Indonesia: Rage fuels Pertamina’s Ahok, Indonesia’s most talked about Christian

  • As Jakarta’s first Christian governor of Chinese descent, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama became a powerful symbol of tolerance in the world’s most populous majority-Muslim country.
  • A protege of president Joko Widodo, Purnama – known by his nickname Ahok – was on track for another term when accusations that he insulted Islam blew apart the 2017 gubernatorial race, convicting him of blasphemy and jailed for nearly 2 years.
  • As hard as he fell, despite his anger, Ahok kept faith with Indonesia’s political elite. Released from jail in Jan 19, Ahok is now chairman of Pertamina, the Southeast Asian oil and gas giant. Indonesia’s largest company and its single most important SOE, Pertamina booked USD57.93bn in revenue and USD2.53bn in net income in 2018.
  • In Mar 20 President Widodo also named Ahok as a candidate to oversee the construction of Indonesia’s new capital city, a feat that – if it can be accomplished – will not only define Jokowi’s place in Indonesia’s history but could also secure Ahok’s legacy as well.
  • Whatever happens to Jokowi’s USD33bn proposal to build a new capital for Indonesia, Ahok has work cut out in his role at Pertamina, and not just because of the coronavirus crisis crashing oil prices and wreaking havoc on the world economy.
  • Frustrated with Indonesia’s chronic current account deficits, President Jokowi wants Ahok to take on Indonesia’s deeply-rooted “oil and gas mafia” to reduce Pertamina’s reliance on imports, and to accelerate its much-delayed six mega refinery projects.
  • In Feb 20 Ahok announced that a similar online transparency is now available for procurements of crude oil, liquefied petroleum gas, fuel and oil tanker chartering at Pertamina — whose documents are now accessible on the company’s website.
  • Ahok also revealed some of Pertamina’s other plans during the Abu Dhabi forum – including initial public offerings for some of the 140 company’s subsidiaries, setting an ambitious target of creating USD100bn in market capitalizations.
  • Only six months on the job, it is too early to tell if Ahok has achieved anything significant at Pertamina, especially now with the coronavirus pandemic sending oil prices to their lowest levels in a generation.
  • Pertamina director Nicke Widyawati told lawmakers in Apr 20 that the company will reduce its capital expenditure by 23% in 2020, and operating expenditure by 30%. In a 15 May research note, Fitch Solutions said the bulk of Pertamina’s USD1.8bn capital expenditure cuts would be made from its upstream operations, where the company had been expecting to allocate nearly half of its 2020 capex.
  • Given that Ahok’s appointment to head Pertamina already drew strong resistance, the University of Indonesia’s Pranoto expects more hullabaloo if Ahok is named to lead the capital relocation he is a candidate for.
  • Whether or not Ahok courts controversy, the last four years have not diminished his political aspirations, cementing a relationship with former President Megawati Soekarnoputri, the chairwoman of Widodo’s Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle.
  • Wildly popular among his supporters, often dubbed “Ahokers”, his 8.8 million strong army of Twitter followers far exceeds the 3.6 million followers of his successor as governor Anies Baswedan. According to political analyst Tobias Basuki, Indonesians remain sharply divided – between Ahokers and the anti-fans – and nothing Ahok does could change their already hardened minds.

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