Jokowi's approval rating up as first year in office ends

President Joko Widodo answering questions from elementary school pupils playing the role of young reporters at the Presidential Palace in Jakarta yesterday.
President Joko Widodo answering questions from elementary school pupils playing the role of young reporters at the Presidential Palace in Jakarta yesterday.PHOTO: REUTERS

Indonesian leader admits difficulties, but his drive to win back voters' trust now paying off

JAKARTA • President Joko Widodo has regained the approval of most Indonesians, an opinion poll shows, as he marked his first year in office yesterday - evidence that an overhaul in the way he governs Southeast Asia's largest economy is starting to pay off.

Reeling from months of political missteps and the worst economic slowdown in six years, Mr Joko launched a drive in August to win back voters' trust that included a Cabinet reshuffle and a major stimulus package.

The President's approval rating rose to 52 per cent this month from 41 per cent in June, a survey of 1,220 Indonesians by Saiful Mujani Research and Consulting showed. That remains far below a peak of 72 per cent just after he was elected.

"The Indonesian people are still giving Jokowi a chance after his first year," said the research group's executive director Djayadi Hanan, referring to the President by his nickname.

"People see that the President has been consolidating his political power in Parliament and in government."

Mr Joko, Indonesia's first president to come from outside the political or military establishment, marked his first year in office by acknowledging the difficulties in finding his footing.

Policy confusion, internal bickering and vested interests have hamstrung his reforms. He also faces diplomatic pressure over his failure to douse fires causing heavy haze over neighbouring countries.

"The first step is most often the hardest, but also the most important," Mr Joko said on Twitter yesterday. "The first year is for setting a foundation."

Investors say Mr Joko, who will travel to the United States for the first time as President next week, is starting to strike the right tone.

They point to a recent move to offer more certainty to the annual minimum wage increase and the possible easing of foreign investment rules.

The rupiah has rebounded 7 per cent since hitting a 17-year low in late September, while the stock market has jumped 12 per cent from a two-year low. But many obstacles remain, with an expected hike in US interest rates, a slowdown in China and weak domestic consumption threatening to unwind his nascent efforts.

"He's still very weak, but he is progressing," said Mr Achmad Sukarsono, an Indonesia analyst with risk consultancy the Eurasia Group.

An editorial in The Jakarta Post yesterday also sounded a hopeful note. "The first year should be seen as a learning experience and we expect that the tail end of 2015 should give more hope than the last months of 2014," the paper said.

"It's time to do better now, Mr President."

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 21, 2015, with the headline 'Jokowi's approval rating up as first year in office ends'. Print Edition | Subscribe