Five years ago he was south-east Asia’s democratic poster boy, Indonesia’s Obama. His face plastered across Time magazine with three words: A New Hope.
When Joko Widodo, or “Jokowi”, was elected president of one of the only true remaining democracies in the region it was a moment of triumphant vindication – proof that outliers could trump an entrenched oligarchy, that an ordinary Indonesian could make it.
A wildly popular politician, Jokowi’s rapid rise from successful furniture entrepreneur to beloved small-town mayor, reform-minded Jakarta governor and ultimately the president, was something of a political fairytale for Indonesia’s young democracy.
The hype was even more exaggerated because of the stark contrast to his opponent, Prabowo Subianto. A former military general accused of human rights abuses and the ex son-in-law of dictatorial ruler Suharto, Prabowo epitomised the autocratic old guard, still vying for power decades on.
Fast forward five years and Jokowi and Prabowo will again compete for the presidency of the world’s third-largest democracy, on 17 April, but this time the mood is vastly different.
With the rights of LGBT and some religious minorities plummeting, a series of arrests raising alarm bells over freedom of expression, questions about the neutrality of the police and plans for military encroachment on civil space, the notion that Jokowi is a paean of democratic progress has been steadily undermined.