How not to reform Indonesia

ONCE UPON a time, a slight, upstanding, mild-mannered person came to inhabit the presidential palace in Jakarta, carried there on the shoulders of millions of Indonesians who recognised in the former furniture-maker a man of the people. Today’s incumbent, by contrast, remains remote and aloof, surrounded by courtiers from the capital’s intertwined business and political elites. The previous president used to talk of using political capital to help ordinary folk. His informal blusukan walkabouts forged his famous connection with voters and allowed him to learn first-hand about their problems and how to fix them. The current one has just pared back protections for workers and, this week, sent the police out to crack the heads of those who took to the streets in protest.

The two men are, of course, one: President Joko Widodo, or Jokowi, who came to power in 2014 and was re-elected last year. On the face of things, the new “omnibus” law, which takes a saw to regulations around employment, among other things, is a sensible effort to make it easier to do business and thus promote investment. The economy is indeed tied up in red tape. Mandatory benefits for the few workers lucky enough to be in formal employment were definitely so lavish as to discourage firms from creating jobs. Yet to weaken them in the midst of the...

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