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Man of Contradictions

Ben Bland
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Although he has dominated Indonesian politics for years, President Joko Widodo remains an enigmatic figure. He has consistently defied both his sternest critics and his strongest supporters. A brilliant instinctive politician, Jokowi was resoundingly re-elected in 2019. However, he has struggled to turn success at the ballot box into the transformational change that Indonesia desperately needs. Jokowi has vowed to turn Indonesia into an Asian powerhouse with a strong economy and the heft to defend its international interests at a time of renewed US-China rivalry. But progress has been slow, and the scale of the challenge is increasing, at home and abroad. As he gets to work in his second and final term, will Jokowi deliver on his grand ambitions? Or will Indonesia once more fall short of expectations? Man of Contradictions, the first English-language political biography of Jokowi, will examine how he became so popular, what makes him tick, and why he will struggle to remake Indonesia. The key to understanding Jokowi lies not in uncovering some core inner convictions but in embracing his contradictions. He rose from obscurity thanks to Indonesia’s free and fair elections, but he has been a poor guardian of democracy. As an outsider he promised to shake up the corrupt and nepotistic elite, but he has become a consummate transactional politician. As a former factory owner, he pledged to open up the economy to foreign investors, but he has pursued a campaign of nationalisation and prioritised state-owned companies. Ultimately, the conflicts within Jokowi reflect the profound tensions in a young democracy that is still trying to escape a legacy of colonial oppression and domestic dictatorship, and make its own way in the world.

Published: Feb/2021

ISBN: 9789814954600

Length: 192 Pages

Man of Contradictions

Ben Bland

Although he has dominated Indonesian politics for years, President Joko Widodo remains an enigmatic figure. He has consistently defied both his sternest critics and his strongest supporters. A brilliant instinctive politician, Jokowi was resoundingly re-elected in 2019. However, he has struggled to turn success at the ballot box into the transformational change that Indonesia desperately needs. Jokowi has vowed to turn Indonesia into an Asian powerhouse with a strong economy and the heft to defend its international interests at a time of renewed US-China rivalry. But progress has been slow, and the scale of the challenge is increasing, at home and abroad. As he gets to work in his second and final term, will Jokowi deliver on his grand ambitions? Or will Indonesia once more fall short of expectations? Man of Contradictions, the first English-language political biography of Jokowi, will examine how he became so popular, what makes him tick, and why he will struggle to remake Indonesia. The key to understanding Jokowi lies not in uncovering some core inner convictions but in embracing his contradictions. He rose from obscurity thanks to Indonesia’s free and fair elections, but he has been a poor guardian of democracy. As an outsider he promised to shake up the corrupt and nepotistic elite, but he has become a consummate transactional politician. As a former factory owner, he pledged to open up the economy to foreign investors, but he has pursued a campaign of nationalisation and prioritised state-owned companies. Ultimately, the conflicts within Jokowi reflect the profound tensions in a young democracy that is still trying to escape a legacy of colonial oppression and domestic dictatorship, and make its own way in the world.

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Ben Bland

Ben Bland is director of the Southeast Asia project at the Lowy Institute. Before joining the Lowy Institute, Ben was an award-winning foreign correspondent for the Financial Times, with postings in Hanoi, Hong Kong and Jakarta and experience reporting across China and Southeast Asia over the previous decade. His first book, Generation HK: Seeking Identity in China’s Shadow, was published in 2017, examining the growing tensions between Hong Kong and Beijing. It was described as a ‘David versus Goliath tale’ by the Sydney Morning Herald and commended by the Times Literary Supplement for its ‘lively prose’ and ‘illuminating’ comparisons.