How Jokowi Failed the Test of COVID-19 in Indonesia

How Jokowi Failed the Test of COVID-19 in Indonesia
Indonesian President Joko Widodo wearing a face mask at Merdeka Palace in Jakarta, Indonesia, April 30, 2020 (pool photo by Sigid Kurniawan via AP Images).

After nearly two months of a belatedly imposed and patchwork lockdown to contain the coronavirus, some regions of Indonesia are slowly reopening. Throughout June, authorities will gradually loosen restrictions on establishments like restaurants and shopping areas in parts of Indonesia where the reproduction rate of COVID-19—known as R0 or “R-naught,” the average number of new infections stemming from a single case—is judged to be less than one.

But Indonesia is opening up without a clear handle on the scope of its COVID-19 crisis, which is the worst in Southeast Asia, with 32,000 confirmed cases and nearly 1,900 deaths as of June 8. Government efforts to ramp up testing have been hampered by persistent delays, and parts of the country are still seeing spikes in new infections.

Even if the reopening goes smoothly, the pandemic has already done significant damage to the reputation of President Joko Widodo, who has been widely criticized for an ineffectual response. Instead of learning from his mistakes and making a course correction, Jokowi, as he is widely known in Indonesia, has stifled criticism of his government’s handling of the pandemic and empowered the military in the response to COVID-19, further threatening Indonesia’s democracy. The country’s economy and its people, meanwhile, are bearing the costs.

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