Joko Widodo: how ‘Indonesia’s Obama’ failed to live up to the hype

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04/03/2019

Five years ago he was south-east Asia’s democratic poster boy, Indonesia’s Obama. His face plastered across Time magazine with three words: A New Hope. When Joko Widodo, or “Jokowi”, was elected president of one of the only true remaining democracies in the region it was a moment of triumphant vindication – proof that outliers could trump an entrenched oligarchy, that an ordinary Indonesian could make it. A wildly popular politician, Jokowi’s rapid rise from successful furniture entrepreneur to beloved small-town mayor, reform-minded Jakarta governor and ultimately the president, was something of a political fairytale for Indonesia’s young democracy. With the rights of LGBT and some religious minorities plummeting, a series of arrests raising alarm bells over freedom of expression, questions about the neutrality of the police and plans for military encroachment on civil space, the notion that Jokowi is a paean of democratic progress has been steadily undermined.

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