Webinar on “Understanding Jokowi’s Leadership Amidst Covid-19 Crisis”

In this webinar, Mr Ben Bland explains that the Covid-19 crisis reveals cracks and contradictions in President Jokowi’s leadership. Dr Yanuar Nugroho explains that these apparent contradictions may be due to Jokowi and Indonesian political leaders seeking political settlements instead of permanent solutions in the day-to-day operations of the government.


Monday, 21 September 2020 – The ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute hosted a webinar on “Understanding Jokowi’s Leadership Amidst COVID-19 Crisis”, which featured the insights of Mr Ben Bland, Director of the Southeast Asia Programme at the Lowy Institute and the author of “Man of Contradictions: Joko Widodo and the Struggle to Remake Indonesia”, and ISEAS Visiting Senior Fellow Dr Yanuar Nugroho. Mr Bland presented his analysis on contradictions embodied in the Indonesian President Joko Widodo’s administration, particularly in dealing with the COVID-19 crisis. In response, Dr Nugroho discussed and highlighted the role of high-level bureaucrats in Jokowi’s administration. ISEAS Visiting Senior Fellow Dr Hui Yew-Foong moderated the webinar.

Mr Ben Bland and Dr Yanuar Nugroho discussed findings from in-depth research on the personality and leadership style of Jokowi. Dr Hui Yew-Foong moderated the webinar. (Credit: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)

The webinar began with Mr Ben Bland laying out the problems of Jokowi’s leadership during the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead of increasing the public health system capacity, Jokowi focused mostly on maintaining the economy. Mr Bland mentioned several issues, including how Jokowi’s trust in political personalities led him to put the Minister of State-owned Enterprises Erick Thohir in charge of the COVID-19 task force. Additionally, he assessed that Jokowi had implemented less long term strategic plans in mitigating the crisis, disregarded experts’ advice, and looked to the army and police to carry out the mitigation process. Mr Bland also noted that Jokowi seemed to not have strong trust in civil society in helping to curb the spread of the virus.

Mr Bland further explained Jokowi’s trajectory over the last nine years in Indonesia’s political sphere. He stated that Jokowi sees the world through the eyes of a furniture-maker and former mayor, and thus focuses on simplifying regulations, establishing infrastructure, building better healthcare and education, and driving FDI and economic growth. Mr Bland also pointed out what he saw as paradoxes in Jokowi’s leadership, which included: micromanaging and impulsiveness as a leader; reformer yet conservative; an electoral champion but also a poor guardian of democracy; and good at concentrating power but bad in using it. Citing Benedict Anderson, Mr Bland pointed out that Jokowi seemed to demonstrate the Javanese character of political leadership, whereby the man of power exhibited his ability to absorb power from the outside and to concentrate it within himself.

In response, Dr Nugroho agreed that there were inadequacies in Jokowi’s policies during the early days of the pandemic. Nevertheless, he argued that consistency in governance might be difficult to achieve in reality. Other than Jokowi, high-level bureaucrats were also playing a key role in Indonesian politics and shaping the direction of the policies. This often resulted in political settlements rather than permanent solutions. The webinar drew an audience of more than 420 participants from both Singapore and abroad. During the Q&A session, the panel discussed issues related to the role and efficacy of the cabinet, the deployment of army and police in mitigating the crisis, the institutional framework and state capacity, the role of civil society, political rivalries between Jokowi and emerging local leaders, how the budget can address both public health and economic problems, and the future of bureaucratic reform.

Over 420 participants attended the webinar. (Credit: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)