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Hope, Expectation for New Indonesian Leader

Indonesian President Joko Widodo gestures to the crowd during a street parade following his inauguration in Jakarta, Indonesia, Oct. 20, 2014. (AP Photo/Achmad Ibraham)
Hope, Expectation for New Indonesian Leader
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Indonesia has a new president. Joko Widodo was sworn in as president on Monday at the national parliament building in Jakarta. Leaders of Australia, Malaysia and Singapore attended the swearing-in ceremony. So did America’s top diplomat, Secretary of State John Kerry.

By the middle of the day, thousands of people had gathered on Jakarta’s main streets to welcome the new leader and celebrate his swearing-in. Celebrations included a parade, a rock music show and the release of paper lanterns into the night sky.

Joko Widodo does not have ties to the Indonesian political establishment. His election is being celebrated as a turning point in the world’s third-largest democracy. The former businessman had become a highly popular politician. He is Indonesia’s seventh president. There are huge expectations for the new president. His election has created a sense of hope and change in Indonesia. But President Widodo will face difficult issues. Aleksius Jemadu is a professor at Pelita Harapan University in Indonesia.

He says “I think his biggest challenge is going to be how to defend his policies and how to get the support of members of parliament, especially those that are on the other side of the political spectrum.”

Mr. Widodo won the presidential election with 53 percent of the vote nationwide. But he does not control a majority in Indonesia’s parliament.

Recently, parliament voted to cancel direct elections for local government leaders. The vote has fueled fears that the president’s opponents could block his programs and refuse to approve money to carry out his proposals.

US Secretary of State John Kerry talks with President Joko Widodo at his inauguration Oct. 20, 2014
US Secretary of State John Kerry talks with President Joko Widodo at his inauguration Oct. 20, 2014

Economic growth in Indonesia is the lowest it has been in five years. That is partly because of reduced demand for oil and other commodities. The new president is hoping for a growth rate of seven percent. He has promised to improve transportation and other infrastructure and carry out delayed reforms.

Mr. Widodo has also promised to raise the price of fuel by 50 percent. The move is politically unpopular, but it is expected to save the government almost $13 billion a year.

Yohanes Sulaiman teaches at Indonesia’s National Defense University. He says the new leader’s concern with local and national issues is likely to leave little room for foreign policy concerns.

He said Mr. Widodo “needs to get things done, which makes me think that foreign policy will be his last priority. It seems that is what he is focusing on at this point -- more economic growth.”

President Widodo is expected to be less of an internationalist than former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

However the new president has repeatedly stated his support for an “independent and active” foreign policy. He has also promised to make Indonesia into a center for the international sea trade.

Mr. Widodo spoke about this idea after his swearing-in on Monday. He said “as captain of the ship, I invite all Indonesians onboard to sail together towards a prosperous Indonesia.”

I’m Christopher Cruise.

This story was reported by correspondent Kate Lamb in Jakarta. George Grow wrote it for Learning English. The editor was Christopher Cruise, who also narrated and produced the report.


Words in This Story

parliament n. a government lawmaking group

welcome v. to express happiness or pleasure when someone arrives or something develops

democracy n. the system of government in which citizens vote to choose leaders or to make other important decisions

majority n. the greater number; more than half

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