Unleashing Indonesia's potential

Indonesian President Joko Widodo's plans to carry out reforms and grow the economy have suffered a setback because of internecine party strife. The rift between him and his Indonesian Democratic Party - Struggle (PDI-P) is excruciating to watch. While a leadership struggle within opposition Golkar puts into question its joining his ruling coalition.

At the heart of the matter lies former president Megawati Sukarnoputri's insistence that Mr Joko is a "servant of the party" she controls. The yoke of being a "puppet president" has dogged both Mr Joko's candidacy and presidency to the extent that he had to assert again that "the President has to serve the people". This is, of course, his duty and it is in carrying it out steadfastly that he serves the party - by burnishing its political credibility, rather than reinforcing notions of shortsighted and self-serving agendas associated with the parties.

Mr Joko was put in a needlessly difficult position over Mrs Megawati's choice of her former bodyguard for the post of national police chief. This proved to be unpopular with the public as the candidate was under investigation for corruption. It might not have come to that had Mr Joko been the leader of his party and been free to exercise his judgment in the larger public interest.

Mrs Megawati is right to point out that he was not elected as an independent. Neither was he chosen to merely bend to a party's will. His task is to shape policies and principles for the betterment of all Indonesians. It would be also in the party's interest to endorse the results of his efforts rather than to be at odds with the President in such a testy fashion.

Mr Joko has managed thus far to gain support in Parliament, including that of the opposition, in pushing through policies such as cuts in fuel subsidies and the national Budget to reduce deficits and free up funds for much-needed economic programmes such as infrastructure building. But he will find the going tougher if his hands are tied by Indonesia's fractious party politics. Unfortunately, he also cannot count on a sound working relationship with the largest opposition party, given the power struggle within Golkar. Other options like leaving PDI-P to form a political party are fraught with difficulty as well.

Ultimately, strong public support will remain Mr Joko's trump card as he presses on with reforms while keeping an eye on risks that "arise mainly from a deeper-than-expected slowdown in emerging market trading partners and surges in global financial market volatility", as the International Monetary Fund noted last month. To lead Indonesia forward. Mr Joko will need to rise above the fray of domestic party politics.