Indonesian President Joko Widodo said yesterday that The Straits Times' Asian of the Year 2019 award bestowed upon him was an honour for him and his country.
"Thank you. It's an honour not only for me, but also for Indonesia," he posted on social media, garnering over half a million likes on Instagram, and thousands of congratulatory messages on Twitter and Facebook.
Presidential spokesman Fadjroel Rachman told The Straits Times that Mr Joko was "very happy" and "truly thankful" for the award, which the President said was for Indonesians.
"I went to the palace to meet him and he was smiling happily. He said the award was truly a year-end gift for Indonesia, a gift for five years of hard work," Mr Fadjroel said.
The Straits Times editors unanimously picked Mr Joko, 58, for "his "dexterity and nous in navigating the tricky cross-currents of domestic politics and international affairs".
They praised him for his role in putting Indonesia at the heart of the 10-member regional bloc, Asean, in recent times through the "Asean Outlook on the Indo-Pacific".
The document maintains the grouping's position of neutrality amid growing rivalry between China and the United States for supremacy in the region. It was endorsed and adopted by the bloc at the Asean Summit in Bangkok in June.
The editors also congratulated Mr Joko on his victory in the April presidential election. He returned to office by defeating former army general Prabowo Subianto with 55.5 per cent of the vote.
The ST story on Mr Joko's win was widely carried by dozens of media outlets, including members of the Asia News Network media alliance, The Jakarta Post and Malaysia's The Star, as well as Indonesia's Kompas.com, detik.com and CNBC Indonesia.
Better known as Jokowi, the self-made man rose from humble beginnings, becoming mayor of Solo, a city in central Java, then governor in Jakarta before becoming leader of South-east Asia's largest country as well as economy with nearly 270 million people.
Mr Joko has pledged to build more infrastructure, equip Indonesians with vocational skills, cut red tape and ease labour laws in his second and final term, but faces challenges, including tackling corruption and religious extremism.
Mr Fadjroel said that the President felt The Straits Times "has succeeded in capturing his vision for the next five years" and its hope for him not to compromise on democracy and build a corrupt-free, open, tolerant and inclusive country served as a "real whip to us".
The presidential spokesman added: "In our desire to develop the economy, we must also defend democracy. Mr Jokowi has said that it's our aim to make Indonesia an example of how democracy and economic prosperity can work in parallel."