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THE JOKOWI PRESIDENCY: INTERNATIONAL ENGAGEMENT TO KILL OUR FOREST FIRES


29 October 2014

 

 

President Joko Widodo has never been a foreign minister and he has never been a diplomat, but he has a keen sense of the world and the reciprocal interests it has with the national needs of Indonesia. As a business man he had from early on linked his products to international markets and frequently participated in international fora. As municipal leader he has been internationally recognized and is the recipient of several awards.

 

Now there is the exciting prospect of extending his global view to the presidency. This will allow him to meet domestic issues with the power of broad perspectives. It will jump start his presidency beyond the reach of petty political opposition. Jokowi who won the election by grass roots popular support can make his presidency succeed by a strategic foreign policy.

 

One major challenge facing him at the dawn of his presidency is the resolution the decades-long horror of forest fires. They are an annual event in Indonesian forests but it is an international concern. And the solutions may well come from international cooperation.

 

Many hard decisions await our new president in the first weeks of his watch. Few offer more challenges and opportunities than action on forest fires. Delay brings lives lost and huge material damage. In the big picture, forest degradation means less protection against climate change disaster not just for Indonesia but also for the world. Rapidly the forest fires in Riau and other hot spots have become international crisis centers.

 

The forest fires in Riau have been a depressing annual occurrence for 17 years. Past president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono took a positive step as Indonesia ratified the Asean Agreement On Transboundary Haze Pollution. But ironically, as Greenpeace has pointed out, this was followed by the closure of schools in Palembang, Inderalaya, Kayuagung, dan Muara Enim because forest fires have brought air quality down to dangerous levels. Greenpeace Indonesia head Longgena Ginting says that this is because the government is not attacking the problem in a comprehensive manner. The approach has been firefighting and not attacking the roots of the problem. The key to the solution, Greenpeace says, is total protection of the peatland ecosystem. This includes a non-negotiable extension of the forest moratorium that is due in May 2015. The challenge is clear. The opportunities are less self-evident but could well define Jokowi's presidency in the foreign policy area.

 

The crux of the matter is that forest fires, like all forms of forest degradation, are spurred by the misguided interests of the political and business elites in the provinces and at the center. It is an important challenge  for Jokowi to stop this vicious circle.

 

The striking success of the SBY government in the reconstruction of Aceh put Indonesia firmly in a place among nations with a capacity of absorbing international cooperation for the benefit of the domestic public. Credit also is due Jusuf Kalla, Vice President then and now, for successfully completing the peace process started by President Wahid. This actually sets the pattern for Indonesia prowess in international relations. We are reminded of the current reputation of SBY internationally when he made the historical speech at the Pittsburgh G20 meeting in November 2009 which led to the international cooperation on REDD+ now spearheading our action on climate change.

 

Jokowi faces urgent priorities in the first weeks of his presidency. Most urgently, managing a difficult budget and coming to terms with the fuel subsidy burden. Setting a productive agenda to meet expectations as a man of action is not a simple task.  But it offers an excellent opportunity to live up to expectations as a man of strategic action.

 

A quick but intense visit to study the forest fires in Riau will energize the new government to effective action. It will make our neighboring countries relief from debilitating smoke and gain international respect for President Jokowi.

 

It sets the course for a convergence between domestic and international concerns. It will establish the new President as a positive player on the global scene.

 

There will be several global events In the very near future, notably APEC and the G20 in November 2014. Jokowi will be there fresh with the historic victory of democracy. Making a mark in these international events will continue his winning streak as he takes domestic action in the context of international assertiveness. Should he maintain the momentum through next year, he will do his nation and the world tremendous good by sharing his success on the environment by delivering a speech at the 2015 COP in Paris.

 

We will then have our popular President firmly on the world stage. And Indonesia will be a major world force.

 

 

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