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Five things to know about Joko Widodo

The President of Indonesia Joko Widodo has a soft spot for heavy metal. (Photo: Facebook)

Indonesia President Joko Widodo, commonly referred to as “Jokowi”, visited New Zealand on 18-19 March. Here’s a political snapshot of the Indonesian leader.

He is the first president to come from outside the political elite and the military

Jokowi is a self-made man from a middle-class family. He graduated with a forestry degree, before making a name for himself in the furniture business.

He entered politics only in 2005, when he was elected mayor of Surakarta (also known as Solo), a city in Java. His presidential campaign excited voters, especially because of his appeal as a common man, his regular use of social media and his focus on infrastructure development and fighting corruption. Since his election, he has become known for blusukan, or impromptu visits, as a way to communicate with Indonesians.

Jokowi is known to be a devoted heavy metal fan – in a recent visit to Indonesia, Danish Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen gifted Jokowi a vinyl record of Metallica’s Master of Puppets.

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Image produced by the Indonesian Embassy in Wellington to promote President Joko Widodo's visit to New Zealand in March 2018.

He’s overseeing Indonesias largest infrastructure reform

Since being elected, Jokowi has pursued ambitious infrastructure projects.

Indonesia’s infrastructure needs are vast – about US$600 billion (NZ$815 billion) over the next decade. Infrastructure needs are spread throughout the archipelago, making equality a major issue because social and political conditions vary.

Of the US$327 billion in funds needed for the first five-year infrastructure plan, Jokowi has still to find some US$150 billion. Only 26 of his 265 projects have been completed.

He wants Indonesia to provide more aid

Jokowi has sought to turn Indonesia from an aid recipient to giver. The charges are driven by his desire to see Indonesia act as a world leader, particularly as the nation with the world’s largest Muslim population. 

In addition to setting up an international aid agency with a 1 trillion rupiah budget (NZ$95 million), Indonesia has also contributed to peacekeeping efforts in Afghanistan. Last year, Indonesia sent humanitarian aid to Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh after the onset of the refugee crisis.

He has a tough, and controversial, approach on drugs

While Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte has received much attention for his war on drugs, Jokowi’s government has also pursued a hardline approach. As well as judicial executions of narcotics prisoners, there have also been reports of police killing suspects.

At a speech in July 2017, Jokowi said: “Be firm, especially to foreign drug dealers who enter the country and resist arrest. Shoot them because we indeed are in a narcotics emergency position now.”

His government is fighting to preserve tolerance amid rising religiosity

While Indonesia has the world’s largest Muslim population, it is a secular country.

The state officially recognises Islam, Protestantism, Catholicism, Buddhism, and Confucianism. However, conservative Muslim groups have challenged some of Indonesia’s promotion of religious diversity. The influence of those groups gained international attention after charges of blasphemy were laid against Jakarta’s incumbent governor Basuki Ahok Tjahaja Purnama. Ahok, a Christian, is now in jail. 

Jokowi has opposed increasing hard-line sentiments. He has appealed for support from mainstream Muslim groups, and set a presidential decree banning mass organisations deemed to defy the secular state ideology of Pancasila.

– Asia Media Centre