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Indonesia Swears In President Who Ran On Promise Of Change


Indonesia gets a new president today. Joko Widodo is inaugurated. He's known as Jokowi for short. He is the new leader of a country that is not always on Americans' radar. But this vast archipelago is one of the world's most populous nations and the third-largest democracy, behind only India and the United States. Jokowi won election on a promise of change in a country that struggles with corruption. Ben Bland is covering him. He is the Indonesia correspondent for the Financial Times, and he's on the line. Welcome to the program.

BEN BLAND: Thank you for having me.

INSKEEP: I guess we should mention he's a little outside the usual power structure - this new president. What gave him his appeal?

BLAND: Well, Indonesia has usually been run by a tight-knit political, economic, military elite. And Jokowi came from nowhere, really, over the last five to 10 years. He was a carpenter from a small town. Then he became mayor of the same town, moved to governorship of Jakarta, the capital. And just 18 months, he is (unintelligible) the president of the world's third-biggest democracy.

I think it's the fact that he comes from a very different background from most of the elite business people, generals and political dynasties. That makes him different. His style speaks to that because where maybe the other guys travel around with 40 guards all the time - they keep away away from the people as much as they can. He's always made it his selling point to go out to the people, to ask them what they want, to investigate problems where there's a road that's meant to be built, but hasn't been built. He'll go down there and speak to the workers and see what's going on. And it's his approachable nature, I think, together with his relatively clean record in local government and a track record of actually delivering improvements in health and education for the people that really stands him out in a country that has struggled with corruption, as you say.

INSKEEP: So he is able to pose as a man of the people. Does it feel like he is a man of the people?

BLAND: Well, I think it's always hard to tell. He's certainly a very good brand manager. And today, Jokowi's been out on the streets of Jakarta, being mobbed by tens of thousands - if not hundreds of thousands - of people. And he made sure to wear his white shirt so people can see him wherever he goes. And that shows a side of him that is quite calculating, but at the same time, I think his life is genuinely humble. And there's certainly been no big corruption or malfeasance cases relating to what he's done in government. So it seems he's real, but he knows how to project that image to make him extremely popular in a country where many people have become very frustrated with the ineffective government of the last few years.

INSKEEP: And, of course, his campaign has made sure that we know - the world knows - interesting details about him, like the fact that he's a fan of Metallica. But let's get down to substance here. What does he say he intends to do about the slow economy and other problems in this gigantic nation?

BLAND: Well, actually, very little. He rose to power because of his style and his approach to the people. But he's been very short on details and what he intends to do. He focuses pretty much on delivery of results, getting things done, but he doesn't have any grand plans beyond ensuring that the infrastructure plans that Indonesia has are actually followed through with, beyond trying to make sure government is more effective, less corrupt. He's really a doer rather than a thinker.

INSKEEP: Is he going to be able to be a doer, given the strength of his political opposition?

BLAND: Well, he does have a minority position in the legislature, and there's a lot of opposition more broadly from the politic elite. Obviously, that's a situation not uncommon to Americans. It's not a dissimilar situation to that which President Obama has found himself in from time to time. And a lot will come down to whether or not Jokowi has the ability to do what he did at local government on the national stage and whether he can manipulate the national parliament in the same way he did in the city hall. It's a question that has yet to be answered.

INSKEEP: Ben Bland of the Financial Times, thanks very much.

BLAND: Thank you.

INSKEEP: He's talking about Jokowi, the new president of Indonesia. This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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