Jakarta – This year, as the country prepared itself to celebrate the 77th year anniversary of Indonesia's independence, the government of President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo made a major foreign policy decision.
Shortly after assuming the leadership of the Group of 20, Indonesia begun a flurry of diplomatic activities to kick-start the group's presidency, which culminated in the visit of President Jokowi to Ukraine and Russia in late June this year.
In what many hailed as a "courageous mission" and definitely one of the most consequential foreign trips by a leader of an Asian country, President Jokowi attempted to find a peaceful solution to the war in Ukraine. On top of calling for President Vladimir Putin to open access to the export of grain and gas, President Jokowi offered to relay a personal message from Ukrainian President Volodimyr Zelensky to the Russian leader.
Without doubt that is a major achievement, especially for a politician who early in his administration was only marginally interested in foreign policy.
By traveling to Ukraine and Moscow, Jokowi certainly make good on some of the grand promises laid out in the Constitution, which mandates that once it gained independence Indonesia must contribute to efforts to achieve world peace.
Together with providing education and creating prosperity for all citizens, achieving world peace has indeed become a raison d'etre for Indonesia.
Yet, as President Jokowi is also aware, it is not only world peace that is now being threatened by the Ukraine war.
With the supply chain being disrupted by the war, as well as its effects on the economy in the form of inflation and the rise in fuel prices, the Indonesian government is faced with difficult choices in its effort to create prosperity for all.
With the price of crude oil hovering above US$100, the government faces the dilemma of having to cut the fuel subsidy and risk plunging millions further into poverty, which could aggravate political tension, or keep the subsidy but having to divert resources from basic welfare programs.
To make things more complicated for the government, the country is not yet fully free from the COVID-19 pandemic. While the latest variant of the coronavirus is not as harmful as its early iterations like Delta, the government needs to continue to be cautious given the unpredictable nature of the pandemic.
And after spending Rp 1.2 quadrillion ($81.3 billion) in the past three years to deal with the pandemic, the government will have to still shell out significant sums to pay for the economic and public health costs incurred by COVID-19.
The good news is that what the government spent appears to have worked. Late last year, the poverty rate in the country fell to the pre-pandemic level.
Also with the commodity boom and the projected growth in the economy, we can expect that the government will have greater fiscal capacity to pay for efforts to stabilize the economy.
So this year, all things considered, we may not be free from worry but we do have reasons to celebrate Independence Day.