'Jokowi' and his firing squads
July-September 2015
By: Dave McRae
A flower with a message to President Joko Widodo is tied to the main gate of the Indonesian consulate in Sidney on the day of the execution of seven foreign drug convicts in April.

In a speech at Indonesia's prestigious Gadjah Mada University last December, President Joko Widodo said a “drug emergency” was one of the key challenges his government would have to overcome. Claiming that between 40 and 50 Indonesians die every day from narcotics and related causes, Joko stressed that none of the 64 drug convicts on death row would receive clemency from him. Pleas for clemency from many of them had piled up in the presidential palace for years, Joko said, before telling his audience that his answer in no uncertain terms was: “No, no, no.”

Joko, who took office in October 2014, swiftly made good on his promise. Fourteen drug convicts, including 12 foreign nationals, were executed by firing squad in January and April. Previously, across three decades, Indonesia averaged fewer than two executions per year, and only a fraction of the condemned had been convicted of drug offenses.

This decisive turn to executions has starkly divided domestic and international opinion. Within Indonesia, polls show executing drug convicts to be overwhelmingly popular among the public, and Joko has highlighted these judicial killings repeatedly in speeches around the country. Internationally, the executions triggered outrage, predominantly because of the large number of foreigners shot dead, including from Australia, the Netherlands and Brazil, which have abolished capital punishment. Three countries withdrew their ambassadors. Numerous political leaders, commentators and celebrities have expressed condemnation. Ban Ki-moon, the United Nations secretary general, called on Indonesia to implement a moratorium on executions, which Jakarta ignored.

What explains Joko’s embrace of executions so early in his presidency, and how have they impacted Indonesia's international relations? Has the international response had any effect on the Joko administration or any broader impact on Indonesia's own internal debate on capital punishment?

A coincidence of interests

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