Indonesia is one of the largest countries in the world, with a total land and sea area of almost two million square kilometres and comprising some 17,600 islands. This sprawling archipelago is also home to around 262 million people from hundreds of different ethnic and cultural groups all living in relative harmony, making it the fourth most populous country in the world, and the most populous Muslim-majority nation.

Like its geographical uniqueness and diverse traditions, Indonesia—the “Emerald of the Equator”— is currently led by a notable figure who also embodies elements that may superficially appear at odds. President Joko Widodo, familiarly called Jokowi, cuts a humble and modest figure who also projects a quiet, charismatic power. He is pragmatic, populist, and an idealist, all at the same time. Truly, this is a man of the people and cultures he represents.

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Jokowi has been a long time coming, and this seventh president of the Republic of Indonesia, is the real deal—his slogan of “Work,Work, Work!”, adopted when he was elected president in 2014, has turned out not to be a gimmick but a mantra. It said: “Judge me not on my own merits but on what I achieve” and spoke to a generation of Indonesians thirsty for a new form of performance based politics that matches their own youthful and idealistic aspirations. (Seventy per cent of the country’s population will be of workforce age by 2030 according to The Jakarta Post, forming Indonesia’s so-called “demographic bonus”.)

But more than any slogan or campaign promises, Jokowi is a man of action. Entering the fifth year of his presidency and facing a general election this month, his achievements are manifold. That so much has been achieved has not just given him a strong platform from which to fight the upcoming general election but has also helped Indonesians feel a sense of national pride hat their country is respected and influential on the international political and economic stage.

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One of Jokowi’s election promises—to finally and definitively tackle Greater Jakarta’s notoriously snarly traffic—will be among his most lasting legacies. On September 9, 2015, within his first year in office, Jokowi kicked off construction of the first part of the Light Rail Transit (LRT) network that will integrate central Jakarta with its more far-flung outskirts in the Bogor, Depok, and Bekasi areas.

Jokowi also didn’t spring from nowhere. This working-class fan of Metallica and motorcycles honed his can-do skills as the mayor of Surakarta and governor of Jakarta, even being listed by the Washington Post Company’s Foreign Policy magazine as one of the Leading Global Thinkers of 2013, itself citing his third-place ranking in the World’s Mayor Prize. He hails from a modest background, in touch with the needs and will of the people.

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Jokowi also has the quiet authority of a family man, totally at ease with himself and seemingly unburdened by the weight his office carries. This is a man who has achieved results, although—like a giant supertanker— changing the direction that Indonesia moves in can be painfully slow. 

This story appears in the April 2019 issue of Indonesia Tatler. For the full story, grab the copy at your nearest newsstand, or subscribe here.