News analysis

Jokowi's popularity zooms to new high

Indonesian leader's focus on the economy pays off, with his approval ratings hitting 68 per cent

President Joko Widodo will likely win by a landslide and return to office for a second five-year term if an election is held in Indonesia today, recent polls show.

Two separate surveys in recent weeks by Saiful Mujani Research & Consulting (SMRC) and the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) - both Jakarta-based think-tanks - show his approval ratings standing at 68 per cent.

This is a far cry from the 41 per cent he polled in a similar survey three years ago, after he narrowly defeated former army general and Gerindra party chief Prabowo Subianto for the presidency.

While the next presidential race is not due until 2019, Mr Joko's campaign for re-election will begin in earnest as early as next year. Analysts say the President will no doubt look to the latest polls as a boost as he enters his fourth year in office later this month.

"In this position, there is a high possibility that he will be re-elected in 2019, especially since there is no competitive rival against him apart from Mr Prabowo," said SMRC executive director Djayadi Hanan.

Mr Prabowo, a "blue blood" candidate who was equally popular during the last presidential election, has often hinted that he would make another run for office.

But he has not fared well since the last race, with his approval ratings either stagnating or falling, casting further doubt on whether he will be able to contest again.

More than 1,000 people were involved in each of the recent opinion polls conducted by CSIS, SMRC and Media Survei Nasional.

Indonesia President Joko Widodo in a visit last month to a shelter for people living near Bali's Mount Agung, which has been showing high volcanic activity. Analysts note he is unafraid to walk the ground, with displays of his unassuming nature endearing him to Indonesians. PHOTO: REUTERS

When asked to name their choice for the next president, a huge majority of respondents in all three polls picked Mr Joko first. Mr Prabowo was a distant second, trailing by between 13 percentage points and 27 percentage points.

Analysts say the survey findings prove that Mr Joko remains popular with voters in spite of the political attacks against him as well as the racial and religious tensions that have been plaguing Indonesia over the past one year. They attribute his popularity mainly to his "people-centric" policies that focus on driving economic growth, lowering poverty levels and accelerating infrastructure development.

More importantly, analysts note that Mr Joko has repeatedly shown himself to be a "people's president", unafraid to walk the ground on his trademark blusukan, or impromptu visits to interact with citizens from all walks of life.

On Thursday, the President, popularly known as Jokowi, was caught in a traffic jam while on his way to a military parade in the port city of Cilegon. Instead of ordering his outriders to clear the way, he decided to abandon his motorcade and walk, dressed in a suit and tie, under the hot morning sun.

Videos of Mr Joko making his way through the gridlock on foot with such aplomb quickly went viral, earning him praise all around.

Such displays of his unassuming nature has endeared him to Indonesians.

But analysts caution that it is still early days yet for Mr Joko's re-election hopes.

"The success of Nawacita is the only thing that can guarantee Jokowi the 2019 election," said Indonesian Institute of Sciences political analyst Siti Zuhro.

Nawacita refers to Mr Joko's nine-goal campaign promise, which includes having Indonesia achieve stronger economic growth.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 07, 2017, with the headline 'Jokowi's popularity zooms to new high'. Print Edition | Subscribe