In his biography of Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, Man of Contradictions, former Financial Times correspondent Ben Bland insists that the seventh Indonesian president does not intend to emulate Soeharto’s authoritarian style of governing. Bland, who has followed Jokowi’s trajectory from his hometown Surakarta to the Presidential Palace, however does not hesitate to call Jokowi “a poor guardian of democracy”.
To some critics, democratic stagnation, if not regression, is the hallmark of the Jokowi administration as evinced in his push for the controversial revision of the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) Law last year and most recently the passage of the omnibus Job Creation Law. The two legislative products triggered mass protests, with another wave of demonstrations against the omnibus law in Jakarta marking the first year of Jokowi’s second term in office on Tuesday.
In the case of KPK Law, Jokowi did not budge. The law has come into effect, but it seems the public no longer cares about the changes to the way the antigraft body works. People are apparently settled enough for the KPK to continue its hunt for graft suspects.
Similarly, Jokowi has opted to turn a deaf ear to the rallying cry of labor unions, civil society groups, environmentalists, student groups and even the country’s two largest Muslim organizations Nahdlatul Ulama and Muhammadiyah, who believe the omnibus law will do more harm than good. An Indonesian Ulema Council leader recalled that during a consultation meeting on Monday Jokowi turned down a suggestion that he issue a regulation in lieu of law to repeal the omnibus law.
Jokowi is acting on what he promised in his inauguration speech one year ago to clear all barriers to his agenda. Not only does he have nothing to lose in his final term, he has also grown stronger given that his coalition enjoys a majority in the House of Representatives that rivals Soeharto’s control of the legislative body.
Refusal to delay yet again the regional elections despite warnings about a potential big bang of COVID-19 transmission in 270 regions that will host the polls in early December is another show of force by Jokowi, of course thanks to the formidable support of the House politicians. Questions about conflicts of interest linger, as Jokowi’s eldest son and his sonin-law will join the races in Surakarta, Central Java, and Medan, North Sumatra, respectively.
Jokowi’s big dream of relocating the capital to Central Kalimantan remains in place as well, despite the COVID-19 pandemic. Even the pandemic, which has infected nearly 370,000 people and killed 12,700 of them, could not stop Jokowi from realizing his agenda, oftentimes at the expense of democracy. In fact, the past year has seen more people arrested for venting their disappointment, if not anger, with the government, and intimidation of critical activists and media goes unchecked.
Unsurprisingly, the latest survey by Kompas has found Jokowi’s acceptance rate has slipped below 50 percent, with 46.3 percent disappointed and 6.2 percent very disappointed with the government’s performance in the economy, political affairs, law enforcement and public welfare. It remains uncertain whether such opinion polls can change the game, but as a product of democracy Jokowi should not want to leave an undemocratic legacy.