Indonesia’s Joko Widodo kicks off fresh term after wave of crises

School children from the hometown of Indonesian President Joko Widodo hold placards as they gather in Solo, Central Java ahead of Jokowi’s inauguration as president for a second term. (AFP)
Updated 20 October 2019

Indonesia’s Joko Widodo kicks off fresh term after wave of crises

JAKARTA: Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo will kick off a fresh term Sunday, facing a wave of crises and with Jakarta under heavy security days after Islamist militants tried to assassinate his top security minister.
More than 30,000 security personnel were deployed in the capital amid fears of another attack during the inauguration of Widodo, 58, and Vice President Ma’ruf Amin, 76.
The ceremony, attended by foreign delegations and heads of state, is scheduled to start around early afternoon
A crowd of several hundred supporters formed near the presidential palace Sunday. But celebrations will likely be muted after mass demonstrations were banned as militancy continues to plague the world’s biggest Muslim-majority nation.
Widodo, widely known as Jokowi, met several visiting leaders including Singapore’s Lee Hsien Loong and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison before the swearing-in.
Jokowi — a popular, heavy metal-loving former businessman from outside the political and military elite — was hailed as Indonesia’s answer to Barack Obama when he was first elected in 2014 to lead the world’s third-biggest democracy.
But his leadership is under mounting criticism after a string of challenges in recent months.
These range from nationwide anti-government demonstrations in which three students died and smog-belching forest fires that sparked diplomatic tensions with Indonesia’s neighbors, to deadly unrest in Papua province and a slowdown in Southeast Asia’s biggest economy.
“This is the weakest point in Jokowi’s political leadership,” said Arya Fernandes, a researcher at the Jakarta-based Center for Strategic and International Studies.
“It’s a test for the president in critical times.”
Recent protests across the archipelago of 260 million were among the biggest student rallies since mass demonstrations toppled the Suharto dictatorship in 1998.
The headwinds threaten to cast a shadow over Jokowi’s second and final term — a stark reversal of fortune just months after he scored a thumping re-election victory against a former military general.
The Indonesian leader’s April re-election was partly driven by a roads-to-airports infrastructure drive.
Jokowi has said he will press on with reforms including cutting red tape, tackling rigid labor rules and luring more foreign investment. But he’ll be grappling with an economy feeling the sting of the US-China trade war and tepid global growth.
Sunday’s inauguration comes a little over a week after his chief security minister was stabbed in an attack by two members of a local extremist outfit allied to the Daesh group.
The two suspects were arrested at the scene, while dozens of suspected militants have since been detained in a country-wide dragnet following the assassination attempt on Wiranto, a former general who goes by one name.
The 72-year-old is recovering in hospital.
“Jokowi really listens to the people,” Wiranto told reporters on Saturday in his first public appearance since the attack.
“A good government is one that is responsive to the aspirations of its people.”
Jokowi’s new term, however, comes against the backdrop of fears that Indonesia’s two decades of democratic reforms are being eroded under the watch of a man once lauded by Time magazine as “A New Hope.”
Choosing conservative cleric Amin as his vice president has also thrown Indonesia’s reputation for tolerant Islam into question.
Jokowi’s administration appeared caught off guard when thousands of students hit the streets in protests last month against a raft of divisive reforms, including banning pre-marital sex and changes that critics said would weaken the anti-graft agency.
The criminal-code reforms were delayed after the backlash, while a bill that limits the power of Indonesia’s corruption buster, known as the KPK, has come into effect.

‘Political reconciliation’ with Pakistan top priority: Afghan envoy Daudzai

Updated 09 July 2020

‘Political reconciliation’ with Pakistan top priority: Afghan envoy Daudzai

  • Pakistan played positive role in US-Taliban peace talks, says diplomat

PESHAWAR: Afghanistan’s newly appointed special envoy for Pakistan has had put “mending political relations” between the two estranged nations as one of his top priorities.

Mohammed Umer Daudzai, on Tuesday said that his primary focus would be to ensure lasting peace in Afghanistan and maintain strong ties with Pakistan, especially after Islamabad’s key role in the Afghan peace process earlier this year.

In an exclusive interview, the diplomat told Arab News: “Two areas have been identified to focus on with renewed vigor, such as lasting peace in Afghanistan and cementing Pak-Afghan bilateral ties in economic, social, political and other areas.”

In order to achieve these aims, he said, efforts would be intensified “to mend political relations” between the neighboring countries.

Pakistan and Afghanistan share a 2,600-kilometer porous border and have been at odds for years. Bonds between them have been particularly strained due to a deep mistrust and allegations of cross-border infiltration by militants.

Kabul has blamed Islamabad for harboring Taliban leaders after they were ousted from power in 2001. But Pakistan has denied the allegations and, instead, accused Kabul of providing refuge to anti-Pakistan militants – a claim rejected by Afghanistan.

Daudzai said his immediate priority would be to focus on “political reconciliation” between the two countries, especially in the backdrop of a historic peace agreement signed in February this year when Pakistan played a crucial role in facilitating a troop withdrawal deal between the US and the Taliban to end the decades-old Afghan conflict. “Afghanistan needs political reconciliation which the Afghan government has already been working on to achieve bottom-up harmony,” he added.

Daudzai’s appointment Monday by Afghan President Ashraf Ghani took place days after Islamabad chose Mohammed Sadiq as Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan’s special representative for Afghanistan.

Reiterating the need to maintain strong bilateral ties with all of its neighbors, Daudzai said Pakistan’s role was of paramount importance to Afghanistan.

“Pakistan has a positive role in the US-Taliban peace talks, and now Islamabad could play a highly significant role in the imminent intra-Afghan talks. I will explore all options for a level-playing field for the success of all these initiatives,” he said, referring in part to crucial peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban which were delayed due to a stalemate in a prisoner exchange program – a key condition of the Feb. 29 peace deal.

Under the agreement, up to 5,000 Taliban prisoners and around 1,000 government prisoners were to be freed by March 10. So far, Afghanistan has released 3,000 prisoners, while the Taliban have freed 500. Daudzai said that while dates had yet to be finalized, the intra-Afghan dialogue could begin “within weeks.”

He added: “A date for intra-Afghan talks hasn’t been identified yet because there is a stalemate on prisoners’ release. But I am sure they (the talks) will be kicked off within weeks.”

Experts say Daudzai’s appointment could give “fresh momentum” to the stalled process and revitalize ties between the two estranged neighbors.

“Mohammed Sadiq’s appointment...could lead Kabul-Islamabad to a close liaison and better coordination,” Irfanullah Khan, an MPhil scholar and expert on Afghan affairs, told Arab News.

Daudzai said that he would be visiting Islamabad to kickstart the process as soon as the coronavirus disease-related travel restrictions were eased.

Prior to being appointed as the special envoy, he had served as Afghanistan’s ambassador to Pakistan from April 2011 to August 2013.