowi’s inauguration speech summed it up: the key to success is “work, work, work”