Jakarta – Indonesia's President Joko Widodo's popularity took a hit after his decision to increase fuel prices stoked public unrest over surging living costs, according to the latest opinion poll.
His approval rating fell by 10 percentage points to 62.6 per cent from 72.3 per cent in August, based on Indikator Politik's survey of 1,200 people conducted on Sept 5 to 10.
That was his lowest rating since May, according to the pollster, when there were similar concerns over soaring prices of cooking oil and other basic food items.
The lower rating for Mr Widodo – better known as Jokowi – signals continuing anger over the government's move to impose higher fuel prices on Sept 3, which triggered protests led by thousands of workers and university students.
Mr Widodo has defended the fuel hikes as the "last option" available for cutting energy subsidy bills, even if Indonesians are already dealing with the worst inflation in seven years.
Public dissatisfaction over the price hikes could intensify opposition to calls by some in the political elite to extend his presidency, which is in its final stretch.
Some of Mr Widodo's supporters have backed the idea of amending the Constitution to allow for an extension.
"Jokowi is shrewd enough to carry out this unpopular policy when his approval rating is high," Indikator Politik executive director Burhanuddin Muhtadi said Sunday.
"We would have an entirely different issue on our hands had Jokowi decided to raise fuel prices in May (when his approval rating was at 58 per cent)," he said.
He said a rating below 50 per cent is commonly considered to be a crisis for most presidents.
While the fuel price hikes remain unpopular, the poll also showed 24.1 per cent of the population – from 18 per cent previously – now accept the measure as unavoidable.
Mr Barhunaddin said this was probably because world oil prices are still higher than in Indonesia.
"I think Jokowi now needs to go all out to mitigate the impacts of the fuel price hikes... He does not want to have a crash landing (when his term ends) in 2024. To do that, he needs support from his coalition, which comes from a good approval rating," Mr Burhanuddin told The Jakarta Post.
Political analyst Firman Noor, at the National Research and Innovation Agency, said Monday Mr Widodo needs to communicate more with the country's labour unions, which are the hardest hit by higher fuel prices.
He said Mr Widodo risks seeing his approval rating plummet even further if he does not provide workers more concrete solutions.
– Bloomberg, The Jakarta Post/Asia News Network