Indonesia's Widodo faces daunting goals in final term

NINIEK KARMINI
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Indonesia Widodos Challenge

In this Wednesday. Oct. 16, 2019, photo, a vendor talks to a customer as he cleans a portrait of Indonesian President Joko Widodo and Vice President-elect Ma'ruf Amin, bottom, displayed at his stall in Jakarta, Indonesia. Known for his down-to-earth style with a reputation for clean governance, Widodo's signature policy has been improving Indonesia's inadequate infrastructure and reducing poverty, which afflicts close to a tenth of Indonesia's nearly 270 million people. But raising money would be harder at a time of global economic slowdown, major trade conflicts and falling exports. (AP Photo/Tatan Syuflana)

JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) — In fisherman Saimin's fly-strewn riverside slum, less than an hour's drive from Indonesia's presidential palace, much of the age-old problems President Joko Widodo has promised to fix are a stark day-to-day reality.

Well-paved avenues crisscrossing the capital, Jakarta, end at the entryway to his squalid fish port village, where ramshackle huts line a narrow stretch of dirt road along a river bank reeking with trash and discarded mussel shells.

Villagers yearn for safe tap water, lower food prices and better jobs and hope Widodo will deliver more on his pledges after winning a final five-year term in April as leader of the world's most populous Muslim-majority nation. He is to be sworn in along with Vice President Ma'ruf Amin Sunday under tight security following the recent knife attack by an Islamic militant couple on his security minister.

"Our problem here is clean water and sanitation. This place needs to be developed," Saimin, a 58-year-old fishing boat skipper and father of six, told The Associated Press. He uses one name like many Indonesians.

Widodo has been widely praised for his efforts to improve Indonesia's inadequate infrastructure and reduce poverty, which afflicts close to a 10th of the nearly 270 million people. He inaugurated the country's first subway, which was financed by Japan, in chronically congested Jakarta in March after years of delay under past leaders.

But pressing on is the biggest challenge in his final years in office given the global economic slowdown, major trade conflicts, falling exports and other hurdles that impede funding. Saimin's decrepit village in Jakarta's Muara Angke fish port underscores the limits to Widodo's ambitions.

Indonesia's economy grew below target in Widodo's first term but was nevertheless among the world's top performers. The World Bank projects a 5.1 percent growth this year, and analysts warn any higher targets hinge on stronger exports.

"We are not immune from the global economy," said Lana Soelistianingsih, a Jakarta-based economic analyst.

Widodo's recent announcement to move the capital from sinking Jakarta to a site in sparsely populated East Kalimantan province on Borneo island at a cost of up to 466 trillion rupiah ($32.5 billion) has raised the same concerns.

"I disagree with the move," a Jakarta resident, Mega Fagi, said. "Where do we get the money?"

In an interview with the AP in July, Widodo said he would push ahead with sweeping and potentially unpopular economic reforms, including a more business-friendly labor law, because he is no longer constrained by politics in his final term.

"Things that were impossible before, I will make a lot of decisions on that in the next five years," he said.

Popularly known as Jokowi, the 58-year-old began his political career in the central Javanese city of Solo and became Jakarta governor in 2012. A down-to-earth style and reputation for clean governance helped propel him to the presidency in 2014.

As the first Indonesian president to rise from outside the Jakarta elite, Widodo has been likened to Barack Obama. He has been seen, however, as unwilling to press for accountability that threatens powerful institutions such as the military and go against political allies that helped bring him to power.

Protests by thousands of students last month threatened his credibility and image. The demonstrators were enraged after Parliament passed a law reducing the authority of the corruption commission, a key body fighting endemic graft and which has been one of the most credible public institutions in a country where the police and lawmakers are seen widely as corrupt.

The students demanded that Widodo issue a regulation replacing the new law. The president at one point said he was considering revoking the unpopular measure but members of his coalition immediately opposed the idea. The protests turned violent in some cities before gradually easing.

In 1998, student demonstrations triggered events that led the country's longtime strongman leader, Suharto, to step down.

The recent student rallies could return, depending how their demand is addressed, said Aditya Perdana, director of the University of Indonesia's Political Student Center.

He urged Widodo and other officials to reach out to protesters and warned against any attempt to suppress free speech, saying any such move could go off like a political bomb.

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Associated Press journalists Jim Gomez and Fadlan Syam contributed to this report.