Indonesian elections

As the 2024 Indonesian elections approach (scheduled for 14 February), one of Southeast Asia’s most powerful nations faces a critical moment that will dictate its future relationship with China and the United States.

Under Indonesian law, current President Joko Widodo, affectionally referred to as Jokowi, is not permitted to run for another term. However, he has been busy doing all he can to influence the outcome of the upcoming election. Joko’s presidency has been viewed with mixed success. His administration has received significant criticism – particularly for the huge democratic backslide in political rights, and in allowing the resurgence of military involvement in domestic issues (notorious for its brutality in the Suharto era). The army now has greater control of many of the critical ministries. Joko also appointed seventy-two-year-old Prabowo Subianto as Defence Minister – a controversial figure whose human rights record has been the subject of numerous allegations. This was viewed as nothing more than an alignment with the country’s elite elder traditionalists.

It might come as no surprise then that Prabowo Subianto is the next election’s frontrunner. Subianto and his newly appointed vice-presidential candidate, thirty-six-year-old Gibran Rakabuming Raka (current President Joko’s eldest son), have both appeared to have gained a substantial lead over the opposition. A special ruling by Indonesia’s top court was required – coincidentally headed by Joko’s brother-in-law – to allow a person Gibran’s age to run for vice president. This has been viewed by many as yet another shortcoming on Joko’s part, failing to honour his ‘no dynastic politics’ pledge. The campaign, however, has been significantly strengthened by Joko’s huge popularity and by the appointment of his son. Some analysts consider this a blatant act of authoritarian powerplay and the continuation of the Joko administration.

Main rivals are Anies Baswedan, a former Jakarta governor, and Ganjar Pranowo, a former governor of Central Java. Baswedan is advocating a more transparent and stronger democratic institution. However, Pranowo, backed by powerful elites, has failed to develop any real distinct political identity. Baswedan is believed to have attracted a large share of the growing conservative Muslims, although his main focus has been to directly attack Joko and Prabowo which does not appear to be assisting his campaign.

If we peer into the crystal ball and consider a Prabowo win, the implications for Indonesian democracy are significant. His previous military affiliations and human rights violations bring with them concerns of a slide towards autocratic rule with power remaining in the hands of the small elder political elite.

A Baswedan or Pranowo win would produce a bold move towards a much more democratic and reformed political stable. However, doubts persist regarding the capabilities of both men to manage and control the complex Indonesian political system. Whatever the outcome, the 2024 Indonesian elections will inevitably shape the country’s democratic direction and geopolitical integrity in the years to come.

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