(JG Graphics/Josep Tri Ronggo)

Commentary: A Closer Look at President Joko Widodo’s First 100 Days in Office


JANUARY 28, 2015

(JG Graphics/Josep Tri Ronggo)

When President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo was inaugurated, on Oct. 20, 2014, he was sworn in with high expectations. One hundred days on, however, a majority those who voted for him feel disappointed and betrayed with what his administration has so far accomplished.

Granted, it is very difficult — and unfair — to evaluate a government’s first 100 days in office, because such a short time frame makes it difficult for any president to accomplish a great deal. At the same time, the milestone is a good time to evaluate a newly appointed leader based on the decisions he has so far made.

One of the biggest challenges that Joko faced in his first 100 days was the high expectations citizens have placed on his administration. Indonesians were hoping for a strong president who would finally rid the country corruption and the business-as-usual style of politics that has benefited government and business oligarchs. People were clamoring for the “Mental Revolution” Joko called for, which he said would transform the mentality of the Indonesian people — especially the lethargic, unresponsive, and often corrupt state bureaucrats.

Joko himself tried to meet expectations by promising to choose the “right” people and place them in the “right” position to form a clean cabinet. In order to do this, he sent the names of ministerial candidates to the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) to have them scrutinized.

Also, Joko seemed to hope that decisiveness would be the hallmark of his administration.

He decided to cut fuel subsidies in order to free up fiscal government resources, showing that he was serious in tackling economic reform regardless of the popular opposition. He approved the plan of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Minister Susi Pudjiastuti to blow up foreign fishing boats caught poaching in Indonesian waters. To international chagrin, though domestically popular, he also lifted a moratorium on the death penalty, arguing that it was needed to tackle the growing epidemic of drug abuse in Indonesia.

Of course, his tenure is not without problems, especially among fears that the opposing Red-White Coalition (KMP) — still bitter about their election loss — would do their best to stymie Joko’s agenda, undercut his reforms and turn this administration into a five-year, lame-duck presidency.

The fear, however, was unrealized. The opposition did cause some problems in the legislature in the beginning of Joko’s tenure by locking the governing coalition, also known as the Great Indonesia Coalition (KIH), out from any position of importance in the House of Representatives. Ultimately, both coalitions struck a deal to share power, thus averting a showdown.

Regardless, Joko’s leadership is currently in trouble, with the former Jakarta governor’s popularity tumbling as a result. Part of the problems, as mentioned above, stems from the high expectations that people have toward his administration. While people were hoping Joko would pick only professionals as members of his cabinet, political reality forced him to compromise, dividing a number of ministerial posts to members of political parties that supported him.

In spite of his cabinet secretary’s declaration that Joko would not appoint any party member to the position of attorney general, he gave the post to M.H. Prasetyo from the National Democratic Party (Nasdem).

The biggest challenge of Joko’s first 100 days in office though, was of his own making when he nominated Comr. Gen. Budi Gunawan as the sole candidate for the position of the National Police chief, which led to public uproar, particularly with suspicions raised by the KPK on Budi’s alleged involvement in corruption.

Even though Joko subsequently decided to put the nomination on hold, the situation quickly spiraled out of his control with the arrest of KPK deputy chairman Bambang Widjojanto by the police, which many attributed to a vendetta against the antigraft body.

Disappointment among the president’s constituents began to grow. Regardless of Joko’s effort to distinguish his administration from that of his predecessor, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, by showing that he could be decisive if he wanted to, the nation began unfavorably comparing him to Yudhoyono.

Even worse, the accusation that he was beholden to Megawati Soekarnoputri, the head of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) began to ring true. She nominated him as the party’s presidential candidate in the first place and she is also believed to be responsible for Budi’s appointment as police chief, making Joko a “puppet president.”

In spite of these setbacks, it is still possible for Joko to stage a comeback and there are four ways for him to do this. First, he should be willing to evaluate, and if needed, reshuffle his cabinet, relieving problematic and ineffective ministers of their duties in order to improve the effectiveness of his administration.

Second, he needs to improve his public communication and show that he is in control of his administration.

Third, he needs to show his independence in making decisions and appointments without any interference from political elites.

Finally, he needs to act decisively to settle the ongoing dispute between the National Police and the KPK.

It is high time for Joko to position himself as a decisive leader, willing to make hard choices without outside interference. Otherwise, academic Buya Shafi’i Ma’arif’s snide remarks of Indonesia having “a president, but no leadership” will come to fruition.

Asrudin Azwar is an international relations analyst from the Asrudian Center. Yohanes Sulaiman is a lecturer in international politics at the National Defense University.