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3 reasons Indonesians lost trust in President Jokowi in first year of his second term, putting his job at risk

Indonesia’s President joko “Jokowi” Widodo. ANTARA FOTO/Arif Firmansyah/aww.

It has been a rough first year for Indonesia’s President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo.

The former businessman was re-elected as president of Southeast Asia’s largest economy last year, but just a few months into his second term he had to deal with COVID-19 pandemic.

A couple of months later, he became the subject of criticism for his decision to endorse the controversial job-creation law.

Demonstrations against Jokowi’s government have been growing across Indonesia. Protesters have been drawn from various circles of the society, including students and workers.

The majority of public polls on Jokowi’s first-year performance indicate a significant loss of public trust in his leadership. These surveys include one conducted by reputable publication Kompas, the country’s largest media group.

The Kompas survey showed the percentage of people satisfied with Jokowi dropped to less than 40% in October. That’s much lower than during his first term in office, when public confidence reached more than 70%.

This article offers three main reasons for the increasing public disappointment in Jokowi.

Failing to protect people from COVID-19

After announcing the first COVID-19 case on March 2 2020, Indonesia now has the highest mortality rate in Southeast Asia.

As of November 3 2020, Indonesia recorded 415,402 COVID-19 cases. That’s the highest total in Southeast Asia and ranks 19th in the world.

It indicates Indonesia’s poor management of the pandemic.

The main reason is the government has prioritised the economy over the people.

Instead of allocating resources to the health sector when the virus first hit the country in March, the government decided to allocate US$4.9 million to the tourism sector to counter the negative impacts of the coronavirus outbreak. The initiative, designed to attract more foreign tourists, was finally postponed under pressure from the public.

While other countries are careful in their decisions to return everything to normal, Indonesia is the other way around.

Countries such as Vietnam and Singapore, two countries lauded for their COVID-19 responses, have imposed strict rules to protect their people. In contrast, Indonesia always aims to get all economic activities back to normal.

In a controversial decision, the Ministry of State-Owned Enterprises had its employees under 45 return to work in the office on May 25. The instruction was part of the government’s plan to relax its lockdown policy, especially for the business sector.

It also allowed 500 Chinese workers to enter the country to resume work on a project, which Coordinating Minister for Maritime and Investment Affairs Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan said would help the country’s economy.

All of these decisions were made while Indonesia did not have an appropriate health response to COVID-19.

The country has limited medical facilities and staff to manage COVID-19 patients.

Indonesia is also still unable to accurately trace individuals infected by the virus. This is shown by frequent differences in data from the central government and regional governments on the number of infected individuals.

Its testing policies have been heavily criticised, and limited protection has been given to health workers. Many of them have died, but with no precise data available on how many.

The irony is that, despite all efforts to save the economy at the expense of people’s health, the Indonesian economy seems unsalvageable after being battered by the pandemic.

Indonesia is officially in recession after experiencing GDP contractions in second and third quarters of this year.

Failing to listen to people’s concerns

Besides failing to protect people from COVID-19, Jokowi has also failed to listen to people’s concerns.

First of all, the president hasn’t listened to people’s pleas to delay regional elections.

Despite concerns that the election would worsen the spread of COVID-19, Jokowi has decided to go ahead with elections in 270 regions in December.

His main argument is that the elections are important to keep the economy rolling.

However, some speculate his decision is driven by the fact his son, Gibran Rakabuming Raka, and son -in-law, Bobby Nasution, are running for mayoral positions in Solo, Central Java, and Medan, North Sumatra, respectively. Delaying the elections would only reduce their chances of winning.

Second, Jokowi has decided not to listen to people’s demand to stop the deliberation of Job Creation Bill. Instead, behind people’s backs, he and lawmakers issued the law, which has been criticised for sacrificing labour and the environment for the sake of investors’ interests.

People from all walks of life took to the streets to ask the government to revoke the law. They were tear-gassed by the armed forces.

Criminalising critics

What makes things worse is Jokowi’s administration has taken undemocratic moves to silence his critics. Several have been arrested.

One of them is Ravio Patra, an independent researcher and observer of government data and information management, who was arrested on charges of spreading fake information after criticising the government on Twitter.

The government plans to ban social media accounts that criticise the government and has labelled them as hoax spreaders.

Not only that, the government has also decided to punish students involved in demonstrations against the job creation law by putting their names in police records. This will make it hard for them to find jobs once they graduate.

What’s next

With these assessments, we argue that Jokowi should rethink about how he handles COVID-19 and the public protests. If he doesn’t, he is likely to face increasing backlash from the society, leading to a risk of losing his job.

The government’s harsh and repressive response to public criticism is expected to lead to unfavourable conditions for Jokowi as the leader of this country.

Jokowi should learn from history, particularly from the downfall of the then president, Suharto, in 1998, after strong rejection by the people.

Today, Jokowi faces a situation similar to Suharto’s final days in his office: increasingly widespread, anarchic demonstrations against his leadership combined with an economic crisis.

Jokowi should take concrete steps to start listening to people’s concerns, or he may risk losing his job like Suharto, who was forced to resign following massive protests by students and activists.


Dimas Rizki Permadi, an alumnus of Universitas Islam Indonesia, along with M. Habib Pashya and Fuad Tingai, students at Universitas Islam Indonesia, contributed to this article.

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