‘Disappointed’: Indonesians reflect on legacy of departing Joko Widodo

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‘Disappointed’: Indonesians reflect on legacy of departing Joko Widodo

Solo, Indonesia – On a visit to the city of Surakarta, also known as Solo, it might appear that Indonesian President Joko Widodo has many friends.

Almost everyone in Solo, it seems, has met the president, popularly known as Jokowi.

It was here that Jokowi embarked on his career in politics, becoming the city’s mayor in 2005 and staying in the job for seven years before becoming governor of Jakarta and, eventually, in 2014, president of Indonesia.

Many Solo residents describe the president as a “personal friend” and are quick to show pictures of the times he visited their homes or neighbourhoods.

Jokowi’s final term as president will end this year after Indonesians go to the polls to choose their next leader on February 14.

The exterior of the Notoharjo Market. There is a balustrade going up. There are people outside including a woman on a motorbike with a toddler on the back
Traders told Al Jazeera that their profits had significantly increased after they were moved to permanent stalls at the Notoharjo Market [Al Jazeera]

The end of his second term is an opportunity not only for the people of Solo but also for Indonesians as a whole to reflect on the legacy of a man who was the first to rise from outside the traditional political elite to lead the country.

Notoharjo Market

At the beginning of his political career, Jokowi, who famously owned a furniture business before becoming a politician, was hailed as a breath of fresh air.

One of the high points of Jokowi’s tenure as Solo’s mayor was his negotiations with market traders who sold their wares around the city’s national monument, clogging the surrounding streets and causing congestion.

At the time, Indonesian officials had a reputation for heavy-handed policies that failed to take into account the needs of the local people, and Jokowi was praised when he met the traders personally and brokered a solution to move them to the Notoharjo Market, about 10 minutes away, where they would have a dedicated place to sell their goods.

Edy Saryanto, who sells electronics at Notoharjo, said that Jokowi met the traders personally on four or five occasions to talk about the move.

It was a gesture he appreciated.

“Jokowi told me, ‘Don’t worry, the government is here to facilitate this’. They wanted to find a winwin solution and they achieved it,” Saryanto said.

Edy Saryanto holds up his mobile phone to show a picture of him with vice presidential hopeful and mayor of Solo, Gibran Rakabuming Raka. Edy is standing outside the market
Edy Saryanto, who sells electronics at the Notoharjo Market, shows a picture of himself with vice presidential hopeful and Solo Mayor Gibran Rakabuming Raka. Gibran is Jokowi’s eldest son [Al Jazeera]

He moved to Notoharjo in 2007 and said that his profits increased significantly as a result. Other market traders agree, including Ferry Setiawan who sells spare parts for cars and motorbikes.

“As a mayor, he [Jokowi] succeeded and there was no conflict between the different parties at the time of the move. We have been very successful and our profits have increased three-fold,” he told Al Jazeera.

To sweeten the deal, Jokowi gave each trader $322 to tide them over during the move and allow them to start afresh at the new location.

“I would say 95 percent of traders were successful after the move,” Setiawan said. “I was happy because he was helping people who needed his help. Jokowi was always there for the people when he was in Solo.”

Once the market traders were moved from the national monument, it was made into a park with a children’s play area and became one of Solo’s most popular recreation spots.

Family friend Slamet Raharjo said that Jokowi’s ambitions to improve Solo’s green spaces were inspired by his visits to other countries.

“He wanted to do his best for Solo and improve the economy. He often went abroad and he saw how people in other countries liked to walk, so he built pavements and parks so that people here could do the same. He also improved public transport so that Solo could evolve,” he said.

Family friend Slamet Raharjo, He is standing in front of a wall of photos
Family friend Slamet Raharjo said that as mayor of Solo, Jokowi worked hard for the city’s people [Al Jazeera]

Raharjo first met Jokowi when they were both in the furniture business and said that Jokowi seemed like a new start for Solo, coming to politics as a rare candidate who was not from the political or religious elite.

“Solo is a unique city and, at that time, we needed a fresh figure who didn’t have a negative track record,” Raharjo said.

“He worked so hard for us.”

Unpleasant issues

But even though residents continued to support Jokowi, their scepticism grew the further he advanced in politics.

As he prepares to leave the presidency, there is now disappointment.

“I was such a strong supporter when he became president and I was proud because he was from Solo,” market trader Ferry Setiawan said.

“But in the end, he has not yet become a good leader.”

Setiawan said that one of the most striking issues with Jokowi’s presidency was last year’s controversial Constitutional Court decision over the minimum age for presidential and vice presidential candidates.

The court, helmed by Jokowi’s brother-in-law Anwar Usman, allowed those who had served previously as an elected official to run for high office even if they were under the official minimum age of 40 years old. The decision enabled Jokowi’s son, 36-year-old Gibran Rakabuming Raka, to run as presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto’s running mate.

“I was disappointed,” Setiawan said. “There was no democracy in the Constitutional Court decision. I was embarrassed by the obvious nepotism but, as it was his second term in office, maybe Jokowi felt he needed to find a way to hang onto power.”

“Maybe everyone would do the same thing and try to look after their children.”

A protester holding up a placard showing photos of Jokowi and his family members and condemning for creating a dynasty
Protesters accuse Jokowi, Indonesia’s first leader from outside the country’s elite, of trying to create a political dynasty [Adevi Rahman/AFP]

Raharjo also said that he struggled to understand his close friend, who appeared to have been the driving force behind Gibran’s sudden entry into politics.

“Before, I could usually read his thoughts,” Raharjo said.

“But now it is hard for me to follow his thought process. All his close friends are confused but we are not surprised. If Jokowi wants to do something, he must have calculated everything and weighed it all up in his mind. If he has taken such a political position, there must be a reason.”

Speculation – later dispelled – that Jokowi might try to seek a third term in office also unnerved his supporters.

Under Indonesia’s constitution, presidents can serve only two terms, or a maximum of 10 years, in office.

“Originally, I heard that he tried to extend his presidency for a third period because of the pandemic. It wasn’t good,” Setiawan said.

“He was like a best friend to me but now, I don’t like his policies.”

Other sources in Solo, including members of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), the party that backed Jokowi’s presidency, told Al Jazeera that Jokowi had sent a representative to ask Megawati Soekarnoputri, the head of the PDI-P, for her blessing to seek a third term in office, but that the request had been denied after Megawati deemed it “unconstitutional”.

Market trader Ferry Setiawan, He is sitting on a chair and holding out his phone showing a a photo of him with Jokowi
Market trader Ferry Setiawan shows a photo of him and Jokowi when he was mayor of Solo. He was disappointed with the Constitutional Court decision [Al Jazeera]

Jokowi has always denied any aspirations to serve a third term in office or that he was directly involved in any negotiations on the topic.

Megawati, the daughter of Indonesia’s first post-independence president, is herself a former vice president and president, and has said publicly that Jokowi did not personally ask her if he could extend his presidency for a third term, but did confirm that it would have been unconstitutional to do so.

Economic success

Management consultant and Solo resident, Indrawan, also feels conflicted about the outgoing president.

“Jokowi was an excellent mayor and I met him almost every day but when he became governor [of Jakarta], he changed and I rarely saw him after that. It seems like he is not the same person any more,” he said.

Like others in Solo, Indrawan was highly critical of the Constitutional Court decision but added that there were other issues with Jokowi’s legacy, including rising corruption.

Indonesia is now a more corrupt country than when Jokowi took office, ranking 115 out of 180 countries surveyed. In 2014, when Jokowi was elected, Indonesia ranked 107 out of 175 countries according to Transparency International.

A number of his ministers have also faced allegations of corruption which are either still under investigation or have resulted in prison sentences, prompting criticism in Solo that the president allowed corruption to flourish.

These include the former deputy minister for law and human rights, Edward Omar Sharif Hiariej, the former minister for communication and information technology, Johnny Gerard Plate, the former social affairs minister, Idrus Marham, the former minister of youth and sport affairs, Imam Nahrawi, the former minister of maritime affairs and fisheries, Edhy Prabowo, and the former minister for social affairs, Juliari Batubara.

Management consultant Indrawan, He is seated in front of a wooden door and smiling. He has a large glass of tea in front of him.
Management consultant Indrawan said that he considered Jokowi a close friend but is now disappointed in him [Al Jazeera]

Despite the concerns about democratic processes and corruption, Jokowi remains popular across Indonesia, with polling showing that his approval rating as he leaves office is around 80 percent.

Natalie Sambhi, the executive director of Verve Research, an independent think tank focused on Southeast Asia security, and a Senior Fellow with the Asia Society Policy Institute, said that is the result of “the more successful elements of his legacies.”

“Most notably, these include his indefatigable pursuit of development through improved infrastructure, greater investment, reduction of red tape and jobs creation,” she said.

Last year, the economy grew by more than 5 percent.

“But we can certainly debate whether the means Jokowi took to achieve his goals, that is controversial legislation, the weakening of some democratic institutions and installing his son as a vice presidential candidate were right or just.”

As Jokowi prepares to leave office, it seems that some of those most affected by his complicated legacy remain the people of Solo, who still struggle to reconcile the realities of the outgoing president with the man they thought they once knew.

“I am extremely disappointed in him,” management consultant Indrawan said.

“And I say that as a friend.”