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Opinion
Ruth Pollard

New Culture Wars Worsen Political Slide in Indonesia

President Joko Widodo simply can’t escape responsibility for democratic decline in the world’s most-populous Muslim-majority country. 

How much further can Indonesia fall before Jokowi’s second term ends in 2024?

How much further can Indonesia fall before Jokowi’s second term ends in 2024?

Photographer: Dimas Ardian/Bloomberg

When you shuffle through the deck of the world’s more bombastic populist leaders, Indonesia’s quietly spoken president, Joko Widodo, is not the first man who comes to mind. Presidents Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil and Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, as well as Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, are more obvious choices.

But the culture wars are heating up in Southeast Asia’s largest economy, home to more than 270 million people. Rising religious intolerance and criminal complaints against activists who challenge politicians are increasingly common in a country where the government is now openly jailing critics. And given that democratic backsliding is a key measure of a populist, you get the picture.