Has Indonesia's Joko Widodo kept his development promises?

Incumbent Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo. Photo by: REUTERS / Darren Whiteside

JAKARTA, Indonesia — When Joko “Jokowi” Widodo was elected in 2014, he ran on bold promises to ensure higher economic growth, reduce environmental impact, reform land laws, and improve both human rights and public health in Indonesia. Elected as the country’s first outsider president — not connected to the military or the founding aristocracy — there was much optimism that he could fulfill his promises.

When Jokowi runs for reelection on April 17, several development issues will be on the ballot. While some progress has been made on development issues, several key campaign promises remain unkept, raising questions on the potential second term of his presidency.

Promises kept

1. Tackling illegal fishing

Under Jokowi, Minister for Marine Affairs and Fisheries Susi Pudjiastuti has taken several steps to stem illegal fishing by foreign vessels in Indonesian waters, an important issue in the archipelago country, as millions depend on fishing and the ocean for their livelihoods. While the use of force to destroy boats got the most attention, data, technology, and innovation were also key to this effort.

How Indonesia is using data to protect its oceans

Indonesia's oceans are a mainstream economic and food security issue, but they are in peril. Using the power of data and innovative technology, the country is fighting back against overfishing, plastic pollution, and slavery at sea.

And it’s worked. A report released last year in Nature Ecology & Evolution summarized the impact: Between 2014-2017, there has been a more than 80% drop in foreign vessels fishing in Indonesia's waters and there is evidence that Indonesian fishermen are seeing higher catch and greater income.

“The impact is quite clear,” said Aki Baihaki, Indonesia program manager at the nonprofit Global Fishing Watch. “Indonesian waters are more safe from not having intrusions from foreign vessels.”

The effort has also received praise from numerous global development organizations such as the David and Lucile Packard Foundation and the Environmental Defense Fund, earning Susi “Leader for Living Award” by the World Wildlife Fund in 2016 and the Peter Benchley Ocean Award for national stewardship in 2017.

2. Land reform

Millions of Indonesians lack title to land, leaving them vulnerable to land grabs and unable to use land as collateral for loans or other financial tools. Jokowi has greatly expanded the issuance of land certificates, giving legal tenure to landholders across the country. By the end of 2018, around 9 million certificates had been issued as part of social forestry programs, aimed at empowering communities to manage land collectively.

There’s also been progress on giving land to communities under social forestry programs. From 2007-2014, the government had only achieved a 22% success rate, handing out 308,451 hectares of forest area. A 2016 regulation streamlined the process, and by July 2018, 1.75 million hectares had been ceded. According to Bloomberg, Indonesia has hit 4.5 million hectares cumulatively already this year.

Muhammad Zufikar Rakhmat, a research associate at Jakarta-based Institute for Development of Economics and Finance, sees evidence that these programs can result in increased opportunities for rural economic development. “With the social forestry program, every village can develop commodity groups, such as creating a village of coffee, chocolate or prawns,” Rakhmat said.

3. Health care

Indonesia now has the largest national single payer health care insurance system in the world. While the “Jaminan Kesehatan Nasional” program was passed in 2014, it has been implemented under Jokowi and now covers more than 75% of the population and is on target to hit the goal of universal coverage later this year.

There is a large opportunity to expand on JKN’s growth and improve health care and public health provisioning in Indonesia. In a 2017 report, the World Bank argued that “JKN provides the momentum to move towards more coordinated policies and strategies to achieve national health system goals.”

Unfulfilled promises

1. Human rights

Jokowi has been unable to address human rights issues in West Papua, East Timor, or the crimes that took place under the Suharto dictatorship such as the mass killings of 1965-66.

The situation in West Papua has gotten especially bad after militants killed more than a dozen worker and security staff who were building the Trans Papua Highway. The military response has been fierce and is leading many to raise concerns about humanitarian impact.

“The United Nations needs to ensure that humanitarian supplies including food, water, and medicines reach areas of West Papua which are presently blockaded by the Indonesian military,” said Jacob Rumbiak, spokesperson for the United Liberation Movement for West Papua.

The Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights has expressed concerns as well, saying in a February press statement that “we urge the Government to take urgent measures to prevent the excessive use of force by police and military officials involved in law enforcement in Papua. This includes ensuring those who have committed human rights violations against the indigenous population of Papua are held to account.” It is are currently awaiting permission for a delegation to visit Papua.

Another area of concern is the escalation of the war on drugs. Shortly after being elected, Jokowi brought back the death penalty for drug criminals and has overseen three rounds of executions of 18 mostly foreign nationals. He has empowered the national police to conduct extrajudicial killings, which rose from 16 in 2016 to 99 in 2017, according to the Jakarta-based Legal Aid Institute. Or LBH Masyarakat.

“In June 2017, during a speech on anti-drugs day, Jokowi gave a green light to the police, saying that ‘if suspected drug offenders resist, don’t hesitate to shoot them,’” said Ricky Gunawan, a lawyer at LBH Masyarakat. Ricky believes that the situation in the Philippines, where President Rodrigo Duterte has overseen a massive escalation of a violent war on drugs, has inspired Indonesia’s own, albeit slower, escalation.

2. Forestry and palm oil reforms

While progress on social forestry has improved, other aspects of forest management are lacking. Shortly after Jokowi became president, Indonesia experienced widespread fires, which burnt some 2.6 million hectares of tropical forests and peatlands. These made the country one of the world's top emitters of greenhouse gases — higher than Germany in 2015 according to data from the World Resources Institute.

“The fire was so huge, it finally received attention at the national and international levels,” said Hanny Chrysolite, forest and climate program officer at WRI Indonesia

While there have been some positives moves in this area, such as the creation of the Peatland Restoration Agency and the passing of a Palm Oil Moratorium, many believe it is not enough. There also lacks strong evidence that deforestation has fallen significantly.

Another unfulfilled expectation is the long-promised OneMap, a public map of all forest concessions and land ownership across the country. Jokowi promised to have it done by 2018, but it still remains a work in progress.

This stymies the ability of civil society and independent monitors to determine who controls what land and assign responsibility for illegal activities such as deforestation or the use of fire.

Greenpeace Indonesia recently filed a complaint over the government’s failure to release Palm Oil License Data, which would make up part of OneMap, as mandated by a March 2017 Supreme Court case.

“We ... fight for information about who controls the land,” said Igor O’Neill, a spokesperson with Greenpeace Indonesia. “Everyone can see where the fires are, but often people have no idea who is responsible for the land. There could be a lot more accountability if the government abided by the Supreme Court decision.”

3. Limited support for an anti-corruption entity

This is perhaps the most surprising unfulfilled promise. Jokowi was elected in part due to his image as a clean, “get it done” governor of the capital Jakarta and Surakarta in Central Java before that.

“We … feel disappointed with the incumbent president, because we put high expectations for him,” said Donal Fariz, the political corruption division coordinator at NGO Indonesian Corruption Watch, based in Jakarta. “He focused on his infrastructure agenda rather than how to build the legal system or better anti-corruption institutions.”

This can be seen in recent Corruption Perceptions index from the non-profit Transparency International. Indonesia’s score improved steadily since the advent of democracy in 1999, but has stalled since Jokowi took office in late 2014. According to TI, a low score can impact the economy as public resources can be diverted for private use. It can also deter foreign investment.

While institutions such as the Corruption Eradication Commission remains influential at the national level, there has not been enough effort to expand the fight to the regional and local level, where most corruption now exists.

This is worrying since Indonesia has been going through the process of decentralizing power to the region level, meaning more funds for local education, infrastructure, and other public services are being handled locally.

Indonesia’s global future

Current polls show Jokowi with a comfortable lead over challenger Prabowo Subianto in the upcoming elections.

Two things to watch no matter who wins are: Indonesia’s role at the U.N. through the Security Council, as it has just taken a two-year rotating seat; and the emergence of Indonesia as a donor country, as last year saw the launch of Indonesia Aid.

Both, if properly managed, could raise the country’s global development profile at the international level.

About the author

  • Journalist nithin

    Nithin Coca

    Nithin Coca is a freelance journalist who focuses on social, economic, and environmental issues in developing countries, and has specific expertise in Southeast Asia.

Join the Discussion