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Joko Widodo has five more years to complete what he started

Sydney Morning Herald - June 28, 2019

James Massola, Jakarta – It has been nearly a year since Indonesia's President, Joko Widodo, formally put his name forward as a candidate for a second term in office.

And after months of campaigning, billions of rupiah being spent and deadly riots last month that saw nine people lose their lives while protesting the official result, the country's Constitutional Court finally confirmed late on Thursday that Joko had defeated Prabowo Subianto again. the court confirmed the president had won a second and final term in office.

But as the dust settles on the long campaign, the question arises: what challenges will confront Joko in the next few years?

Infrastructure investment was the President's signature achievement during his first term, with thousands of new kilometres of roads, rail, new air and sea ports built, and billions spent on small-scale projects.

Joko has promised more of the same, and a greater focus on healthcare and education during his second term.

Indonesia desperately needs to spend more money on all of the above, but there are myriad other issues the President will face.

These include (but are not limited to) growing tension between China and the United States over trade, technology and access to the South China Sea, which China has claimed almost entirely despite competing claims from neighbouring countries.

Straddling the divide between those two great powers, and ensuring that his nation's economy is not collateral damage in a trade war, will be a difficult task for Joko.

Trade in the region will also be a delicate issue. Joko and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison have both signed off on a bilateral free trade deal, but it is yet to be ratified by both parliaments.

The two leaders have had their disagreements, such as over the proposal to move Australia's Israeli embassy to Jerusalem, but they now have three years ahead to work on their relationship.

Ratifying the deal won't necessarily be straight forward given the nativist, economically protectionist sentiment that exists in both countries, particularly in Indonesia, where achieving food self-sufficiency remains a totemic issue and where tariffs on imported goods remain very high.

Joko has said, as have other regional leaders such as Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and Australian Trade Minister Simon Birmingham, that he wants to see the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership signed by the end of this year.

Accommodating the demands and appeasing the concerns of all 10 ASEAN member nations, as well as Australia, China, Japan, South Korea, India and New Zealand to land that deal means the target end date looks optimistic.

Tom Lembong, the chairman of Indonesia's Investment Coordinating Board and ally of Joko, said recently the President would "resume or even accelerate economic policy reforms" and open the country's economy to the world, while spending more on training and reforming the tax system so it was more friendly to foreign investment.

Only around 10 per cent of Indonesians pay personal income tax and foreign investment is something Indonesia desperately needs, but the barriers to entry are high.

At present, there is only one Chinese-backed Belt and Road Infrastructure (BRI) project underway in Indonesia – a high speed rail from Jakarta to Bandung – and that has fallen hopelessly behind schedule.

However, despite the mistrust of China by some sections of the community, Joko's government has flagged more BRI projects are in the pipeline. Winning popular support for further projects will take some time.

Indonesia, which has large Christian and Hindu minorities and is historically a pluralist, tolerant nation is also grappling with a rise in hard-line Islamist sentiment in public life – a fact that was quite apparent during the recent election.

Joko and his new vice president, the ageing Muslim cleric Maruf Amin, will need to address this issue to ensure that the country remains an inclusive nation.

The President won power in 2014 largely because he was seen as a can-do former governor of Jakarta. He won a second term in 2019 for a similar reason, increasing his margin of victory in the process.

Indonesians are hoping that, in his second term, the naturally cautious Joko spends some of his considerable political capital to tackle the difficult reforms and vested interests that are holding his country's development back.

Source: https://www.smh.com.au/world/asia/joko-widodo-has-five-more-years-to-complete-what-he-started-20190628-p522a4.html