Was it strategic for Indonesian President Joko Widodo to fly economy?

Photo from ST website
Last week, Indonesian president Joko Widodo flew to Singapore on economy to attend his son’s IB graduation, dispensing with the usual heavy security detachment usually accompanying a head of state. In fact, the president and his wife queued at immigration, did all the things that a normal person would in his travels, endearing himself with the man on the street.

Related: Straits Times article

Interestingly, this action caused mixed reactions from netizens both in Singapore and in Indonesia. Some praised him for his humility; others saw this as a publicity stunt to keep him close to the ground. In this article, we apply our strategic thinking protocol to understand if this was indeed a strategic move on the president’s part.


As all actions are driven by intent, we will start from there. Although Mr Joko mentioned that since it was a private matter, he should not avail himself of the facilities of the head of state, it cannot be missed by many that he was aiming his message at the political elite who do exactly just that.

It can be surmised that Mr Joko’s intent was to create precedence for austere actions, much like what Pope Francis is doing in the Vatican. That both heads of state decry the pomp and pageantry associated with the position shows a concerted decision to make personal austerity the mainstay of political conduct.


It is highly unlikely that Mr Joko’s staff were unaware of his trip to Singapore. That he had lunch with the Singapore prime minister already hinted at some high-level tie-up. As such, due considerations would have been taken with regards the constraints of this trip, which would certainly include:

  • (plain-clothes) security

  • secrecy of the itinerary

  • scheduling

  • accommodation

Options for Mr Joko

Mr Joko could very well have coincided his trip with a high-level meeting, thereby circumventing all the constraints above. But he didn’t do that.

He could also have flew in in his private jet, much like the Sultan of Johor would do when he flew into the cricket club to play or watch a match; but he also didn’t do that.

That there were these two options but Mr Joko chose the to go local, really meant that there was a greater message than simply going on his own due to it being a personal matter.

Balancing intent with constraints

We can never be able to surmise what was in Mr Joko’s mind when he chose to do what he did, knowing full well the risks involved in travelling with the masses. In fact, looking at the constraints, it would still have been a full-tilt in terms of staff support if he chose one way or another. As such, to say that he would not avail himself of the facilities may be a little trite. But when we balance all these with our presumed intent, then it makes all the sense.

It was a good strategic move by Mr Joko. After all, actions do speak louder than words. Mr Joko’s was way too loud to be missed!

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