The Jakarta Post
In his annual state of the nation address to the People's Consultative Assembly (MPR) on Friday, President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo made a big promise.
In a Schumpeterian tone of creative destruction, Jokowi likened the current coronavirus-induced economic crisis to a computer crash and that today's stagnation could in fact be a chance for the country to restart the system. "All countries must undergo a brief shutdown, restart and reboot," Jokowi said.
President Jokowi also challenged the nation to be more audacious in its ambitions. "Twenty-five years from now, when the Republic is one century old, we must make the great leap and become a developed nation," Jokowi said in his address, which should have been special as the country is celebrating the 75th anniversary of its independence.
Also staying true to his Javanese predisposition for always being able to see the silver lining even in the darkest of clouds, Jokowi maintained that even while experiencing the deepest economic slump in recent memory, Indonesians should consider themselves lucky for having their economy only contract by 2.97 percent in the first quarter, much less than that of developed economies, many of which have slumped by more than 10 percent.
We must praise the President for striking an optimistic tone, especially when there is not much optimism to go around these days. With more than 135,000 people contracting COVID-19 and more than 6,000 lives lost as a result of the pandemic and with the economy contracting 5.32 percent in the second quarter, it is easy to lose hope.
But rather than taking a long-view of history and aiming for a long-term goal, it would be wise if the President chose to focus on the job at hand; dealing with the health crisis caused by the coronavirus, because unless we flatten the curve, unless aggressive containment measures are taken, COVID-19 will continue to ravage the population. In the long run, we cannot expect the economy to be up and running if communities, workplaces and schools remain in lockdown because of the high number of cases.
Forget the goal of becoming a developed country in 2045, this year alone, millions of people could descend into poverty if the country's economy continues to deteriorate.
People in his administration, even six months after the pandemic first started, have failed to deliver a basic message on how to combat the virus. While some high-ranking officials promote the use of unscientific methods, the President himself has at times delivered a mixed message. His focus on restarting the economy in the midst of a raging pandemic could have disastrous consequences with many more people dying from the pandemic. This has to change.
The country's 1945 Constitution, written only days after the proclamation of independence on Aug. 17, 1945, mandates the formation of a republic that not only generates prosperity, but also protects all its citizens. President Jokowi should consider dealing with the health crisis as an implementation of this constitutional mandate.
The future generations in a developed Indonesia will then remember him as a leader who set the nation free from the pandemic.