Opening Indonesia

A Conversation With Joko Widodo

Joko Widodo

  • Country: Indonesia
  • Title: President
  • Education: Gadjah Mada University

On July 9, nearly 135 million Indonesians went to some 480,000 polling stations and picked a new president -- just the third to be directly elected in the country’s history. (Indonesia overthrew its longtime dictator, Suharto, in 1998, but his initial successors were chosen by the legislature.) Their choice: Joko Widodo, known universally as Jokowi. A former small-town mayor from central Java, Jokowi first burst onto the national scene when he was elected governor of Jakarta in 2012. A populist and technocrat, Jokowi is neither rich nor wellborn; he dresses simply, is a self-professed metalhead with a special fondness for Metallica, and worked in the family furniture business before entering politics. His wild popularity and rapid ascent -- from provincial unknown to the leader of the world’s third-largest democracy -- have drawn comparisons to another president who spent part of his middle-class childhood in Indonesia: Barack Obama. But high expectations can be a curse as well as a blessing, and Jokowi faces huge challenges: endemic corruption, a once-promising economy that has gone into a tailspin, and a lingering threat of Islamic extremism. In mid-September, he met with Foreign Affairs managing editor Jonathan Tepperman at his Jakarta residence for his first interview with an English-language publication since his election.

You just got through a very difficult campaign. The result was much closer than initially predicted, and there were a lot of rumors spread about you during the race: that you were Jewish, a Christian, ethnic Chinese, a communist, an American agent, etc. Then your opponent disputed the results. Has all that made this diverse country even more divided, and how can you reunite it?
It’s true, yes, that the campaign was very ugly, very passionate. But this is normal in democracies, and I’m sure that the people here will now come together again. Maybe the elite can show the people how. I recently met with our competitor Hatta Rajasa [the opposing vice-presidential candidate], and people know that we are good friends. It’s

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