Establishing effective government
The Jakarta Post
The cardinal challenge of every political leadership in emerging democracies is how to create an effective government. Political legitimacy attained from an electoral process is essential, but can only be sustained if the elected leader and government are able to exercise authority in the judgment of the public.
The period after an election is important for political legitimization as the public will judge the performance of any authority by evaluating compatibility between government output and public expectations.
The capability of political leadership in responding to public expectations will generate dual forms of legitimization: of the individual leader and of the democratic regime in general. The first year of President Joko 'Jokowi' Widodo has been interesting to watch from the perspective of post-election political legitimacy.
A brief review of his presidential campaign, along with the abstract slogan of revolusi mental (mental revolution), the political platform of Jokowi (and Jusuf Kalla) includes details of what their government hoped to achieve in numerous sectors of government. In other words, Jokowi's intention was to create a kind of output-driven government.
The platform, called Nawacita (nine goals) was definitely prepared by a collective team and many have doubted the degree of Jokowi's involvement in drawing up it.
But, people should bear in mind that Jokowi's political ascent from local to national stage was due to concrete legacies in creating effective government. And indeed, since the early days as president, Jokowi has shown consistent efforts to make government work in providing responses and concrete delivery to what individuals and interest groups expect from his leadership.
The actions reiterate what he did as mayor of Surakarta and governor of Jakarta albeit in a broader polity.
Despite his power, however, for President Jokowi effective government cannot be created overnight. The scope of issues he has to cope with is nationwide, which is more complex. More substantially he has to deal with complicated and contested structures of actors and interests.
During his first year in office, President Jokowi wanted to construct evidence that effective government was attainable. Two ways of creating the initial evidence were the image of dedicated leadership and some pilot projects of sectoral reform.
Jokowi has built the image of dedicated leadership through his characteristic and original style of blusukan (impromptu visit). But, more than simply impromptu, his blusukan is rather aimed at communicating directly with people from across segments and interests. He has also arranged personal visits to those places where the government's attention was urgent.
His inspections of Mt. Sinabung's refugee shelters, Tanjung Priok Port, sites of peat land fires, or political visits to Papua and Aceh were part of a ritual to create the image of dedication and the effective roles of the government as problem solver.
To reach those goals he even carried out activities that his critics lampooned as the job of a neighborhood unit head or a at most mayor, such as handing out social protection cards known as Indonesia Pintar (Smart Indonesia) and Indonesia Sehat (Health Indonesia), presenting books and pencils to kids during blusukan, and other expressions of personal generosity.
The critics say those actions only strengthen the culture of political patronage, but for Jokowi they were needed to maintain his image as a leader of concrete action in front of the people.
In governance reform, Jokowi has attempted to create effectiveness in targeted and specific sectors of policies and ministries.
The way Maritime and Fisheries Minister Susi Pudjiastuti has implemented Jokowi's vision of maritime sovereignty is a good example. The war against illegal fishing, including her decision to sink foreign boats caught poaching in Indonesian waters, is a good image of an effective government. The energetic Agriculture Minister Amran Sulaiman who displays his determination in realizing Jokowi's dream of food sovereignty is another example of the effective-government regime.
Another sector Jokowi has assigned as a pilot project for his effective government is infrastructure. The first year in office has seen him attend many ground-breaking ceremonies of infrastructure projects across the country and directly checking the progress of work. He has even visited village-level infrastructure projects funded by the village funds. More evidence can be cited, but the idea of Jokowi's actions is his message of effective government as the foundation of his regime and leadership legitimacy.
Jokowi's attempts to embrace a style of leadership and implement policies as the foundation of his own regime of effective government could become undone in the face of stagnation of democratic reform in Indonesia.
Any reform advancement will, however, encounter political conservatism and opposition. In the face of opposition, or those who voted for his electoral rival Prabowo Subianto last year, President Jokowi has now been able to gain an upper hand. The constant threat to consolidation of effective government is however political conservatism, which has frequently been expressed by his own political party, the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), and the bureaucracy.
Jokowi must learn that many of the items on his agenda to create an effective government have been obstructed by these entrenched interests of conservatism. To some extent he has been able to undermine the threat but he knows well his efforts to build and sustain a regime of effective government will be even more difficult in the years to come.
The writer is lecturer at Department of Politics and Government, School of Social and Political Sciences Gadjah Mada University, Yogyakarta.
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