Inauguration Day in Indonesia started with all the staid political ritual of years gone by, but by day’s end the populist Joko Widodo had trampled on tradition and showed he will walk his own path.

The national anthem played on cue at 10am in the chamber of the House of Representatives, the chairman of the joint session spoke too long, and soon after Jokowi and Vice-President Jusuf Kalla took the oath of office and signed the official documents.

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In his inaugural address, Jokowi rolled out the practical, managerial, and problem-solving approach he had brought to the mayoralty in Solo, and governorship in Jakarta.

“This is a moment for us together to work, work and work,” he said in front of the nation’s very important people, including his erstwhile rival Prabowo Subianto. His attendance, and the public acknowledgement Jokowi gave him and his running mate Hatta Rajasa, had great symbolism.

Indonesia’s fifth president, Megawati Sukarnoputri, never forgave her former minister Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who twice defeated her in presidential elections. For a decade, she petulantly ignored invitations to attend Independence Day ceremonies and other events of state. The country should be reassured by such adult behaviour.

Out in the street the people were waiting; on this day a new script was being written for a different style of leadership. While not quite like the spontaneous walkabouts that were his trademark when governing cities, Jokowi was relaxed and in his element when meeting the gathered masses. At the centre of town at the Welcome Monument traffic circle, Jokowi and Kalla removed their jackets and ties and left their limousines to ride around the in an open carriage to the shouts of the adoring crowd.

After a military ceremony at the palace signifying that Jokowi now sits in the commander-in-chief’s chair, it was time for SBY to go home — he also shook hands with crowds, but in a much more controlled environment. His people were the presidential security guards, staff of the State Secretariat, and their families. He then rode off to his ranch in the West Java hills in a black Toyota LandCruiser with civilian plates.

Back in the palace, Jokowi introduced his family to the media; none of his two sons or daughter work in politics. He forgot their ages, joked about it, and enjoyed the banter. He has none of dour regal air or carefully cultivated persona of an aloof statesman of his predecessor. He laughs in every interview.

As the sun set, Jokowi and Kalla left the palace to attend a celebration with public in the nearby square surrounding the National Monument. Dressed in a white shirt and dark pants as if he were still campaigning, Jokowi ran awkwardly onto the stage. It is not the environment where he feels most comfortable. At the event run by many of the same team of volunteers and idealists that brought him to office he cut a traditional rice cake and spoke to the crowd briefly, before returning to his new home to address affairs of state.

This is where Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott had his walk-on part. The official state news agency Antara, which will now shadow Jokowi’s every move, said the 30-minute meeting was squeezed in at 7pm before the state dinner attended by six heads of neighbouring states and 13 special envoys, including US Secretary of State John Kerry.

“The main point is that he invited me to attend G20 meeting,” Jokowi later told journalists. Antara said Abbott had raised a number of economic issues, including fuel subsidies, electricity, and bureaucracy reform including regulations that have so far posed a hindrance to investment and infrastructure development. Indonesian students in Australia were of common interest.

The night ended just before 9pm with a live television interview. Metro TV’s Najwa Shihab brought her talk show set to the lawn of the palace for this exclusive. It helped that station owner Surya Paloh and his National Democrat party were key members of Jokowi’s coalition. Once again, the new President was many things the old one was not. He was self-effacing, humble, and wanted to get down to business.

He fretted that expectations were too high for his administration and cautioned that change was a process that took time. He said he would soon announce his cabinet, but gave no hints. His ministers would be expected to “work, work, work” and be close to the people. How else would they solve Indonesia’s problems?

The interview over, he strolled in long-sleeved brown batik shirt across the lawn to meet his people. They had been patiently waiting and watching in the dark on the other side of the palace’s ornate black wrought-iron fence. Disregarding the shrubbery, he walked on the plants as he worked down the line, shaking hands with dozens as smartphones thrust through the bars to take selfies.

The presidential guards took the initiative, stamping down the small bushes with their feet to give the boss better access to his constituents. The garden staff and SBY must have gasped. The selfless and spontaneous act of his secret service perhaps a metaphor and an inspiration for the incoming cabinet. The Jokowi administration was not even 12 hours old, and already the President was going out of his way to keep the people happy.

*Jim Della-Giacoma is a visiting fellow in the department of social and political change in the School of International, Political and Strategic Studies at the Australian National University’s College of Asia and the Pacific.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
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