He was called the "president of the people" when he was inaugurated four-and-a-half months ago. Former furniture seller Joko Widodo, also known as "Jokowi", is a metal music lover and former mayor and governor, who stood out for his hands-on leadership style.

After a tough election campaign and a narrow win, expectations were high that a new wind would soon blow in the world's fourth largest country and third largest democracy of 250 million people.

But a hostile opposition and rocky coalition provided Widodo with a weak power base. His party leader, Megawati Sukarnoputri, is often jokingly called the country's "real" president.

And Widodo shocked many after he nominated a man charged with corruption as his new police chief. Since August 2014, Widodo's approval ratings have dropped from 71.73 percent by about 30 percent.

Now we have 4.5 million people in rehab and at least 1.5 million people who cannot be cured. This is the picture of Indonesia's future, our next generation .... Drugs are entering villages, ruining our young ones, are being sold at campuses; even universities have drug problems. This is an emergency.

Joko "Jokowi" Widodo, the president of Indonesia

Widodo has also raised diplomatic tensions – in particular with Australia – with his firm stance on executing drug traffickers, most of them foreigners.

He tells Al Jazeera's Step Vassen: "I believe the Indonesian legal system is thorough in these cases and looks at the evidence. When I rejected clemency I took into consideration how many drugs they smuggled, how many pills they distributed .... The court has sentenced them and we cannot discriminate between countries."

Widodo remains steadfast in his decision to carry out the death sentences of 11 convicts - including two Australian nationals from the "Bali nine" drug smuggling ring - due to be executed on the prison island of Nusakambangan.

"We want to send a strong message to drug smugglers that Indonesia is firm and serious in tackling the drug problem, and one of the consequences is execution if the court sentences them to death, he says."

He also discusses his strategy on campaigning for the release of Indonesian citizens on death row and says he is open to the idea of abolishing the death penalty if that is what the country wants. Just this week, Indonesian diplomats at a Human Rights Council panel in Geneva said a ban on the death sentence could be reinstated.

"As a head of state of course I'm going to try to save my citizens from execution. That's my obligation as a president, as a head of state ... To protect my citizens who are facing the death penalty but on the other hand we have to respect other countries that apply capital punishment ... The constitution and the existing law still allow the death penalty. But if the Indonesian people want to change it in the future, then it's possible."

In this exclusive interview on Talk to Al Jazeera, the president of Indonesia explains his position on his country's scourge of drugs, religion, ISIL, the economy, and for the first time reveals his willingness to discuss the abolishment of the death penalty.