Widodo heralds winds of change

Editorial, Normal

The National, Thursday May 14th, 2015

 IN Peter O’Neill and Joko Widodo, Papua New Guinea and Indonesia now have the best opportunity yet for greater economic and political interaction with realistic hopes for real growth, especially in the border regions.  

The Indonesian president and his delegation left on Tuesday with commitments from their PNG counterparts as contained in two MOUs on Cooperation in Preventing and Combating Transnational Crime and on Cooperation in Human Resource Development in Petroleum and Energy.

There is now understanding and some optimism that what had previously remained a tricky issue has now been discussed with maturity and commitment by either government.

President Widodo, for his part has made a breakthrough in the matter himself.

The PNG media was reportedly held on a leash and barred from asking the tough questions on human rights abuses across the border, but perhaps that may have been the Melanesian way at play again.  You don’t offend your guest by asking questions he knows you have and which have been asked by others already.

Rather than being overly optimistic, we are hopeful that this is a guest who is quite genuine and has indicated that by his public utterances and personal gestures on the struggles of Melanesians in his country.

Prime Minister O’Neill said during the welcome dinner at Parliament House on Monday evening that: “Indonesia and Papua New Guinea as friends, do not discuss these issues through the media or through megaphone diplomacy. But we do this as partners with a mature bilateral relationship and with trust and respect for each other.

“We will be sitting down and sharing our views and looking at how we might work together to improving the lives and well-being of the Melanesian people in the Papuan provinces.

“We are very encouraged by your recent visit to Papua provinces in recent days, and we are very encouraged by your words on the need to create a sense of peace in those provinces.”

Joko Widodo was not the conventional Indonesian candidate, having emerged from a non-military background to being president of PNG’s large Muslim neighbour.

The businessman who was mayor of Surakarta from 2005 to 2012 and governor of Jakarta from 2012  to 2014 before being elected president is very unlike his predecessors.

His appeal to the electors was due in part to his personal “can-do” attitude designed to build bonds with the broad electorate. This approach proved highly effective.

After his victory, Joko Widodo stated that, growing up under the authoritarian and corrupt regime he would have never expected someone with a lower-class background to become president. Besides his other accolades, in 2008 he was listed as one of the top 10 Indonesian mayors. In 2012 he won third place at the World Mayor Prize for transforming Surakarta, a crime-ridden city into a regional centre for art and culture and an attractive city to tourists.

In 2013 he was listed as one of “The Leading Global Thinkers of 2013” in Foreign Policy. In February 2013 he was nominated as the global mayor of the month by the The City Mayors Foundation based in London.

In 2014 he was listed by Fortune magazine as one of the ‘The World’s 50 Greatest Leaders’. He is a leader who is all for change in a fast changing nation.

Besides international condemnation for his tough stance on the death penalty, Widodo’s regime now present his country an opportunity to address the human rights abuses the international community accuses it of perpetrating against the Melanesian people.

It is hoped that Papua New Guinea’s backing of Indonesia to be an associate member of the Melanesian Spearhead Group would be welcomed by the other members of the regional forum.

Indonesia is home to 11 million Melanesians so has a place in the regional forum even as an observer.

Indonesia’s participation at the MSG could result in greater transparency in its dealing with its Melanesian people, which has been lacking. It is a long way to the ultimate dream of an independent West Papua but at least there is light at the end of the tunnel.