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Jokowi shows his firm grip on domestic politics to friend and foe

Jakarta Post - August 18, 2023

Kornelius Purba, Jakarta – Doesn't it mean something special when even Aboe Bakar Al-Habsyi, secretary-general of the Islamist Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) and one of the fiercest critics of the government, asked for a selfie with Joko "Jokowi" Widodo after the President delivered the State of the Nation Address on Wednesday.

More than that, Jokowi seemed to show who's still the boss in national politics, especially in the dynamic landscape ahead of next year's elections.

President Jokowi delivered two state speeches on Thursday. The first was the annual State of the Nation Address for Independence Day, delivered in the morning at the People's Consultative Assembly (MPR), which comprises all members of the House of Representatives and the Regional Consultative Council (DPD).

The President enjoyed speaking without interruption to an audience of lawmakers and VVIP guests, including Megawati Soekarnoputri, a former president and matron of the ruling Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P).

Ties between the two had reportedly soured, as Jokowi appeared to support Gerindra Party chairman Prabowo Subianto over PDI-P candidate Ganjar Pranowo as his successor. On several occasions, Megawati tried to demonstrate her unchallenged influence over the country, despite the fact that she is no longer president.

Unfortunately, no TV cameramen seem to have captured Megawati's reaction when Jokowi teased politicians and showed off his power during his speech, which he began with a "complaint" that political party leaders often referred to him as lurah, or village head.

According to Javanese culture, lurah is often used figuratively to describe a powerful leader, but Jokowi underlined emphatically that he was not a lurah, but the President of the Republic of Indonesia.

"The trend among politicians and those in political parties, whenever they are asked about their candidates for president and vice president, they answer: 'There are no directives yet from lurah.'

"Let me stress that I am neither a chairperson of a political party nor a leader of a [party alliance]. In accordance with the law, political parties or alliances [may] nominate presidential and vice presidential candidates," he said.

"Therefore, I would like to make it clear that [nominating electoral candidates] is beyond my authority. It is not the authority of lurah, either," the President said.

Given his high approval rating though, Jokowi's blessing is unsurprisingly sought by presidential aspirants and legislative candidates, including Prabowo and Ganjar. As the elections draw nearer, giant billboards can be seen in many places as visual displays of the two presumptive nominees' proximity to the President.

While Jokowi may have appeared to be complaining, I believe he was simply and proudly suggesting that he was so very popular that presidential aspirants had to visibly demonstrate their close ties to him.

"Even before the campaign season begins, my picture is everywhere. In many provinces, cities, regencies and villages, too. I am not pictured alone. Beside me are presidential candidates. That's all right, no problem," the President said with a big smile.

The State of the Nation Address was the perfect medium for Jokowi to send a message to politicians that he could define the course of the presidential race.

Of the three potential candidates, only former Jakarta governor Anies Baswedan has been trying to build an image as the antithesis of Jokowi. But Anies is still struggling to ensure he has the solid, united backing of the NasDem Party, Democratic Party and the PKS, grouped under the Coalition of Change for Unity (KPP).

In his speech, the President also emphasized that he had no problem with his detractors' penchant for mockery and using rude language to criticize his policies. What disappointed him was their choice of words, he said, which did not reflect their education or respect for the country's cultural norms.

Later that afternoon, the President presented the 2024 state budget to the House, the last draft state budget he is likely to submit until he leaves office next October. He could of course propose the 2025 budget next August, but his successor is certain to revise it, if not dump it altogether.

His assessment of the economy next year is quite reasonable and realistic. However, I believe the government has continued and will continue to spend big on basic infrastructure in the Nusantara Capital City (IKN) development project.

According to the President, the revenues and expenditures for 2024 were calculated to support various targets, with government spending at an estimated Rp 3.3 quadrillion (US$215 billion) and state revenue at Rp 2.78 quadrillion.

The expenditure has increased compared to the target in the 2023 budget, which was Rp 3.06 quadrillion.

The 2024 budget is intended to spur growth by addressing priorities, such as poverty and human resource development. Next year's economic growth is projected to reach 5.2 percent.

Come November, the President will have to reshuffle his cabinet yet again, because some ministers will shift their focus to campaigning for the presidential or legislative elections. But this does not mean that Jokowi will become a lame-duck president.

He also listed his achievements in foreign diplomacy, including helming the country's Group of 20 (G20) presidency last year and ASEAN chairmanship this year. However, he has achieved little in freeing the Myanmar people from the atrocities perpetrated by the military junta.

But I must acknowledge that the President is right when he said the country now enjoyed high trust in the international community because of Indonesia's courage in taking a stand, including defying pressures from the United States and Western countries to expel Russia from the G20.

Indonesia also displayed a bold stance by not inviting representatives from Myanmar's military junta to official ASEAN activities, as long as they continued to disregard ASEAN's road map to bring peace and democracy to that country.

The President added: "The Australian think tank Lowy Institute stated that Indonesia is a middle power in Asia with a diplomatic clout that is significantly on the rise. Indonesia is among the six Asian countries that have seen an increase in comprehensive power."

Next year, Jokowi will have no more opportunity to use the annual state address to show off because by then, Indonesia will have a president-elect.

At least he was able to use this year's address to send a strong message, if not warning, that he will never be a lame-duck president for the remainder of his second and final term.

[The writer is senior editor at The Jakarta Post.]

Source: https://www.thejakartapost.com/opinion/2023/08/18/jokowi-shows-his-firm-grip-on-domestic-politics-to-friend-and-foe.htm