For R. William Liddle, Joko Widodo at the beginning offered much hope for Indonesia which was still struggling to get back on its feet following the 1998 Reformasi revolution. Bill Liddle as he is familiarly known has studied Indonesia since the 60s. A political scientist at Ohio State University, Liddle has a deep understanding of Indonesia’s political history through different eras. He knows Indonesia’s complex problems and attempts to offer possible solutions.
When Jokowi stepped onto the national political stage, Liddle saw him as a promising figure. Jokowi did not belong to the old political network overthrown by the 1998 student movement. He hailed from a modest family and worked his way up the political ladder from the bottom. With his pragmatism, Jokowi seemed determined to create a just and prosperous Indonesia.
Looking at this background, Liddle even predicted that Jokowi would be the president who could lead Indonesia to prosperity after Suharto. Their economic policies were alike, focusing on the infrastructure to boost economic growth. Liddle even admitted that he was a fan of the former mayor of Solo, Central Java.
But Jokowi has changed. The changes in the eyes of Liddle occurred at the beginning of Jokowi’s second term. Jokowi, who had once stated that he was no longer afraid to make policies in his second term, apparently began his second term by dismantling the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK). Through the revision of the KPK Law, Jokowi placed this institution under his authority, rendering the anti-graft agency no longer independent.
After that, the creation of the omnibus Job Creation Law has disadvantaged the country’s labor force and threatened the environment. The institutional damage Jokowi has caused culminated when his brother-in-law, Anwar Usman, Constitutional Court’s Chief Justice, cleared the way for his son, Gibran Rakabuming Raka to advance as a vice-presidential candidate in the coming general elections.
Liddle admitted that he was late in recognizing changes in Jokowi’s stance. “Indeed, he still desires an economic policy not different from the Suharto era. However, in terms of politics, he prioritizes personal power,” he told Tempo on Thursday, November 2.
In an online interview lasting about one and a half hours, fluently conducted in Indonesian, Liddle provided an analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of three pairs of presidential-vice presidential candidates: Anies Baswedan-Muhaimin Iskandar, Ganjar Pranowo-Mahfud Mahmodin, and Prabowo Subianto-Gibran Rakabuming Raka. Liddle also highlighted three crucial issues for Indonesian democracy: an open economy, electoral democracy, and civil society. Excerpts of the interview:
So, has your view of Jokowi changed?
Jokowi has snuffed out my hopes in him. He continued, perhaps quite rigorously, Suharto’s economic policy to create a prosperous and just Indonesia. It is the policy first initiated by Widjojo Nitisastro and his colleagues during the Suharto era and it is continued until now by Sri Mulyani. However, she lacks support from other cabinet members who are pro-protectionists. If Indonesia wants to seize global opportunities, it needs to open up its economy. That was the hope for Jokowi.
From the economic perspective, Jokowi has done better than Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. In the future, maybe Jokowi will be remembered as the president who brought the most prosperity to Indonesia after Suharto. Suharto was good with the economic issues. He created the foundation for the prosperity the Indonesians enjoy today. So, I pinned a lot of hopes on Jokowi. His performance has been quite good but lately, he’s proven or shown that he wants to hold on to power.
When did you first notice the change in Jokowi?
My graduate friends in Australia were ahead of me on this. They wrote about Jokowi’s failures in the book titled Democracy in Indonesia: From Stagnation to Regression? which was edited by Thomas Power and Eve Warburton. Almost the entire book is filled with criticisms of Jokowi. I reviewed it in one of the journals. I said the book was excessive. However, year after year, I’ve also come to see that Jokowi is not a democrat. In political terms, what matters most to him is personal power.
What exactly are Jokowi’s mistakes?
He has damaged many instruments of democracy, particularly the Constitutional Court, increasingly putting the continuation of democracy under threat. It’s not hard to imagine unrestrainable conflict if the 2024 presidential election results are contested. Consequently, this may lead the military to take over power. There was political instability in the 60s created by political parties. This may happen again.
Is the Constitutional Court scandal the only cause of concern to you?
At the beginning of his second term, he took several initiatives that undermined democracy. The KPK was dismantled. There’s no more honest KPK. But maybe what befell the Constitutional Court is the most crucial matter now because it will hear the case if Prabowo loses (and contests the results). Prabowo has lost twice. If he loses again, he will most likely challenge the results at the Court. Many predict he will win. But if he doesn’t, he will sue again. We don’t know yet what will happen. Maybe I’m just too pessimistic. But that is one of the possibilities. Indonesia’s democracy is still young, only 20 years old. There was democracy in the 50s but it did not last long because the military killed it for all sorts of pretexts.
Was Jokowi’s first term okay?
Quite okay. We were not that aware in the first term. In my book, the four figures are Jokowi, Obama, Trump, and Yudhoyono. In the book, I was almost reluctant to criticize Jokowi because he is an economic figure. His economic policy was something that everyone should hope for. He was truly committed to economic development. If he ever has any edge, that is it. And it’s easy to overlook his mistakes in the first term given that his intention was for the economy. But, from the outset of his second period, it was increasingly clear that the economic policy wasn’t the only he was after. He wanted to stay in power. We can see clearly that he wants to use Prabowo to extend his position, through his son, Gibran, as a vice-presidential candidate.
Why are you concerned about Indonesia’s future?
Nobody has faith in the Constitutional Court anymore. The Constitutional Court is an institution established on the heels of the Reformasi but has been corrupted by Jokowi in his second term through the appointment of his brother-in-law to the top seat. In essence, it has become a family court as being called now, not the Constitutional Court anymore. That’s what I’m worried about. Like Indonesia in the 50s. Maybe politicians can no longer control their world. But they can challenge the 2024 election results.