JAKARTA (AFP) – Indonesia’s new President Joko Widodo has won praise for bold economic reforms at the start of his term, but his man-of-the-people image has suffered after criticism of his commitment to human rights and fighting corruption.
Widodo, who will mark 100 days in power on Tuesday, was elected president in July following a meteoric rise from a childhood in a riverbank slum.
Known as Jokowi, the former furniture exporter won over the nation with his hands-on approach and humble background,
and is the first Indonesian leader from outside the political and military elites.
The 53-year-old – who rose to national prominence as Jakarta governor – is the first Indonesian president since the 1998 downfall of Suharto without deep roots in the dictator’s three-decade rule.
From making unpopular fuel subsidy cuts in the country of 250 million people, to responding to last month’s AirAsia crash, Widodo has had to hit the ground running,
and most analysts say he has done well.
“He seems to have got off to a very good start,” Paul Rowland, a Jakarta-based political analyst, told AFP. “The government has achieved more in the last three months than the previous government did in three years.”
At the top of his to-do list was reducing fuel subsidies, which in the past gobbled up a vast chunk of the state budget and urgently needed to be cut to free up funds to boost Southeast Asia’s top economy, which is currently growing at a five-year low.
Widodo wasted little time — less than a month after taking office, he announced a more than 30 percent increase in petrol and diesel prices, and last month scrapped subsidies on petrol entirely.
Cutting the subsidies “has allowed the government the cash to undertake their projects, especially on the infrastructure front,” said Wellian Wiranto, an economist from Singapore-based OCBC Bank.
Investors have long complained about Indonesia’s threadbare infrastructure, from potholed roads to ageing ports.
Widodo also won praise for his response to the crash of an AirAsia jet into the Java Sea as it flew from Indonesia’s Surabaya to Singapore, with the loss of 162 lives.
He called for a review of air safety regulations and helped coordinate search-and-rescue efforts.
And the opposition-dominated parliament, which appeared such a threat at the start of his term, has been brought to heel.
In September, the parliament voted to end direct elections for regional leaders, the system by which Widodo rose to power, in what was seen as a blow to the young democracy and to the new president himself.
But last week, lawmakers reversed that decision and voted to maintain the polls, after Widodo’s opponents were severely weakened by infighting. Nevertheless, some supporters who had high hopes for cleaner governance and a stronger focus on human rights have been left bitterly disappointed.