October 20, 2015 / 10:00 AM / 3 years ago

Approval ratings boost marks Indonesia Widodo's first year in office

JAKARTA (Reuters) - President Joko Widodo has regained the approval of most Indonesians, an opinion poll showed as he marked his first year in office on Tuesday, evidence that an overhaul in the way he governs Southeast Asia’s largest economy is starting to pay off.

Indonesia's President Joko Widodo (R) arrives for a cabinet meeting at the presidential palace in Jakarta, Indonesia, September 29, 2015. REUTERS/Darren Whiteside

Reeling from months of political missteps and the worst economic slowdown in six years, Widodo launched a drive in August to win back voters’ trust that included a cabinet reshuffle and a major stimulus package.

The president’s approval rating rose to 52 percent this month from 41 percent in June, a survey of 1,220 Indonesians by Saiful Mujani Research and Consulting showed.

That remains far below an approval rating peak of 72 percent just after being elected.

“The Indonesian people are still giving Jokowi a chance after his first year,” said the group’s executive director, Djayadi Hanan, referring to the president by his nickname.

“People see that the president has been consolidating his political power in parliament and in government.”

Widodo, Indonesia’s first president to come from outside the political or military establishment, marked his first year in office by acknowledging the difficulties in finding his footing.

Policy confusion, internal bickering and vested interests have hamstrung the president’s reforms. He is also facing diplomatic pressure over his failure to douse fires causing heavy, polluting “haze” over neighboring countries.

“The first step is most often the hardest, but also the most important,” the president said on Twitter. “The first year is for setting a foundation.”

Investors say Widodo, who will travel to the United States for the first time as president next week, is starting to strike the right tone.

They point to a recent move to offer more certainty to the annual minimum wage increase and the possible easing of foreign investment rules.

The rupiah currency has rebounded 7 percent since hitting a 17-year low in late September, while the stock market has jumped 12 percent from a two-year low.

But many obstacles still remain, with an expected U.S. Fed hike, a slowdown in China, and weak domestic consumption threatening to unwind the president’s nascent efforts.

“The first year should be seen as a learning experience and we expect that the tail end of 2015 should give more hope than the last months of 2014,” the Jakarta Post said in an editorial.

“It’s time to do better now, Mr. President.”

Additional reporting by Fransiska Nangoy; Editing by Nick Macfie

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