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Like other places around the world, Obama is having trouble in his old backyard.
JAKARTA, Indonesia — Elated when the United States inaugurated Barack Obama as its 44th president, Indonesians across the country threw lavish parties, complete with triumphant speeches — some of them broadcast live on American news stations.
(Watch as Indonesians muse on their former resident on year ago.)
But one year later, like in many other parts of the world, that initial excitement has faded while the Obama administration struggles to make good on several major campaign pledges.
To Indonesians, Obama was one of their own. He is called the “Menteng Kid,” after the neighborhood where he lived in Jakarta for four years as a child with his American mother and Indonesian stepfather and where he attended public school. When cameras caught Obama speaking basic Indonesian to a reporter on the campaign trail, this country erupted in glory.
It wasn’t just his Indonesian. Obama said all the right things. He talked about ending the war in Iraq and repairing the fractured relationship between Islam and the West. Indonesians, who represent the largest population of Muslims in the world, saw a potential ally, an American president who not only knew their language but knew their religion, their culture and their ideals.
“There was the emotion felt that an American president would have a significant personal attachment to our country because he grew up here. Also, his pledges, his promises and his speeches offered a new perspective from that of the Bush administration,” said Evan Laksmana, an expert in politics and international relations at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Jakarta. “This created an Obama euphoria.”
They couldn’t wait for him to visit.
Shortly after his inauguration, rumors fluttered that Obama would come to Jakarta on his first overseas trip. He went to London instead. Then they thought he’d come during his first hundred days. Or his first year. But he never came.
Obama canceled a scheduled visit last November during a trip to Asia, which included Singapore — only a short flight from Jakarta. He is now due in June.
“There is a closing window of opportunity for the Obama administration,” says Laksmana. “His popularity here is winding down.”
That waning popularity is perhaps best exemplified by the recent erection of a small, unassuming statue of the young Obama in one of the city’s few public parks, three blocks from where Obama attended elementary school between the ages of six and 10. Commissioned by a loose network of Indonesians and Americans with connections to Obama, who call themselves the Friends of Obama Foundation, the statue was meant to inspire Indonesian children to achieve their goals.