Author: Thomas Clouse
Jokowi has no ties to the military or to powerful political families.

Self-made businessman and former governor of Jakarta, Joko Widodo won Indonesia’s presidential election in July, marking the first time a candidate without ties to the military or a powerful political family has won the position. The election was only the third direct presidential election since the fall of longtime dictator Suharto in 1998. Widodo, more commonly known as Jokowi, defeated military general Prabowo Subianto, who is married to Suharto’s daughter. Prabowo has legally challenged the results, but Jokowi’s six-percentage-point margin will likely quell any doubts about his victory.

If the Supreme Court finalizes the results, Jokowi will take office in October. Once there, he faces numerous challenges. The country’s economy, Southeast Asia’s largest, is slowing down after years of strong and steady growth—second-quarter GDP expanded by 5.1%, a five-year low.

Plus there are endemic issues with corruption. Transparency International ranks Indonesia 114th out of 177 countries in its Corruption Perceptions Index. Jokowi promised to address the issue of corruption as part of his campaign, but complicating that task is the fact that the ruling coalition in parliament supported Prabowo in the election. “Railing against the pervasive corruption is much easier than actually doing something about it,” writes Harvard Law School professor Matthew Stephenson on the Global Anticorruption Blog.

Nonetheless, Jokowi’s election is already significant, signalling big progress for the young democracy. Indonesia is the world’s largest Muslim-majority country, third-largest democracy and fourth-largest country by population. Strong democratic institutions there will bring stability to the region and could potentially serve as models for other nations around the world.

Along similar lines, Jokowi’s rise from furniture maker to president is significant for the Indonesian people. Boni Hargens, a political analyst at the University of Indonesia, explains: “Jokowi is to some extent the abstract of the whole people’s life, hope and dreams. His humble performance is the true face of Indonesians. That’s why his winning means a lot.”