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Can Jokowi salvage a legacy derailed by Covid-19?

The executive office of the President of Indonesia recently issued a report outlining the current administration’s achievements. Coming two years into President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s second term, the report highlights the promising developments that have taken place under Jokowi’s continual leadership and articulates the legacy that the president envisions leaving behind.

President Joko Widodo’s envisioned legacy, which is focused on bringing out the full economic potential of Indonesia, has clearly been derailed by the Covid-19 pandemic.

President Joko Widodo’s envisioned legacy, which is focused on bringing out the full economic potential of Indonesia, has clearly been derailed by the Covid-19 pandemic.

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The executive office of the President of Indonesia recently issued a report outlining the current administration’s achievements. Coming two years into President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s second term, the report highlights the promising developments that have taken place under Jokowi’s continual leadership and articulates the legacy that the president envisions leaving behind.

This legacy, which is focused on bringing out the full economic potential of Indonesia, has clearly been derailed by the Covid-19 pandemic.

During Mr Joko’s first term in office (2014-2019), Indonesia made firm strides forward, keeping economic growth and inflation steady at around 5 per cent and 2.72 per cent respectively in 2019.

Before the pandemic struck, Southeast Asia’s largest economy kept unemployment at 5.3 per cent, the poverty rate at 9.41 per cent (below 10 per cent for the first), and the Gini coefficient, which measures income inequality, at 0.381. The lower the reading, the less the inequality.

This compared favourably with 5.94 per cent, 14.7 per cent and 0.41 respectively before President Jokowi took power in 2014.

But the pandemic has upended these achievements. By the end of 2020, the economy had shrunk by 2.07 per cent, unemployment had risen to 7.07 per cent and poverty had returned to the double-digit rate of 10.19 per cent.

Can this derailed legacy be salvaged?

As the pandemic seems to be under control now, can the Jokowi administration still deliver on the five promises made at the beginning of his second term, namely: Economic transformation, the continuation of infrastructure development, human capital development, bureaucratic reform, and simplification of regulations?

In addition, the Indonesian government faces the challenge of drafting its Long-Term National Development Plan (2026-2045) and the mammoth logistical task of moving the country’s capital to East Kalimantan.

Realistically speaking, Mr Joko does not have enough time to seal his legacy as he has envisioned it.

The race for the 2024 presidential elections would be heating up by 2023, if not earlier, so the president would have, at best, 15 —  or more likely fewer —  months to work before the political cycle dominates the limelight.

In the remaining time, what can he achieve and what should he prioritise?

Of the five promises, only infrastructure development seems to have borne fruit to a limited extent.

The executive office’s report listed the completion of 33 toll roads, 106 seaports and 21 dams, while 44 other projects are in progress.

Without doubt, these are important infrastructure projects that are needed to enable basic services and improve connectivity in the vast archipelagic nation.

However, other strategic projects, such as the Jakarta-Bandung high-speed rail, the Greater Jakarta LRT and the expansion of Jakarta MRT have experienced delays and are yet to be completed.

Achievement of the other promises continue to lag due to the pandemic, or are hampered by partisan interests, such as bureaucratic reform which will be obstructed or even set back by the revision of the Civil Service Law pushed by political parties.

This revision will very likely lead to the disbanding of the State Civil Service Commission, an institution that had been countering transactional politics involving political parties.

Interestingly, these other promises had not been reiterated in the Jokowi administration’s latest report card, in part due to its focus on the pandemic response.

At the same time, the Long-Term National Development Plan (2026-2045) is stuck in a political rut because of the ruling Indonesian Democratic Party–Struggle’s aspiration to infuse more ideological elements into this technocratic workflow and avoid nomenclature associated with the Suharto era, which in turn would require a revision of the Law on National Development Planning System.

Moreover, the moving of the capital can only commence after the House of Representatives passes the bill at the end of this year or early next year.

The target of moving the Presidential Palace and having President Jokowi start work from East Kalimantan in 2024 is unlikely to materialise, although there is a very slim chance that the Independence Day ceremony in 2024 could be hosted there.

While Mr Joko may not wish it, his legacy cannot be decoupled from Covid-19 and how the government manages this crisis.

This is a fate that no current political leader in the world, from the smallest to the most powerful nation, can escape.

Having put the denial of the pandemic's early days behind him, Mr Joko will have to rewrite his legacy in terms of how he is taking the pandemic bull by its horns and leading the nation out of this multidimensional crisis.

As the pandemic has shown up stark weaknesses in the very areas where Mr Joko had promised improvements, the crisis could very well be used as an impetus for reforming these areas.

For example, more could be done to encourage businesses and human capital to embrace the digital revolution.

The bureaucracy and bureaucratic procedures could be pushed to be more streamlined and efficient because lives and livelihoods are at stake. In turn, the poor coordination between ministries and agencies can be improved so that vaccines are rolled out to the populace at a more rapid pace.

Bureaucratic reform can also pick up the slack on the integration of social assistance programmes, considered by the Jokowi administration since 2016, and could be implemented by 2023, before the end of Mr Joko’s term.

Where human capital development is concerned, the institutionalisation of the National Talent Management body to enhance human capacity development should no longer be delayed.

All these require decisive and prompt action, but implementation through an expansive coalition cabinet that involves almost all political parties and their interests will prove to be challenging.

Mr Joko will have to perform some high-level manoeuvres through his executive office or some other mechanism to deliver on his promises.

If handled well, the Indonesian economy, infrastructure, human capital, bureaucracy and regulations will be well-placed to engage a post-pandemic world.

Leading a nation out of a historical health and economic crisis is not too shabby a legacy to leave behind. The question is whether Mr Joko can accomplish this before the political clock runs out.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHORS:

Yanuar Nugroho and Hui Yew-Foong are both visiting senior fellows at Iseas-Yusof Ishak Institute. Dr Yanuar was Deputy Chief of Staff to the President of Indonesia from 2015 to 2019.

Related topics

Joko Widodo Indonesia development Politics Covid-19 pandemic legacy

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