This year has been a tale of elections. Following the mammoth exercise in democracy that is the Indian general election, it was the turn of South Africa in May and Indonesia in July to go to polls. The results offered contrasting stories.
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In Indonesia, the reformist Joko Widodo (almost universally known as Jokowi) was declared winner of the presidential poll after two weeks of counting, becoming the first Indonesian president with no ties to the army or an establishment family. It is a positive move: Jokowi has a reputation for being a man of the people and has promised to help clean up corruption and bring some sparkle back to a flagging economy, prompting comparisons to India’s new prime minister, Narendra Modi. Indonesia is in need of reform: unaffordable fuel subsidies account for as much as 16% of the government’s budget; infrastructure is dilapidated; economic protectionism has scared foreign investment away – particularly in the mining sector; and corruption is rife. But comparisons with Modi are misplaced. Unlike Modi, Jokowi does not enjoy a majority in Indonesia’s parliament, constraining his ability to make sweeping changes. Indonesia’s powerful vested interests – including Megawati Soekarnoputri, the influential former president and head of Jokowi’s party – could also make reform a slow and draining process. Nevertheless, Indonesia’s move away from the established ruling clique is welcome and Jokowi has proved an unlikely but able reformer as governor of Jakarta: he may surprise his doubters again. No such surprise, however, should be expected following the elections in South Africa, where Jacob Zuma and the African National Congress (ANC) were returned to power with 62% of the vote – the ANC’s smallest share of the vote since multiracial elections began in 1994 but still a formidable margin of victory. South Africa also needs to change. The economy is all but stalled and the critical mining industry is still reeling from the longest bout of industrial action in the country’s history: a five month strike by 70,000 platinum mine workers. But Zuma, embroiled in a scandal over US$ 25 million of public money spent on renovating his private house, is unlikely to be the man to do it. That is not good news for the one-in-three who are unemployed; nor does it bode well for investment in the country. Adding to the problems, Ngoako Ramatlhodi, the new minister of mines, has now said he wants to re-revise the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act (MPRDA) after urging the president not to sign a current amendment bill into law. “The bill will have to be rewritten [and] the entire parliamentary process begin again. It could take years. We are already not getting a mining investment we want,” a partner at a Johannesburg law firm told Barry Baxter for this month’s regional report. “Once again it seems that the politicians cannot believe that those who know how to mine and market coal can be trusted to run the industry. They want to do it themselves – and investors do not like such an attitude,” said another industry source. It seems the Rainbow Nation must wait for its reformer.