Two faces of Muslim democracy – A comparative approach to Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s Indonesia and Recep Tayiip Erdoğan’s Turkey

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Desktop13Both leaders have drawn the attention of the public eye already some time ago. Jokowi when being the mayor of Surakarta, then a governor of Jakarta and Erdo?an, similarly, when holding post of the mayor in Istanbul. The reason for that is they have both heart-warming stories about growing up in poverty and climbing up the ladder to pursue their political career and achieving their goals. What is more, both states have a history with military closely intertwined in domestic politics. It all adds up to the very similar picture. Despite the geographical distance between rating Islam into the political system. This paper aims therefore at pointing out most valuable and most distinctive features of Indonesia and Turkey in the area of economy, energy and foreign policy.


Both countries are perceived as the economies of the future, meaning they are growing and developing rather rapidly in comparison to the rest of the world. Despite the fact that their population vary significantly, Indonesia having registered 249.9 million people in 2013 and Turkey only one third of it – 74.93 million, their GDP level is similar (Indonesia – $868.3 billion 2013; Turkey – $822.1 billion 2013). Both states have settled very ambitious plans for development of their industries in the future. Being members of G20 – a group of countries said to be the creators of the future world market, they aim at boosting their economies according to specific outlines stemming from national demand and international affairs.

Jokowi has taken a rather revolutionary stance towards modernization of Indonesia. He is a strong supporter of minor, bottom-up strategy, thus he’s aiming at reduction of corruption in official authorities, increase in developments of infrastructure and the most important from economic angle – decreasing or even cutting off energy subsidies. Jokowi is planning to tackle a problem of transition – from protectionist economy with majority of people employed in low-wage manufactories or in agriculture to value-added, to well-paid services. Some northern provinces have already experienced such change, however in order to speak about national success there is still too soon.

Turkey is an export-oriented country, its priorities are clearly defined and consequently executed. Economically Turkey is definitely more developed than Indonesia. The majority of GDP composition rests in services and with industry on the second place, as the most popular sector of employment. Despite its rapid development Turkey has to be cautious not to fall into so-called “middle-income trap”. Turkey has outlined an ambitious plan to become one of the 10 biggest economies by the year 2023, when a 100th anniversary of the republic will occur. There are however various predicaments which may hinder Turkey from achieving its goal. One of the most important obstacles is the intensively changing global environment. It might be advantageous currently for Turkey to grow economically, but the fact is there are also other countries, also Indonesia, with even more ambitious goals.


Energy – being a contemporary gold, having the force to manipulate and put leverage. One of the most vivid and essential divergence between Indonesia and Turkey is constituted by energy. Both countries could not differ more in this field. However, both face certain challenges stemming from their geopolitical location.

Indonesia is deemed to be Asian tiger in this matter, being one of the countries with the richest oil reserves in the whole region of Southeast Asia. Indonesian population is one of the biggest one in the world – being the 4th most populous state with steadily increasing population growth rate, as a result it advocates rapid proliferation of energy demand. Currently there are about six drilling sites located across the country, which cover about 70% of national demand for the oil. Whereas oil might not be abundant, the gas reserves certainly are. The production of natural gas greatly exceeds the demand and it is deemed that Indonesian fields might supply its market for 50 years.[1] Despite the promising features of Indonesia energy market, there is also darker side of the coin – in a form of government’s subsidies. The state is spending reaches approx. $30 billion each year, which exceeds its contribution for national healthcare or educational system. As a result there is a stalemate in any energy investments and lack of development in energy mix diversification. One of Jokowi’s main strategies is to cut the subsidies, however time will show whether he will succeed.

The energy perspective for Turkey seems not to be as bright as for Indonesia. Turkish authorities struggle with energy imports and diversifying their suppliers, not to mention the sources. Due to the fact that the country is not abundant in energy resources, its dependency on neighbours’ deliveries is extremely high. There is a chance of shifting the weight to nuclear power or renewables, however the authorities seem to have rather wary approach, especially towards the latter. Lately Azerbaijan has begun the construction of the long awaited Trans-Anatolian Natural Gas Pipeline (TANAP) gas pipeline. The project, deemed to be finished in 2018, aims particularly at shifting the pressure off Turkish and especially European shoulders, bearing in mind its dependency on Russian suppliers. Regardless of this fact Turkey is not burning bridges, quite the contrary. The state plans to continue purchasing gas from Russia and has contracted Russian ROSATOM to build its first nuclear power plant in Akkuyu. Despite promising deadlines, with the current situation in Ukraine and stagnating Russian economy the opening of fully functional power site is impossible, not before 2022.

Foreign Policy

On 8th January 2015 Indonesian Minister of Foreign Affairs – Retno Marsudi, has delivered a speech focused on the priorities of its foreign policy under the leadership of Jokowi. The most important goal of the strategy outlined by Retno is active maritime policy. In eyes of many pundits the strategy is much needed nowadays by Indonesia, since it has not been much regulated and many aspects still remain ambiguous, causing tension in the region. Many foreign fish vessels (Malaysian, Thai or Vietnamese) has been caught on the Indonesian waters. Retno has also proclaimed to strengthen Indonesian naval power. Another burning issue highlighted by minister of foreign affairs is the complicated relationship between Indonesia and China regarding the maritime security. The latter is challenging Indonesians with constant trespassing of their water territories. Indonesia will also try to tackle the issue of overseas Indonesians – seeking to protect them and providing them with assistance. The idea behind this action is to decrease the level of Indonesian illegal workers. What is more Jokowi gave priority also to Indonesian economic diplomacy, which complies with strategy implemented by ASEAN, namely establishing the ASEAN Economic Community by the end of 2015. However, there is a rising wariness that Indonesian national economy might rather suffer than benefit from the participation in AEC, thus the main focus will be put on internal development, and the cord between ASEAN and Indonesia may therefore loosen.

Turkey’s approach to foreign relations is extremely wide, as the politicians try to keep ties with as many strategic partners as possible – regardless of the existing conflicts among them, e.g. Turkey has amicable relations with the US and at the same time it upholds ties with Putin’s Russia. On the other hand the state is surrounded by countries which impose a great threat on its internal security, for instance Syria or ISIS. However, a certain shift in Turkish foreign policy has to be highlighted – first towards African and Middle Eastern countries. Turkey is very much aware of its special position in the region, it has been looked up to by many. There is also a certain trend how Erdo?an is conducting Turkish diplomacy. He travels mainly to countries with majority of Muslims, where he can refer easily to their shared heritage. Moreover he has focused on the region of Africa – as it gives the best opportunity for Turkish investments (especially for infrastructure), and region of Middle East – due to its proximity, stability and energy resourcefulness. Nevertheless Turkey has been recognized as a valuable partner by many other countries. Multilateralism in Turkish foreign policy is one of its main features – it is often criticised by pundits but the fact is that Turkey has been maintaining a lively relations with many countries and this state of play does not seem to change in the near future.


Both Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s and Recep Tayiip Erdo?an represent a confident and visionary rule in their countries. Both share similar personal histories and have been inspiring many to follow their steps, gaining therefore nation-wide support. Their methods might be deemed strict, or even cruel in some cases, but one must not forget that the critiques are made on the basis of the Western principles – it is rather obvious that neither Indonesia nor Turkey are entirely Western and should not be labelled as such. Both presidents seem to have found a golden remedy how to develop a political system, not fully democratic and not fully Muslim – being caught somewhere in between. The truth is that the moment either one of them develops a stable, prosperous regime he will become a role model not only domestically for his compatriots, but also internationally for other countries with Muslim majority. The fact is, however that Jokowi has to step up his game, if he wants to be taken as a serious competition to Erdo?an, who has already secured himself a strong international position. In another scenario, Jokowi does not need to become a rival but a diligent and worthy apprentice. Rumour has it that he is perceived by some scholars as a president who has promised too much during his election campaign. Give him a little bit of time to blossom and he will prove his critics wrong.

* This article was originally published (in shorten version) by Today’s Zaman.

[1] All the data referring to Indonesian oil market were estimations made by All about Oil for year 2010;

Photos source: Twitter (@Jokowi_do2  and @RT_Erdogan)

Ksenia Szelachowska – Ph.D. candidate at the Polish Academy of Sciences and is currently working for the Turkey Institute. She holds double BA degree in European Studies and Translations (English-Polish; German-Polis) from University of Warsaw. In 2013 she has graduated from CIFE (Le Centre international de formation europeenne). Her thesis „Turkey as regional power – the case of Turkish foreign policy analysis” was an evaluation of Turkish position in the international affairs.  In 2014 she will complete her second MA course in Asian Studies at Collegium Civitas in Warsaw, where she will defend her second MA thesis devoted to Turkish energy sector and sustainable development. Turkey is her passion, which developed ever since she has begun her studies. Her main fields of interest are: foreign policy, civil society development and energy sector.

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