Jokowi’s homework list


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I’ve actually been trying to publish this post since yesterday, but, blame the remnants of writer’s block still lingering in my mind after a year or so having not written any thousand-word articles, the draft ended up as a messily-written timeline about the rivalries between Joko Widodo and Prabowo Subianto. Forget that, now the media anywhere has taken everything out of it.

The victory of Joko Widodo, a commoner-looking, an everyday-like-us can-do person, is not something to underestimate with. Many have doubted his real capabilities, given his ‘appearance’ (feel free to interpret the picture above), in leading the world’s fourth most populous nation. He’s been doing great as Mayor of Surakarta (Solo) from 2005 up to 2012, gaining nearly absolute support from the 500,000 people, and he’s dared himself against corrupt bureaucrats as governor of Jakarta, Indonesia’s capital, and also a sprawling capital with 10 million people packed in an area no larger than Singapore, for a 2-year stint from 2012 up to 2014. And sooner or later, despite the opposite side’s accusations of ‘massive, systemic electoral fraud’ and pressure for the cancellation, which sound paradoxical (note: Prabowo relied heavily on a fragile coalition of political parties, extremists, thug-like organizations, and business elites representing Suharto’s past, while Jokowi, albeit a PDIP cadre, relied mostly on middle-class, villagers, moderates, and volunteers working day-and-night on social media to tackle black campaigns launched against him), Jokowi, as he is always referred to, will soon lead 250 million people, placing stakes at where Indonesia’s future is going to.

Okay, congratulations, Pak Jokowi, I truly believe you have had great experiences, and pioneered numerous innovative methods, in solving urban problems in both Solo and Jakarta. We must be honest, however, that many underlying problems haven’t been fully solved. They’re not gonna die down in a year, nor in the five-year tenure Jokowi and his running mate, experienced statesman Jusuf Kalla, will be trusted with, nor even in decades, not even in this generation. Problems, until the doomsday comes, will never cease to exist. Nonetheless, say the least, we should also appreciate all the attempts he had made in improving the lives of these two cities.

So, what are the problems Jokowi, Indonesia’s new president, will have to tackle within this period? Here they are:

 

1. Bitter pills for a long-term stability

Fuel subsidies, anywhere in any countries long hinged on it, remain a huge limbo for macroeconomic stability. Like a candy to a 5-year-old kid, it’s so addictive that the old wisdom says ‘too much candy causes your teeth rotten’. Okay, let’s not debate dentistry, but it’s definitely true that fuel subsidies have caused a huge ‘hole’ in state budgets, and many countries suffer when governments attempt to end fuel subsidies. There are protests everywhere associated with ‘fuel price increase’, and ironically, it happens in a lot of oil-rich countries, particularly Indonesia (it’s not so oil-rich anymore today). Jokowi’s foremost challenge, right now, is to make a courageous breakthrough to end fuel subsidies now costing the country nearly 30 billion US$ a year, and allocating the money instead to more investment in education and infrastructure.

2. Place the right people at the right posts, and be no Obama

No other people have been as risk-taking as Jokowi in terms of political consensus. Unlike his predecessor, the outgoing Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, whose cabinet is mostly filled with persons from his political parties after some power-sharing is agreed upon, he enforces every political party willing to support him to sign ‘no-lion’s-shares-attached’ treaty. That means no parties are gonna support him only to gain ministerial posts should he win the election. But, as political dynamism follows soon, Prabowo’s fragile coalition, which occupies more than 60% parliamentary seats, may at all times be ready to impose obstacles and blockades for any proposed policies by Jokowi. Two headaches for him: in an interview on Reuters, Jokowi eventually relegated that ‘at most 20% of the cabinet should be reserved to professionals from political parties’. Professionals from political parties? Hmm, I think Yudhoyono had said that five years prior. But that may be a good alternative, given that Yudhoyono’s cabinet, 80-90 percent of which I bet, is only reserved for those affiliated with political parties. And they’re disappointing, much or less. But what about Prabowo’s coalition? Well, it just kinda reminds me of Obama. He’s a great visionary, a breakthrough-maker compared to past presidents, but he always fails against the Republicans in a lot of proposed policies, most disappointingly gun control. Jokowi should be proud as Indonesia’s Obama, but he must remind himself that he can possibly fall into the same loophole Obama has been in right now. You won’t expect a government shutdown in Jakarta, and that will be really messy.

3. Make these political dynasties escape to Mars (or Moon, at least)

Massive protests in 1998, despite a huge anti-Chinese bloodshed which saw thousand lives perish, eventually brought democracy to Indonesia. Elections have been held, not only on national level, but also in every practical level you can imagine. Cities, regencies, and provinces, all of which sum up to 500 in Indonesia right now, have held direct elections, the costs of which, if calculated, may surpass tens of billions of US$. Democracy is expensive, truth be told, and any nation-state experimenting with that on early stages will find it highly formidable. Egypt is now shaken, and is still slightly shaken (despite Sisi’s rise to power), Thailand has now kept it on bay thanks to a series of military coups, and dozens of countries recount tales of democracy and the rise of political dynasties. And so is Indonesia. Elections become an economy in necessity, regardless of how paradoxical it sounds, and local dynasties rise up. Corruption used to be centralized in Jakarta, and as decentralization is massively implemented, it spreads like mushroom. Although new cities, regencies, and provinces have been carved up, people remain severely in abject poverty. It’s not to say that democracy is bad, but an emerging democracy, willingly or reluctantly, can’t avoid itself from being faced with such troubles. Now the time’s up for these dynasties; Jokowi will have to clean them up soon, and most importantly, we will need more local leaders who are clean, professional, and if preferably, technocrats. Meritocracy must always be the main priority (should it succeed).

4. You won’t ever eliminate poverty, but you can limit it

Everyone seated in Davos, Boao, New York City, what have you, never stops talking about the needs to eliminate poverty. But even Nobel-winning economist Amartya Sen questions our limited perspective of what ‘poverty’ actually is. Is it an economical one, or rather a psychological one? Or simply a social label? Rich people may feel ‘poor’ if they haven’t purchased a mansion, and poor people may feel ‘blessed’ if they have enough meals to eat everyday, at least. Standards to measure poverty, in addition, remain unchanged since 1980s: a person is considered poor if he or she earns less than 1.25 US$ a day. Taking that into account (forget our government’s incredulously low statistics), as many as 100 million Indonesians are struggling to deal with life with that daily amount. Okay, we’ve got the praises from World Bank and IMF, we now have another 100 million Indonesians now entering middle class (lower-middle included). But a lot outside are getting hungry, starved with limited food provisions, something you will never expect under Suharto’s rule, despite his chronic corruption and widespread brutality. Jokowi, hailing from a lower-class family, will certainly have to deal with it, but one thing for sure: poverty, as long as humanity exists, always follows suit. At the least he should make sure that the poor get enough to eat, houses to live in, jobs to obtain, and most importantly, schools.

5. Make the fundamentalists either go to Middle East or end up in Venus

Religious tensions continue to hamper interfaith relations up to this moment, and minorities are severely affected by what a handful of extremists are doing. But we should be thankful that Indonesia, having been the world’s largest Muslim country, can successfully maintain such fragile equilibrium, by which Muslims (85%), Protestants (7%), Catholics (3%), Hindus (2%), Buddhists (1%), and hundreds of folk religions (2%) live side-by-side in peace (sorry, the statistics may not be pretty accurate). Again, though, Indonesia continues to be a spotlight, to the level of UN Human Rights Commission. Some churches remain blockaded, Ahmadiyya and Shi’ite sects (as Sunnis always claim to be ‘idiosyncratic’) continuously persecuted, and a few Buddhist temples should remove some deities’ status under pressure from a few Muslim extremists. Again, I stress out, majority of Indonesians are moderate and tolerant of each other, and it’s only this ‘few’, having been brainwashed by some dubious Saudi-based unemployed extremists supported implicitly by the kingdom, who dare to do so. Jokowi, having been dubbed ‘Chinese’, ‘Christian’, ‘Jewish’ (that’s absurd), and even ‘Communist’, will certainly have to stand up against them, something Yudhoyono right now has not pretty succeeded.

6. Research, research, research!

Truth be told, we have millions of talented, brilliant individuals with so much potential to make Indonesia a progressive state. But our current educational system, tainted with Suharto’s decades-old militarist patterns (revenge is good, seniors must wound the juniors to teach them how life is ‘pain-in-the-ass’), has been obviously a fiasco, failing to improve the lives of these millions. Exacerbate that with our chronic lack of funds for R&D. Okay, don’t compare ourselves to either United States, China, or Japan (the governments, respectively, have allocated 500, 300, and 150 billion US$ each); nor can even Indonesia match itself with neighboring countries, say, Malaysia or Singapore (each of which provides 5 and 9 billion US$ respectively for research). Economists, meanwhile, have calculated that a country should invest, at least, 2 to 3% of its GDP towards R&D to achieve long-term economic prosperity, and how much has Indonesian government allocated so far? Given its GDP of 1 trillion US$ this year, it only invests 0.2%, equivalent to approximately 2 billion US$. Will Jokowi afford to increase an astronomical spending on R&D to the level of 20 or even 30 billion US$ before the end of 2019? That will take decades. Firstly, education should continue to be reformed (given our current quality is not that supportive, frankly speaking), and to make it realistic, it would have been a spectacular momentum if Jokowi can increase R&D budget manifold, at most, into 10-15 billion US$ by the end of his tenure (make sure nobody corrupts the money though!).

7. Infrastructure please!!

Indonesia has its own ‘cholesterol problem’; like a human body with blood veins blockaded by fats or other substances, our country’s infrastructure remains in poor shape, most of which was built during Suharto’s time (thanks for an influx of easy foreign loans which burst out in 1997 crisis). Now, with our economy rapidly booming, more people are buying cars, motorcycles, using ships and airplanes than ever. Production has increasingly skyrocketed, and delivery becomes more sophisticating than ever, yielding in a huge flow of cargo movements between islands. Nonetheless, deadlocks still happen in seaports, with trucks, spanning kilometers wide, tucked in highways, oftentimes for days. Air travel becomes busier than ever, and most airports surveyed have encountered this problem known as ‘over-capacity’. Excluding ongoing power outages still imposed, even in major cities like Medan. Yudhoyono’s administration, at least we must acknowledge, has been ambitious enough to prep out investment in infrastructure systems through a 15-year economic package known as MP3EI (not some sort of MP3 product, mind you; it’s ‘Masterplan for Acceleration and Expansion of Indonesia’s Economic Development), with estimated costs between 450 and 600 billion US$. It has been partially successful, but structural problems continue unabated. Corruption, red-tapes, licensing problems, land disputes, and logistics problems, these are all problems Yudhoyono has ineffectively managed. Now, it’s time for Jokowi, and now I mention Jusuf Kalla (he’s also a national businessman engaged in infrastructure building), to continue supporting this program by eliminating obstacles related to its implementation.

8. Promote ‘Indonesia, Inc.’ abroad, be a global player, and engage the diaspora

Indonesia is the world’s fourth most populous nation, but the problem is, many foreigners, aside of those who know this country much better than we do, do not even know if there’s a country named Indonesia. Some of my friends in Hong Kong even think if Indonesia is part of India, that Indonesia is part of Bali, that Bali is in South Africa, or even just know that there is a country surrounding Malaysia or Singapore. Okay, it’s unfair to simply blame them, but many of our diplomats abroad, given limited funding from state budgets, have ineffectively promoted Indonesia’s image to international public. Our roles in facilitating international crises have been particularly limited, aside of those attributed to the end of decades-old conflicts in Cambodia and limited mediation for Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In addition, with the ongoing conflicts between China and ASEAN regarding South China Sea disputes, Indonesia, as ASEAN’s largest member and unofficial ‘big brother’, hasn’t completely attempted to mediate the conflicts effectively. Right now, with Indonesia’s image gradually rising as its economy now actively grows, Jokowi’s new government should use this opportunity to increase its roles in international diplomacy, most importantly through its active participation in South-South cooperation. But, for me personally, there are several regions that Jokowi’s government must prioritize in its foreign policy: Middle East (solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as he promises to support full independence for the latter), Southeast Asia (be an active player in formulating peace deals between China and ASEAN in regard to South China Seas), Africa (there’s so much potential Indonesian businesses can afford more to invest in), and Pacific region (Pacific island states usually refer to Indonesia in learning about environmental protection, and Australia must solve its own bilateral problems as well). Indonesian diaspora, in addition, is also a great potential for Jokowi to improve Indonesia’s image internationally. Estimated that between 5 and 10 million people living overseas are either Indonesians or have its ancestry line, it has unfortunately been relatively neglected by current government nowadays. Majority of them are informal workers in Middle East, Southeast and East Asia, but quite many of them are talented professionals in world-class universities. This is where Jokowi’s new government should engage them, regardless of their status, to promote Indonesia, Inc. to the world stage. Don’t ever let people outside think that Bali is in Hawaii anymore, or that Indonesians are an African tribe.

 

I’m getting enough with this list, but if you have more priorities you haven’t mentioned, just comment it below.

 

NB: Jokowi is now making efforts on crowd-sourcing; it starts with his volunteer team publishing a Google doc, by which people are persuaded to recommend experts and professionals suited for a ministerial post. Fill the document here (only in Indonesian, sorry!) if you want to, and time’s now to supervise his new government to come!

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