Indonesia to inaugurate first president without ties to ex-dictator

 Joko Widodo will cap a remarkable rise from an upbringing in a riverside slum when he is sworn in as Indonesia’s president Monday, but takes power amid doubts about his ability to enact much-needed reforms.

October 19, 2014

JAKARTA: Joko Widodo will cap a remarkable rise from an upbringing in a riverside slum when he is sworn in as Indonesia’s president Monday, but takes power amid doubts about his ability to enact much-needed reforms.

Indonesia’s first leader without deep roots in the era of dictator Suharto, Widodo will be sworn in at a ceremony in parliament attended by foreign dignitaries, including US Secretary of State John Kerry and Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott.

After the inauguration, Widodo, known by his nickname Jokowi, will travel through Jakarta in a horse-drawn carriage accompanied by a parade to the presidential palace, and in the evening the heavy metal fan is expected to join rock bands on stage at an outdoor concert.

About 24,000 police and military personnel will be deployed to secure the day’s events, which will see Widodo, only Indonesia’s second directly elected president, taking over from former general Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono after a decade in power.

“It’s quite a historic moment for Indonesia to have Jokowi as president,” said political analyst Tobias Basuki, from Jakarta think-tank the Centre for Strategic and International Studies.

The 53-year-old former furniture exporter who won national attention as Jakarta governor is a “regular commoner”, Basuki said, unlike previous Indonesian leaders since Suharto’s downfall in 1998, who were political and military elites.

The Suharto era was marked by the dictator’s severe repression and colossal corruption.

But the euphoria of the inauguration is likely to be short-lived, analysts warn, as Widodo faces up to the task of leading the world’s fourth most populous country, with 250 million people spread over more than 17,000 islands, at a critical moment.

Growth in Southeast Asia’s top economy is at five-year lows, corruption remains rampant, and fears are mounting that support for the Islamic State group could spawn a new generation of radicals in the world’s most populous Muslim-majority country.

Easing tensions

In one piece of good news, defeated presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto unexpectedly met Widodo Friday for the first time since the election and pledged support, a dramatic U-turn for the ex-general who took his loss badly.

“I conveyed to the party that I lead, my friends and supporters, to back Jokowi and his government,” said the controversial figure, who used to be married to one of Suharto’s daughters and has a chequered human rights record.

The meeting offered a glimmer of hope Widodo may face an easier time getting his reform agenda through parliament, where Prabowo’s supporters have a majority they have used in recent weeks to abolish the direct election of local leaders, a move opposed by Widodo, and win key posts in the legislature.

Nevertheless, analysts warned the reconciliation may not last and noted that Prabowo had left the door open to future opposition by saying his side were still ready to criticise policies.

Even without Prabowo’s resistance, it will still be tough for Widodo, a political outsider, to enact major reforms aimed at reviving the economy and improving healthcare and education in the cutthroat, corrupt world of Indonesian politics, observers say.

His first test will be to reduce the huge fuel subsidies that eat up about a fifth of the budget.

Investors, who have strongly backed Widodo, will also be waiting for the announcement of the Cabinet, expected later in the week, to see who gets the major finance and economics portfolios.

Monday’s inauguration marks the climax of a dizzying and unlikely ascent for Widodo.

After growing up in a bamboo shack, he became a successful furniture exporter, entered local politics as a small-town mayor and was elected Jakarta governor in 2012, winning legions of fans with his man-of-the-people image — he would regularly tour the city’s teeming slums in casual clothes.

His road to the presidency was not easy, however, and a huge poll lead he enjoyed for months dwindled to almost nothing before election day, but in the end a groundswell of popular support carried him over the line.

Whatever Widodo manages to achieve with his five-year term, as it gets under way expectations are sky high for the country’s first leader who represents a decisive break with the autocratic past.

“I hope that in the next five years everything we dream of — for a better Indonesia and a greater Indonesia — will come true,” said housewife Risna Wati Afin.