Joko Widodo, a deft hand at domestic politics and global affairs, is The Straits Times Asian of the Year 2019

ST editors hail President Joko Widodo's role in putting Indonesia at the heart of Asean, the 10-member regional bloc, in recent times.
ST editors hail President Joko Widodo's role in putting Indonesia at the heart of Asean, the 10-member regional bloc, in recent times.PHOTO: BLOOMBERG
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
A crowd of supporters cheering Mr Joko Widodo in Jakarta after the presidential election in April. ST PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR
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

ST Asian of the Year lauded for ability to foster unity in age of chaos and disruption

Indonesia's seventh and current president, Mr Joko Widodo, has been named The Straits Times' Asian of the Year 2019 for being a unifying figure in an age of chaos and disruption.

Mr Joko, 58, was chosen by editors for his "dexterity and nous in navigating the tricky cross-currents of domestic politics and international affairs".

Better known as Jokowi, he defeated retired army general Prabowo Subianto in the April presidential election to retain power for a second and final term in office in the world's largest Muslim-majority country and third-biggest democracy of nearly 270 million people. He is barred constitutionally from seeking another term as president.

Noting Mr Joko's stellar rise from being a mayor of Solo city, in Central Java, in 2005 to presiding over South-east Asia's largest country and economy, the editors said his "grounded personality, ability to connect with people, empathy with the common folk have won him many admirers at home". Abroad, they praised his "ability to gaze beyond the horizon and grapple with strategic challenges facing his country and the region".

The editors hailed his role in putting Indonesia at the heart of Asean, the 10-member regional bloc, in recent times.

Leaders of member nations adopted the "Asean Outlook on the Indo-Pacific", drafted by Indonesia, at the Asean Summit in Bangkok in June and which maintains the regional grouping's position of neutrality amid growing rivalry between China and the United States for supremacy in the region.

It was Mr Joko who first introduced the cooperation concept based on key principles, including openness, inclusivity and Asean centrality, at the East Asia Summit in Singapore in November last year.

The President faces severe challenges in his next five years in office, from invigorating a sluggish economy to rooting out pervasive corruption and tackling rising religious extremism.

But the editors expressed the hope that he would "give no quarter and make no compromise in his quest to build a democratic, corruption-free, open, tolerant and inclusive Indonesia".

Mr Warren Fernandez, editor-in-chief of Singapore Press Holdings' English/Malay/Tamil Media Group and editor of The Straits Times, who chaired the panel that deliberated on the award, said the award was meant to honour someone who not only made or shaped the news, but also helped contribute positively to Asia in the process.

"President Joko Widodo has done that to great effect. Not only has he won a second term, but he has also brought Indonesia together and taken it forward. Likewise for Asean. There is much scope for him to lead both further if he marshals his considerable political skills and the goodwill that he enjoys with people all around Asia," he said.

President Joko Widodo with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad in Bangkok last month. ST editors hailed Mr Joko's role in putting Indonesia at the heart of Asean in recent times.
President Joko Widodo with Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad and Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in Bangkok last month. ST editors hailed Mr Joko's role in putting Indonesia at the heart of Asean in recent times. PHOTO: PMO

 
 
 
 

Mr Jeremy Au Yong, foreign editor of The Straits Times, said: "In a year when disputes grabbed the headlines - our recent Straits Times Global Outlook Forum focused on how to navigate a world in conflict - Jokowi stood out as someone who united rather than divided."

Now in its eighth year, The Straits Times' Asian of the Year award is given in recognition of an Asian or Asians who have made a significant impact on their continent over the past 12 months. Editors picked The First Responders, individuals and disaster relief organisations who stepped up during natural disasters, as Asians of the Year 2018.

Other previous winners include Singapore's founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew, who was named posthumously, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 05, 2019, with the headline 'Jokowi a deft hand at domestic politics and global affairs'. Print Edition | Subscribe