Into the fray of Jakarta politics

Indonesia's incoming president Joko Widodo has a formidable agenda to work through. Adding to the difficulties are hurdles placed in his path in the workings of Parliament and regional legislatures. These are going to test his skill at compromise and legislative deal-making. But not much is known about this aspect of his make-up as he had risen through local government, where his stint as governor of Jakarta had been brief.

Ordinary Indonesians see strength in his common man persona. They are pinning their hopes on a leader free of links to business and the military-security complex to bring social justice, principally by moving fearlessly against corruption and inert bureaucracies. Balanced budgets, foreign investment and raising value in exports of unprocessed commodities are remote in their minds. But Mr Joko knows his focus cannot be too narrow if he is to help Indonesia fulfil its potential. To make any progress on different fronts, he has to skilfully navigate a hostile Parliament determined to trip him up.

His coalition of four parties is under-strength when pitted against the forces of the defeated presidential candidate, Mr Prabowo Subianto, which thus far have an unassailable majority in the new Parliament. An early lesson in the exercise of power was demonstrated when MPs in the outgoing Parliament affiliated with Mr Prabowo overturned a law on direct elections in provinces and towns. The development has international significance as the Prabowo coalition controls most of the regional legislatures and therefore, the fate of development programmes. If what the centre proposes is jammed up by the local authorities asserting their prerogatives, imple-mentation will proceed at snail's pace, if at all.

Another setback occurred when the office of Speaker of Parliament fell to the Prabowo coalition (the biggest bloc) and not to Mr Joko's Indonesian Democratic Party-Struggle or PDI-P (the Chamber's biggest party). If Parliament's key committees which steer legislation are also headed by opposition lawmakers, the President can theoretically be stymied in enacting laws as Bills usually are sewn up by committee in closed-door deals. The Budget and ethics committees, respectively, have a big say on fiscal matters and corruption probes against MPs.

Mr Joko will have to manoeuvre with the best of them. He has powers of dispensation on policy, and he can also coax cooperation from Prabowo loyalists on specific Bills. Avenues are also open to him to increase his coalition numbers at the opposition's expense. Alliances, however, will need political elites to put aside differences in favour of honest, people-centred governance that Mr Joko represents. Indonesia's next growth phase will hinge on it.