ST Citation for Asian of the Year 2019

A crowd of supporters cheering Mr Joko Widodo in Jakarta after the presidential election in April. He defeated retired army general Prabowo Subianto to retain power for a second and final term in office in the world's largest Muslim-majority country
Indonesian President Joko Widodo sharing a toast with South Korean President Moon Jae-in (left) at a welcome banquet at the Asean-Republic of Korea Commemorative Summit in Busan last week. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

In 2014, Mr Joko Widodo caught the attention of the world by being the first person from outside Jakarta's elite circles to take the presidency of South-east Asia's largest nation. This year, he cemented his local and global standing by not only retaining his office with a handsome margin but also spearheading the Asean Outlook on the Indo-Pacific.

Mr Joko's ascent and endurance come at a crucial time in Asian history when the tectonic plates of global geopolitics are shifting, technological disruption is penetrating deep into industry and society, and the heartstrings of Indonesia's 270 million people, tempered in the unifying philosophy of Pancasila, are tugged at by fundamentalist and often-dangerous centrifugal forces.

As the steward of a vast and disparate archipelagic nation that has more than 17,000 islands that face Australia at one end and India at the other, he confronts many challenges, but has shown dexterity and nous in navigating the tricky cross-currents of domestic politics and international affairs. His grounded personality, ability to connect with people and empathise with the common folk have won him many admirers at home. Abroad, his ability to gaze beyond the horizon and grapple with strategic challenges facing his country and the region has lately also been recognised.

Rooted in the rhythms of his native Javanese culture, he has nevertheless revealed his forward-looking instincts by enlisting Mr Nadiem Makarim, the millennial founder of his nation's first technology unicorn Go-Jek, as Minister of Education and Culture.

The regionalist in him was evident in Indonesia's initiative to formulate the Asean Outlook on the Indo-Pacific earlier this year as a key statement of the region's determination to plough its own furrow amid the swirling Great Power competition in our area and calls to take sides.

The Straits Times' Asian of the Year award honours a person, people or institution that has contributed significantly to society, nation, or the wider Asian continent. In recognising Mr Joko Widodo for the 8th Asian of the Year award, we honour not only his remarkable personal journey to the presidency but also his achievements in the service of his nation.

We recognise that this remains a work in progress. Much needs to be done to build a modern economy that is less reliant on commodities. Human capital, skills and infrastructure in Indonesia all need updating for the modern era, as the President has attested. External challenges need to be managed with skill and care, building bonds and bridges among nations at an especially divisive time in international affairs.

While cognisant of the challenges he faces, we nonetheless express the hope that the President will give no quarter and make no compromise in his quest to build a democratic, corruption-free, open, tolerant and inclusive Indonesia.

Mr Joko is on record as saying that his superhero is Krishna, the Hindu god. As he goes about the remaining years of the presidency, we wish upon him strength and wisdom, qualities he so admired in Krishna.

The editors of The Straits Times are pleased to name President Joko Widodo the ST Asian of the Year 2019.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 05, 2019, with the headline 'Citation: Asian of the Year 2019'. Print Edition | Subscribe