27 June, 2022


The Example Of Joko Widodo

By Laksiri Fernando

Dr. Laksiri Fernando

Dr. Laksiri Fernando

The third largest democracy in the world, Indonesia, of around 240 million population and 190 million registered voters, went to presidential elections on 9 June Wednesday and the final results are expected on 22st or 23nd. Reliable sample counts of 80 percent show that Joko Widodo, 53, popularly known as Jokowi, and a ‘political newcomer,’ is heading the elections against the authoritarian former General and hardliner, Prabowo Subianto, 63, and let me add ‘a conservative and a traditionalist.’

Indonesia is also the largest Muslim country in the world however mostly with moderate religious temperament because of Abangan traditions in village areas mixed with traditional Hindu and partly Buddhist customs. It is also the biggest economy in Southeast Asia, and with a (monitory) GDP of $ 868 billion stand as the 16th position in the world. Its per capita is closer to present Sri Lanka. Indonesia is a member of G-20 and a founder of ASEAN.

It’s not merely because of the similarity of per capita incomes or as growing economies that Indonesian example is important for Sri Lanka. From a historical point of view, there were Javaka tribes in Sri Lanka before the Christian era. Contemporarily, Agama (meaning religion in both Bahasa Indonesia and Sinhalese) is important in politics in both countries. However, Indonesia or more precisely Jokowi seems to handle Agama differently, compared to many political hardliners in Sri Lanka, not to speak of the BBS. The example is more important given the juncture in which both countries are facing the challenges of constructing and reconstructing democracy with ethnic harmony, peace and economic justice to the poor.

Past and Present

Indonesia was a Dutch colony and achieved full independence in 1949 which was declared through a national revolution previously in 1945. Sukarno was the undisputed nationalist leader and the first President who deviated from initial democracy for a ‘guided one’ in 1957. ‘Guided democracy’ was his caricature. Following a difficult period thereafter, however, he sided with the communists instead of Islam or the military, to his credit. That was also his demise given the circumstances.

During 1965-67, through a military counter revolution, Suharto came to power by massacring nearly 500,000 communist party members and supporters. Suharto regime was supported by the US in the context of the Cold War. Suharto’s was a ruthless dictatorship in the country during which East Timor was invaded and annexed (1975). Contrary to the popular misconception, East Timor, now Timor Leste, was never a part of Indonesia or even of the old Majpahit kingdom.

Indonesia is a complex archipelago with over 13,000 islands and over 100 ethnic groups. The largest ethnic groups are Javanese (42 percent), Sundanese (16 percent), Malay (4 percent), Madurese (3 percent) and others (35 percent). Given this diverse make up, the dominance of one ethnicity over the others is not easy like in Sri Lanka although the Javanese are prominent in economic, social and political life. Although the Chinese are only around 1 percent, their influence is higher than its proportion; a fact which is generally accepted.

However on religious lines, there is a predominance of Islam with 87 percent being its adherents. There are five other religions recognized in the Constitution, Protestants (7 percent), Catholics (3 percent), Hindu (2 percent), Buddhists (1 percent) and Confucianism even less than one percent. Indonesia is predominantly a Sunni Muslim country (99 percent).

There is an interesting ideological makeup in Indonesia whether it is actually practiced or not. And that is “Bhinneka Tunggal Ika” meaning ‘Unity in Diversity.’ It is inscribed in the Indonesian official emblem. It comes from an old Javanese poem written during the Majpahit kingdom in the 14th century where unity between Hinduism and Buddhism was emphasized. The relevant Stanza was the following.

Truth of Buddha

Truth of Shiva

Is one

They are different

But they are of the same kind

There is no duality in Truth.  

Today, “Bhinneka Tunggal Ika” particularly incorporates Islam. The above principle, can easily be translated into religious or ethnic relations in any country. What is required primarily is political will.

It is also interesting how Indonesia has tried to resolve its official language policy in the modern times. It was during the nationalist struggle and more precisely in 1928 that the nationalist leaders decided to rather construct Bahasa Indonesia, as a unifying language of diverse ethnic groups, based on old Malay and mixing other languages. There are borrowed words from Dutch and also English. There are many similar words to Sinhalese (i.e. agama or karya) as well as to Tamil (i.e. apam or roti) in this constructed language.

The above does not mean that Indonesia is a perfect country; not at all. But it means at least it has some policy framework to achieve harmony and peace compared to many other countries.

Election Background  

However, the story of Jokowi or the current presidential election might be more interesting to the Sri Lankan readers than the story of Indonesia in general. Indonesia has been going in a democratic direction after the collapse of Suharto’s rule in 1998 but not smoothly. That was also the trigger for independence of East Timor and autonomy struggle for Aceh. This experience undoubtedly highlights the importance of democracy or democratization in resolving ethnic or national questions in any country.

Even after the collapse and replacement of Suharto in 1998 the move towards democracy has been tortuous. The military was maintaining a strong grip on politics through its party Golkar also during Megawati Sukarnoputri’s Presidency (2001-2004) and even the current election is an attempt to return back to the past order of the army generals. Only in 2004 that direct election for the presidency was held and a relatively moderate former General Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono was elected and elected again in 2009. He was from the Democratic Party. Unlike Sri Lanka now, Indonesia has a limited two term period for the presidency and one term is only 5 years. This is undoubtedly an admirable feature.

Jokowi contested the presidential elections from the ‘Indonesian Democratic Party – Struggle’ (IDP-S) of which Megawati Sukarnoputri is the chairperson. This is a breakaway party from the Indonesian Democratic Party (IDP) which was controlled first by the Suharto administration and then by the security establishment for a long period. Otherwise, the IDP was very much similar to the SLFP in policies and social background. Megawati did the right thing by splitting the party in 1988 to facilitate a democratic transformation in the country and within the party. Yet it has been a difficult task given the social and religious conservatism in society and the polity. Megawati herself lost elections to Yudhoyono in 2004.

Who is Jokowi?

Jokowi however is different or believed to be different. He comes from a common background, just a plebian unlike his opponent Prabowo who is a typical patrician. Jokowi is popularly called ‘Indonesian Obama’ because of his physical appearance and relaxed style of campaigning. That attribution or nickname is not a major issue in Indonesia.

Jokowi has come almost from nowhere. He came into politics only in 2005 to contest the Mayor position in Solo (Surakarta) from the IDP-S and won with his running mate, a Catholic. Before that he was just a small time furniture entrepreneur. By education, he is an agricultural engineering graduate. Then he contested the Governor position of Jakarta in 2012 and again won. This time his running mate was a Chinese. This was his way of symbolizing Bhinneka Tunggal Ika.

He is considered a ‘new’ and a ‘clean’ leader. His opponent, Prabowo, on the contrary, has an infamous record of human rights violations as the Special Force Commander of the Indonesian military before 1988. He is almost one generation older to Jokowi with family and business connections. He was married to the daughter of Suharto although now separated. Prabowo himself come from a hierarchical family with his brother as a billionaire and his main financier. There are of course others.

Jokowi is different. When he became the Mayor of Solo, in his own home town, he prohibited any of his family members biding for contracts. He has run a clean administration with innovation and novelty. It was the same after he became the Governor of Jakarta. He has a reputation as a punya gaye (guy) a can-do person. He is also a populist. Apart from his pro-poor policies, he is famous for his blusukans. He makes surprise visits to people’s homes, market places and factories to inquire about people’s grievances and their views about policies. This has never appeared as fraudulent engagement like what some of our politicians indulge in.

Jokowi has a major appeal among the youth and that has been his major strength even during this presidential campaign. He is a popular name in the social media. He is also a non-violent, non-aggressive and a pragmatic person. He talks in terms of long term ideals and aspirations apart from practically putting into practice pro-poor and innovative policies. In his last campaign rally in Jakarta he has said “We gather here as part of a democracy that ensures participation of all people in determining the nation’s future, to respect human rights, fight for justice and maintain plurality and peace.”

What is the Lesson?

Let me sum up this article without prolonging. What is the lesson for Sri Lanka in view of the forthcoming presidential election? Can we find a Jokowi in Sri Lanka? No, that is not the main point or conclusion that I try to highlight. Anyway, it might be too late to find or promote a ‘Jokowi’ from the broader opposition now. Even our leaders are not inclined to do so except perhaps the JVP. The JVP however is not yet a broad based party and its past undoubtedly is an inhibition to shoulder that national responsibility.

The lesson is about populism that I try to highlight. Everyone knows that the Rajapaksas or particularly the President Rajapaksa is almost a textbook personification of populist politics in Sri Lanka. But his populism has now gone sour. There are always risks of populism. It can easily go for chauvinism, like in the present case, and even for fascism. Perhaps that danger even might emerge in the future. However that is not a reason to reject populism altogether.

Some people might believe that populism can be generated only through nationalism or still worse ethno nationalism. That is also not correct. Jokowi has abundantly proved the opposite or other alternatives. By the way he was also not a single issue candidate. He has inspired people against Prabowo through a range of issues and pro-poor and populist economic policies and most importantly relating his leadership to the people directly. This can be done by a leader, this can be done by a party, and this can also be done by a coalition or a United Front.

Facing a populist challenge from the government there can be a tendency on the part of the opposition to reject populism and embrace elitism. That is what I have observed so far, particularly from some of the intellectual critiques against the Rajapaksa regime. This is defeatist and dangerous for democracy. Instead of criticizing the government or governance for various ills in society, there is also a tendency to castigate the people.

Why populism? Populism is not always evil. The foundation of populism, like democracy is demos or the people. Without inspiring people, democracy or democracy movements cannot be built. But there can be dangers too. Let me quote Francisco Panizza (Populism and the Mirror of Democracy) on this point.

In modern global society, populism raises uncomfortable questions about those who want to appropriate the empty site of power, but also about those who would like to subordinate politics to technocratic reason and dictates of the market.

By raising awkward questions about modern forms of democracy, and often representing the ugly face of people, populism is neither the highest form of democracy nor its enemy, but a mirror in which democracy can contemplate itself, warts and all, and find out what it is about and what it is lacking.” (p.30).

I might only add to Panizza that populism is not only a ‘mirror’ but also can be a ‘mold’ of democracy. Like in, or more than, Indonesia, democratic space is still available in Sri Lanka. Any oppositional movement should use that framework like Jokowi has been using strictly peacefully. ‘Arab Spring’ is not a model for Sri Lanka, but Indonesia might be without exaggerating the Jokowi example. The opposition or any segment of it should not be a cat’s paw for any foreign power, knowingly or unknowingly. The temptations can be high. International solidarity from the global civil society is what might be needed and not assistance from foreign powers. Those who are interested in ‘Populism’ further may read Ernesto Laclau, particularly his On Populist Reason (2005).

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Latest comments

  • 5

    I heard stories about rise of Premadasa as a rare, poor and peoples’ politicians in SL. When he was elected to Colombo council for first time, I heard people collected money and bought him Morris Minor car, and push it with him to the City Hall on his first day as politician. But our same Nandas and Mamas (and we) who were around him turned Premadasa to a very corrupted politician and a monster in couple of years time. Until MR/GR broke the record, Premadasa, poor, law cast (Heena cast) man, murdered most unarmed civilians in the country, became biggest murderer in the SL history.. Would Siri Lanka ever get Jokowi or Modi? We the people, our Nandas and Mamas, would change any decent man to a political monster within months…

    • 2

      Dr. Laksiri Fernando –

      “However on religious lines, there is a predominance of Islam with 87 percent being its adherents. There are five other religions recognized in the Constitution, Protestants (7 percent), Catholics (3 percent), Hindu (2 percent), Buddhists (1 percent) and Confucianism even less than one percent. Indonesia is predominantly a Sunni Muslim country (99 percent).”

      “The lesson is about populism that I try to highlight. Everyone knows that the Rajapaksas or particularly the President Rajapaksa is almost a textbook personification of populist politics in Sri Lanka. But his populism has now gone sour. There are always risks of populism. It can easily go for chauvinism, like in the present case, and even for fascism. Perhaps that danger even might emerge in the future. However that is not a reason to reject populism altogether.”

      Thank you. Good write-up. Let me point out some items here.

      1. Islam was introduced to Indonesia mostly by Sufi Gujarat traders who were Sunni.

      2. Any conversion of the people to Sufi and Sunni Islam was on a voluntary basis.

      3. As Islam Expanded, many Hindus went to Bali. Bali is now 93% Hindus and very peaceful.

      Sri Lanka id 70% Para-Sinhala Buddhist from South India and very violent, thanks to the lie sand imaginations of para-monk Mahanama of Mahawansa notoriety.

      4. In Lanka, Land of native Veddah and Veddhan, Para-Sinhala Buddhist racism is taught from a very young age, and many grow up to be Para-Sinhala Buddhist racists.

      So, for the Para-Sinhala, The Sinhala speaking Para-Tamils from South India, do not accept diversity.

      Test their DNA. It will show where the para came from.

      This has to be emphasized, so that, it becomes harder and harder for the para-Sinhalese “Buddhists” to keep on lying.

  • 0

    Populism involves the projection of a person or a party as being able to interfere in the workings of the state in order to “right wrongs against the people” and “prevent injustice”. This leads to a subversion of due process and from there to suspension of law, order and constitution and rule by fiat. This is fascism and most people can see it coming long before it comes and act to prevent it. In Sri Lanka however there is a deep reverence for fascism as can be seen in the day to day lives of its people and in their relationships within their families and other institutions. This reverence for fascism is not only justified but is in fact widely celebrated.

    In fact there was a spectacled old fellow somewhere in America who used to be called Berne who maintained that all of us have a “little Fascist” inside of us that makes us be cruel and torture insects and animals and of course humans if given the opportunity. He never visited Sri Lanka or he would have realized that most people who live here have had their little fascists grown into big fascists and he may also have been able to test the theory that the bigger the fascist the balder the head.

    There is not much difference between what this piece advocates and what the prime minister of the sri lankan deep state wants. The only difference is that this piece advocates a “change of populist”. So for the people who live on this island there is much more to come.

    I am not of course talking about an “Asian Spring” modeled on the Arab one. I am not talking about any kind of spring at all. I am taking about the Bling Bling fling that is being carefully orchestrated between the ruling cabal (most of which were once with the opposition and who have joined the ruling cabal with the blessings of their leader) and the opposition which will see the emergence of a “populist national front” that will build our own version of National Socialism that will be welcomed joyfully by the World Bank and the mysterious “International Community”.

    The Joker in Indonesia knows that Pro bowwa has a delicate relationship with the armed forces through the Kopassus, which seems to have been carefully restructured to form his power base within the state machinery. As a young pup this bowwa showed his talent for brutality and torture when he went after the East Timorean rebellion. The joker has been able to secure the support of sections of the armed forces and the state that prefer to have a joker who makes them laugh rather than a bowwa that barks and bites in charge.

    The following news report that is doing the rounds in the land of OZ is enlightening and it puts this Example of Joker wid Dodo in an interesting context: “A high ranking commanding officer of the army told Lanka e news that he is ready to give evidence before the international human rights commission pertaining to the war crimes. He asserted that just to save an individual who gave orders to commit war crimes, the entire forces and the whole country cannot be made to pay for his sins. He went on to reveal who this individual is, and named him as Gotabaya Rajapakse, the younger brother of Mahinda Rajapakse. 

This high rung commanding officer who cannot disclose his name because he is still in active service revealed, during the war, a group including Pullithevan and Nadesan came forward carrying white flags stating they came to surrender on an agreement reached at the highest levels . As they were crying and clinging on to the legs of the soldiers, the latter who could not therefore kill them were asking for instructions when Major general Shavendra Silva said, he had received orders from Gotabaya to kill them , and instructed them to be liquidated. Consequently, they were killed…Need the whole country or the entire forces be compromised and made to pay for the sins of one person’s crimes stemming from his stupid arrogance, and merely to save that individual? If evidence is not given , our entire forces will suffer and their image will be dented and damaged.”

    Interestingly this High Ranking Officer who lives in this land of liars and serves in its armed forces does not for a moment suspect that Maj Gen SS may have been lying and that the order may actually have come from the prime minister of the deep state who at the time was putting all his considerable energies into ensuring that the LTTE was stamped out. Knowing the mind of the prime minster of the deep state he could very well have told the good Maj Gen SS that the order was being sent through him by Gotabaya for strategic reasons. This prime minster of the deep state who is a cunning creep could thereby have created a situation where the problem comes to rest with Gotabaya. The foolishness of the action taken and the fact that it is all well recorded via defense satellites owned by that old uncle makes it possible that either of the two are responsible since both have about the same levels of intelligence. Of course Uncle refuses to release the satellite data because he says that doing that will lead to his “losing leverage” with all parties concerned. Uncle likes his soup hot and so he wants it kept on the boil. So a tussle between Gotabaya and the prime minster of the deep state is likely to commence soon. In this the prime minister is likely to have the assistance of the happy moon.

    Now we do not have a Joker or a Bowwa here but we sure do have a big angry bad tempered and murderous Goat around. The author of this piece seems to think that introducing a Joker may be a good idea. He seems to prefer a Joker to a Goat. Applications for the post of Joker may have been made already by the prime minister of the Sri Lankan deep state who is a really great and glorious man who has held many posts all over the world very much like my friend Sam, two robed bald singhoes one with BB and the other without any, one jockey with his own riding school and one Harmine who runs on coconut and scotch and one singha who cannot roar and there are rumors that the vel kart viggie may also have sent in his application.

    So lets wait for the wild card and good luck Sri Lanka.

  • 4

    I think I lost the rest of my hair trying to understand crazyoldmans!

    Sri Lanka is not likely to get a Joko because he would be picked up by a white van before he can get far.

    And, in true Sri Lankan style, we will pull down anyone trying to climb the ladder ahead of us! Let alone, that he is trying to help us…

    As a people we are conflicted and confused. Our mothers and fathers told us not to play with the poorer kids in the area. Not to take the shiny toy car outside the house, to share with our friends!!

    In school, we played with all the kids and we did not know who their parents were and how they lived. It were the teachers who favoured the well-off kids in the hope of scrounging gifts from their parents.

    Today, everyone likes to pretend they are not racist, selfish or unpatriotic. That is because their lives revolve around themselves and their own. They don’t ‘see’ anyone or anything outside that circle.

    So; if your son gets a ticket for driving whilst texting…no problem, call the OIC traffic and get it cancelled. If you daughter failing in English at school, send her teacher an expensive gift and that should take care of her grade. Wife needs a promotion? Of course, Dad’s good friend is the Director and he can take care of that!!

    When every Sri Lankan tries to survive by thwarting and manipulating the system, what’s left???

  • 1

    The UNP needs a Joko as candidate. Instead it has a Joker.

    • 0

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    • 1


      “The UNP needs a Joko as candidate. Instead it has a Joker.”

      How about war monger and war crime denier instead of Joko?

    • 1

      This is something I anticipated from Dayan!

    • 2

      This man dayan has lost all his abilities to look at Sri Lankan politics objectively. Funny he is calling himself an analyst.

  • 2

    Ambassador Jayatilleke dropped his credentials…oops!

  • 2

    Isn’t Srilanka’s national dress ‘sarong’ came from Indonesia?


    • 1


      “Isn’t Srilanka’s national dress ‘sarong’ came from Indonesia?”

      It was the Amude or loin cloth before that. They got it from the native Veddah.

      • 0

        Here is a little excerpt from the Island, 2 days ago……..

        Invited to an event, a world famous Sri Lankan smartly dressed in a designer sarong and a matching shirt went to a Colombo hotel only to be stopped at the entrance by an irritable doorman on the grounds that he was not in a lounge suit. The short-fused genius flew into a rage and thundered: `If my sarong is a problem for you I ll go without it.` So saying, he dropped his sarong and walked in leisurely much to the amusement of onlookers, leaving the doorman in a state of shock. The hotel staff fought quite a battle to persuade him to get back into his colourful sarong again.

        • 0

          That happened a few decades ago. If it happens now something may get sliced off. This is like celebrating the 2500 year old culture. Just concentrate on the situation now.

  • 0

    When the General, who killed 150,000 in the Mullivaikkal stood for election to redeem Sinhalese, Tamils were forced to voted for him. The only aim was to redeem the Sinhalese. None of the elite, educated Sinhalese came out and told to the Sinhalese that this is not how should be the Sinhalese democratic elections. But, in fact they went one step bellow and voted to King and made even Fonseka to lose. It is because the mass murderer gave a false promise to TNA. I do not know how to describe this circumstances. Even a false promise to Tamils was not acceptable to the Sinhalese Buddhist elites. This man, who killed the Tamils and gave a false promise to them to win a election, is not standing up to bring the truth out in Lanka about the war. He is catching up more and more on how to give more promises.

    Now these intellectuals’ eyes are blind.( even if they defeat king he is not going anywhere) These intellectuals trying to open their eyes to conduct prayer to Sun God. Dayan, knowing pricking his eyes more and more with the claim of seeking eye sight. He claims he is writing against the separatist. So he is looking for joker to stand in the election.

    None of these joker seekers were ready to support Kusal Perera when he wanted CV to go as a single issue candidate.(none of these are my position). Dishonest and crooked Dayan was the leader on opposing Kusal Perera. He is the only one praise and write Premadasa, too. He is hoping if a JR or DS or Premadasa may come out of UNP and destroy more of Lanka, then only the people will realize the his boss King is the better candidate to lead Lanka. Isn’t the Lankan intellectual are the most downward people than the Mahavamsa Modayas?

    Did one of them wrote a line, “Hey mahavamsa Moadaya people come on, Tamils voted to Fonseka for our benefit. CV is man who has left his both children converted to be Sinhalese. No Tamil can try to become more Sinhalese than this. He is honest. He is intelligent. He is law abiding. So let us go with Kusal Perera” They didn’t. They said Diamond can be cut with only with a Diamond. A dirty,nasty Sinhala Buddhist politician can be defeated only by stronger Gnasara, a low grade Sinhala Buddhist. Now they are looking for a joker, that is another way these intellectual trying to be nastier to each other. Well, long live the Mahavama destructive preaching, which has already out lived is use, as the intellectuals of Sinhala Buddhist not able to thing beyond it, not ready oppose it find a better candidate and support a Tamil.

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