Indonesia: How Anti-Lockdown Elites Swayed Jokowi, Fueling Indonesia Crisis

  • When Indonesian President Joko Widodo spoke with influential business groups on 30 Jun 21 to discuss imposing a full-scale lockdown as Covid-19 cases spiked, he met with widespread resistance.
  • Earlier in the day, senior ministers including Indonesia’s top health official visited the presidential palace in Jakarta with a clear message: the caseload — and death toll — would spike dramatically if the government didn’t immediately impose sweeping measures.
  • They called on the president, known as Jokowi, to restrict the movement of all people in the hardest hit areas, according to a person familiar with the meetings who asked not to be identified discussing private conversations.
  • But in a Zoom call with the president later on 30 Jun 21, the business associations pushed back against the recommendations from health experts, the person said.
  • Led by Rosan Roeslani, who until a few weeks ago was chairman of the Indonesia Business Chamber of Commerce and Industry, known as Kadin, various speakers said the measures would stifle the country’s economic recovery and force massive layoffs.
  • The following day, Jokowi’s administration announced restrictions that avoided the full lockdown proposed by health officials.
  • Jokowi now faces a choice: Stick with the limited measures announced or ease the restrictions in a bid to protect the livelihoods of millions even as the virus runs rampant.
  • This week one of his ministers said the current restrictions would be extended until 25 Jul 21, with the president saying curbs would be loosened afterward if cases continue to fall.
  • On 21 Jul 21, Arsjad Rasjid, Kadin’s new chairman who succeeded Roeslani, released recommendations for the government from 11 business groups that included calls for essential industries to fully operate, non-essential sectors to open at half-capacity, and aid for both workers and businesses. He also confirmed he attended the 30 Jun 21 meeting with Jokowi.
  • On 22 Jul 21, the Covid-19 task force told local officials to start preparing to ease curbs as soon as next week. Just minutes before, the government reported 1,449 deaths, the worst day in the entire pandemic.
  • The push-and-pull between the president and industry groups shows the sway business interests hold over politicians in Jakarta — particularly when they warn of job losses that could backfire during elections.
  • It’s surprising that Jokowi’s approval ratings haven’t taken more of a hit given the country’s “slow and haphazard” pandemic “made worse by the premature opening of a ‘new normal’ which prioritized economic recovery and led to difficulties in the mitigation of the health crisis,” said Deasy Simandjuntak, an associate fellow at ISEAS–Yusof Ishak Institute in Singapore.
  • “Yet with the current upsurge of cases, it is likely that the president’s popularity will be impacted,” she said. “Especially if the present measures fail to improve the situation.”

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