Mr Joko Widodo, Indonesia’s seventh and current President, has been named as The Straits Times Asian of the Year 2019.

Every year the editors pick a person, a group or an institution that has impacted the Asian continent significantly for the past year, and the 58-year-old’s rise has been stellar. Mr Joko won a resounding victory earlier this year to retain power, but he first came to national attention 14 years ago, as the Mayor of Solo from 2005 to 2012.

 Today, he presides over South-east Asia’s biggest nation and economy. While seemingly focused more on attending to domestic challenges initially, Mr Joko has in more recent times put Indonesia, widely regarded as the most significant voice in the 10-member Asean, at the heart of the regional group. Earlier this year, Jakarta hosted a regional meeting that first proposed the Asean Outlook on Indo-Pacific and played a key role in getting the document adopted by Asean leaders at a Bangkok summit in June.

Said The Straits Times in its citation for the award: “As the steward of a vast and disparate archipelagic nation that has more than 17,000 islands that faces Australia at one end and India at the other, he confronts many challenges, he has shown dexterity and nous in navigating the tricky cross-currents of domestic politics and international affairs. His grounded personality, ability to connect with people and empathise with the common folk have won him many admirers at home. Abroad, his ability to gaze beyond the horizon and grapple with strategic challenges facing his country and the region, has lately also been recognised.

“While cognisant of the challenges he faces, we nonetheless express the hope that the President will give no quarter and make no compromise in his quest to build a democratic, corruption-free, open, tolerant and inclusive Indonesia.”

Mr Warren Fernandez, editor, editor-in-chief of the Singapore Press Holdings’ English, Malay, Tamil Media Group, and editor of The Straits Times, said: “Each year, ST editors seek out a person, team or organisation that has not only made or shaped the news, but helped contribute positively to Asia in the process. President Joko Widodo has done that to great effect. Not only has he won a second term, he has done his part to keep a vast and disparate Indonesia together and taken it forward. Likewise for Asean. There is much scope for him to lead both further if he marshalls his considerable political skills and the goodwill that he enjoys with people all around Asia.”

Now in its eighth year, The Straits Times Asian of the Year award, announced towards the end of the year, has become an important part of the Asian calendar since 2012. The inaugural award went to then-Myanmar prime minister Thein Sein, followed by a joint award for Chinese President Xi Jinping and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in 2013, and to India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014. In 2015, the award was given posthumously to Mr Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore’s founding Prime Minister. In 2016, five Asian pioneers working in the intersection of technology and commerce were honoured as The Disruptors – the first time the award went to a group.

Mr Xi was Asian of the Year in 2017 while editors picked The First Responders, a bunch of people of courage and commitment who stepped up in the moment of greatest need during natural disasters, as Asians of the Year 2018. This year, the award reverts to a single person.

Jeremy Au Yong, foreign editor of The Straits Times, said: “The team debated long and hard about who should win the award but the decision was ultimately unanimous that President Jokowi was the most deserving candidate this year. In a year when disputes grabbed the headlines – our recent Straits Times Global Outlook Forum focused on how to navigate a world in conflict – Jokowi stood out as a someone who united rather than divided.”

(Photo: The Straits Times)