Domestic politics is dictating Indonesian President Joko Widodo’s decision-making. Photo: Bullit Marquez
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Domestic politics is dictating Indonesian President Joko Widodo’s decision-making. Photo: Bullit Marquez

Painting of Joko painted by Bali nine member Myuran Sukumaran. Photo: Zul Edoardo

Domestic politics is dictating Indonesian President Joko Widodo’s decision-making. Photo: Bullit Marquez

Domestic politics is dictating Indonesian President Joko Widodo’s decision-making. Photo: Bullit Marquez

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Nobody thought Joko Widodo would be as easygoing towards Australia as his fondly remembered predecessor Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

But Joko’s behaviour – and that of his Attorney-General HM Prasetyo – over the executions of Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran have in their obstinacy and seemingly calculated efforts to add insult to injury been a jolt to the Abbott government and close Indonesia observers.

It has senior people now asking just how the relationship is going to function under a leader who is so brazenly conducting his foreign relations through the narrow prism of domestic populism and whether Australia might even need to just wait out Joko as it was forced to wait out Malaysia’s former leader Mahathir Mohamad.

The normally mildly spoken Kevin Andrews emerged on Wednesday as the mouthpiece for the government’s frustrations, saying the fact the executions were announced on Anzac Day and the treatment of the two men and their families “reeks of a calculated snub at Australia” that would be a “very serious miscalculation on the behalf of the leadership of Indonesia”.

Much of the public discussion has centred around Australia’s immediate diplomatic response.

But quite apart from the short-term response, it is what we’ve learnt about Joko and his administration that bodes poorly for the medium term.

As Fairfax Media’s Peter Hartcher illustrated this week with his descriptions of the excruciating treatment of Joko at his own party’s national congress recently, the president is completely under the thumb of elder stateswoman Megawati Soekarnoputri.

Megawati has always had a prickly relationship with Australia and, in her own unremarkable term as president, saw more mileage in kicking her neighbour than working with it.

At this stage, the same appears to be true of Joko. And that is what is deeply concerning Australia’s foreign policy community.

Even seasoned, hard-headed officials, accustomed to looking beyond the vicissitudes of public opinion and pondering foreign relations in terms of decades, have privately described Indonesia’s conduct as “appalling” and “disgraceful”.

Being charitable, the excessive security during Chan and Sukumaran’s prison transfers may be seen as police overzealousness, while the chaos their families faced in reaching them on their final day was likely just a stuff-up. But the Anzac Day announcement and Jakarta’s studied dismissiveness, which included not even formally notifying the Australian government that two of its nationals were poised to be executed, cannot be seen as anything but deliberate slights.

There is also a widespread belief that Filipina Mary Jane Veloso was given a last-minute reprieve because her story as a migrant worker resonated with ordinary Indonesians. Once again domestic politics was dictating Joko’s decision-making.

All this happened despite the steady, behind-the-scenes reasonableness of the Vice President Jusuf Kalla and the quiet helpfulness of SBY throughout the Bali nine case.

In the wake of the executions, the possibility of simply having to wait Joko out for the next four-and-a-half years is a real one. The mere fact that it is being talked about in foreign policy circles at all signals the depth of the pessimism about the rest of Jokowi’s term.

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