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(August 14, 2018) Making sense of Jokowi's second term bid - Kavi Chongkittavorn

Do not let the state-of-the-art Soekarno-Hatta International Airport Terminal 3 and the slogan "Energy of Asia" for this month's Asian Games fool you about Indonesia's place in the world. It is just the beginning.

An active member of Asean, Indonesia has big, multiple dreams befitting the world's third-largest democracy and fourth-most populous country, with the world's largest Muslim population.

After all, Indonesian President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo just got his first taste of realpolitik both at home and abroad. In the past three years, he has learned and mastered Indonesian politics and patronage so well that it was all out on display publicly. He also has fallen in love with Asean and also wants to go beyond the regional grouping.

At a press conference last week to announce the vice presidential candidate, Ma'ruf Amin, Jokowi looked so confident, as if he wanted to tell the public that the presidential election to be held on April 17 next year would be a done deal. Sitting beside him was Megawati Soekarnoputri, who was calling all the shots when the government was formed in 2014. Now, she stayed calm and let Jokowi do the talking and selecting.

He has embodied the psyche "I am one of you" for the nation of 260 million people, although some Indonesians think he is not Muslim enough. By picking Mr Amin, who is the leader of the nation's highest Islamic institution, the Indonesian Ulema Council, as his running mate, he has figuratively pulled the rug out from under his opponent, Prabowo Subianto, leader of the Gerindra Party.

To secure his second term, Jokowi must win the hearts and minds of conservative Muslim voters. He already has two Muslim parties, the National Awakening Party and the United Development Party, but it remains to be seen how Jokowi's coalition partners and Mr Amin would be able to work together to win the Muslim vote. Last year, Mr Amin was a key witness in the blasphemy case against former Jakarta governor Basuki "Ahok" Tjahaja Purnama, who was sentenced to two years in jail.

A former furniture salesman from Yogyakarta, Jokowi also wants to raise his country's profile beyond Southeast Asia, which is by Indonesia's standards considered a small playground. As the only Asean member of G20, Indonesia often sees itself as a leader of the regional bloc -- never mind all the talk about its commitment to Asean on trade liberalisation. Indeed, some Indonesian scholars have said that Jokowi is now very interested in Asean after almost three years of trying to understand and appreciate the real meaning of the group. Earlier, he often complained that in Asean meetings, leaders just read statements.

Being a Muslim nation with less than two decades of democracy, Indonesia is now a bigger political asset than other prominent Muslim countries such as Turkey, which used to be considered the world's weightiest secular Muslim nation. However, recent political developments that greatly strengthened the grip on power of Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan have not augured well for the West and the European Union.

This trend has certainly boosted Indonesia's international image. Now, the world is talking positively about Indonesia, and trailing close behind is another Asean Muslim member, Malaysia, which passed through disruptive politics just several weeks ago with the return of 93-year-old veteran, Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad. Malaysia is now freer and more open than before -- together with Indonesia, they are making Asean a player in the Muslim world.

Indonesia's reawakening comes at a time when the Asia-Pacific has been reformulated to fit into the new strategic environment in this fast-growing region. Indonesia is well placed in this new alignment. As the country that occupies the world's largest maritime space, what Jakarta does or intends to do has global implications for international sea lanes. Indeed, Jakarta wants to be a maritime power facilitating free and open trade.

At the beginning of Jokowi's administration, Indonesia came up with the concept of serving as a "Global Maritime Fulcrum", but few countries have taken its ambition seriously. Now, domestically, it is proud of its success in raising awareness of the country's maritime potential and latent power. During the past three years, Indonesia has got extremely tough on protecting its sovereignty and resources, resulting in rising tensions with neighbouring countries.

By picking Mr Amin over other qualified candidates, Jokowi realises the future trend of Indonesian identity politics that will more and more involve Islamic values. He was chosen the first time as a leader of the common man who would promote Indonesia's democracy and economy. Today, he has been more successful in maintaining democratic governance despite some backsliding on gender- and media-related issues.

They all have to do with conservative voices within the Muslim community. Jokowi learned a valuable lesson from the defeat of his former colleague and former Jakarta governor, Ahok. Without conservative Muslim backing, he would be defeated in the next round. Jokowi wants to serve a second term to cement his legacy as a leader who has brought economic progress and widen connectivity to major cities and remote areas. His decision to build a railway network in West Papua as well as other infrastructure projects is a case in point.

Jokowi's interest in Asean has increased greatly in the past year. He realises now that Indonesia's prosperity depends on overall integration with the Asean Economic Community. In addition, he also said in private that he could make friends easily at the Asean-led meetings, for which he was highly appreciative.

He knows the value of networking with foreign industrial countries. Indonesia, being an island, has problems with air and sea connectivity. No wonder he has befriended all countries and travelled widely, especially to China. He was the first Indonesian leader to have visited China, nine times, more than any of his predecessors. That also helps to explain Indonesia's position in the South China Sea quagmire.

With a stable democracy and well-managed economy, Indonesia will rise. Jokowi has to deal with the politicalisation of Islam and identity politics, not to mention the growing nationalistic feeling. Only then can Indonesia claim its place in the world that Jokowi's predecessors had long hoped for, since the Bandung Conference in 1955.