New Indonesian President Joko Widodo. Pic: AP.

New Indonesian President Joko Widodo. Pic: AP.

A transformative figure enters the presidential palace in Jakarta writes Asia Sentinel.

Indonesian President-elect Joko Widodo was inaugurated into office Monday morning in Jakarta after a hectic interregnum  in which it appeared that his opponent in the July 9 national elections, Prabowo Subianto, might seek to steal the office from him.

The 53-year-old president, known universally as Jokowi, still faces heavy going from a political elite so immersed in the spoils system that major special interests are expected to oppose his reform efforts at every turn.  It remains to be seen if he and his band of crusaders can turn around one of Asia’s most corrupt countries.

The 62-year-old Prabowo, a onetime Special Forces general and former son-in-law of the late strongman Suharto, was rumored to be cooking up an audacious brew of unsubstantiated charges against the new president, then pushing them through the House of Representatives to impeach Jokowi, to be followed by a move to eliminate direct presidential elections and the appointment of Prabowo as president.

The Prabowo forces, who nominally control 60 percent of the legislature, already pushed through a last-minute measure in the waning hours of the current session to eliminate direct local elections and make the positions appointive, which they were until direct polls were put in place during outgoing President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s period in office.  Yudhoyono, under huge pressure from outraged citizens, has sought to short-stop that move, using his presidential power to set aside the bill and demand a revote, which must happen within a year of his decree.

Jokowi himself, in what many thought was a show of uncharacteristic toughness, appears to have cracked the whip, derailing Prabowo’s machinations over the inauguration.  He met with Prabowo himself and Prabowo’s unofficial Sancho Panza, industrialist Aburizal  Bakrie, to lay down the law. The Bakrie forces, who have stiffed the government for decades on taxes, reportedly were told that stringent tax investigations might commence immediately after the inauguration.

Prabowo, who had refused to concede defeat after the election,  surprisingly attended the inauguration, as did Bakrie. When Jokowi greeted Prabowo as a “friend” from the lectern during his brief inauguration remarks, the former general snapped to attention and saluted the new commander in chief. The move seemed to put Prabowo, at least for now, in his place.

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