Author(s): Ben Bland
Although he has dominated Indonesian politics for years, President Joko Widodo remains a beguiling figure. He has consistently defied both his sternest critics and his strongest supporters. A brilliant instinctive politician, Jokowi, as he is known, was resoundingly re-elected in 2019. However, he has struggled to turn success at the ballot box into the transformational change that Indonesia desperately needs.
Jokowi has vowed to turn the world's fourth most populous nation into an Asian powerhouse with a strong economy and the heft to defend its international interests at a time of renewed US-China rivalry. Progress has been slow, however. And the scale of the challenge is increasing, at home and abroad. As he gets to work in his second and final term, will Jokowi deliver on his grand ambitions? Or will Indonesia once more fall short of expectations?
Man of Contradictions, the first English-language political biography of Jokowi, will examine how he became so popular, what makes him tick, and why he will struggle to remake Indonesia. The key to understanding Jokowi lies not in uncovering some core inner convictions but in embracing his contradictions. He rose from obscurity thanks to Indonesia's free and fair elections, but he has been a poor guardian of democracy. As an outsider he promised to shake up the corrupt and nepotistic elite, but he has become a consummate transactional politician. As a former factory owner, he pledged to open up the economy to foreign investors, but he has pursued a campaign of nationalisation and prioritised state-owned companies.
Ultimately, the conflicts within Jokowi reflect the profound tensions in a young democracy that is still trying to escape a legacy of colonial oppression and domestic dictatorship, and make its own way in the world.