Indonesia's New Security Landscape Under President Prabowo

The foreign policy approach of Indonesia's newly elected president will help determine the balance in the region.

By Alessia Caruso

In February 2024, Indonesia's Defence Minister Prabowo Subianto won the presidential election in South-East Asia's largest democracy. He will formally assume office from October, taking over from his long-time rival Joko Widodo. 

Prabowo's presidency opens against a backdrop of rising regional tensions, presenting him with a significant challenge in positioning himself within the political chessboard. At 72 years of age, the newly elected President will have to skilfully navigate this complex geopolitical landscape. It will be crucial to understand what foreign policy approach Prabowo will adopt. Indeed, his decisions will have inevitable repercussions on the role and balance of power within ASEAN. 

Tension in the South China Sea area has been drastically increasing in recent years. According to available data, the total military expenditure of the countries in the region has grown by 6.2% in recent years, reflecting the desire of these states to strengthen their presence and projection capabilities in the area. In parallel, there has been an intensification of regional strategic alliances. In particular, the US has become more actively engaged, strengthening political and military ties with allies such as Japan, the Philippines. The combination of clashes, increases in defence spending and alliances in the region highlights how the South China Sea has become one of the main theatres of geopolitical competition between the great powers in the Indo-Pacific.

As the most populous country and largest democracy in Southeast Asia, Indonesia plays a major role in the complex geopolitical context of the South China Sea. As tensions and conflicts in the area continue to escalate, all eyes are on how President Prabowo's administration will approach the increasingly tense regional environment.

During Widodo's tenure, Indonesia's approach towards China has evolved considerably from a proactive attitude aimed at promoting regional peace, to a passive, non-antagonistic one, while maintaining a firm defence of national borders in the Natuna Islands area, Indonesian territory claimed by China within its controversial ‘Dash line’. Under Widodo, the interest in redeeming a role in the regional balance of power has made way for the desire to develop local infrastructure, financed largely by China.

Although it is still too early to define how Prabowo will present himself in the international scenario, a clear indication was given by his visit to China, from 31 March to 2 April, at the personal invitation of President Xi Jinping. On this occasion, the President of the People's Republic extolled the development of bilateral relations between the two states, while Prabowo renewed his intention to pursue Widodo's cooperative policies. The intention is to strengthen economic, trade and anti-poverty relations. This is Prabowo's first trip as President-elect, and he thus decides to set the priorities of his term of office from the outset. This decision is reflected in the economic ties that have been built over the past decades between the two powers. The People's Republic has become Indonesia's main trading partner, accounting for 40% of its exports and 55% of its imports, thus creating an undoubted link of economic dependence. The visit thus testifies to the importance Prabowo intends to place on the domestic and economic dimension within his agenda, continuing his predecessor's policy of appeasement. The relationship established between the two states appears to all intents and purposes to be a mutual exchange agreement, such that Indonesia secures its economic interests, while China secures the tacit consent of the South China Sea's most populous nation, in a context where bilateral relations are becoming increasingly decisive. In describing his security and defence relationship with China, Prabowo describes the People's Republic as a key partner in ensuring stability and peace in the region. In doing so, the Indonesian general seems well prepared to cede control of the regional security and defence line to China, consciously abdicating his condemnation of military incursions into the territorial waters of other ASEAN member states. However, the risk of this strategy of security passivism is that Indonesia will abdicate altogether the political role it is entitled to within the region's balance of power. A role that, prior to Widodo's presidency, Indonesia was largely committed to redeeming.

The implications for ASEAN's resilience are important. Indeed, the risk is that the inability, as well as the lack of will, to take a stand within the regional debate will contribute to the fragmentation of political will, with the result that the region will increasingly become a playground for US-China rivalry. The lack of strategic positioning of the leading ASEAN democracy, in a tense context such as the South China Sea, is in itself a stance in favour of increasing fragmentation.

In conclusion, how the new Indonesian president will balance domestic, regional and global interests will be crucial in defining Indonesia's future positioning in the Asian arena and the consequent repercussions on the cohesion of ASEAN.

The fluidity of Indonesian Islam

Calling for the establishment of Sharia law are only minority groups, which counted much less in the last election on February 14 than in the past. This is probably due to the fluidity with which the Islamic faith has established itself in Indonesia and the constitutional approach contained in the Pancasila

By Francesco Mattogno

Being Islamic, in Indonesia, has always been a strategic choice. Or at least it is according to the theories of some historians. Some argue that Islam spread in the country from the 13th century as a result of trade relations with merchants from South Asia and the Arabian Peninsula, particularly from Indian Gujarat and Yemen. Others that the Chinese Muslim admiral Cheng Ho, who landed in Java in the 15th century, also contributed to its expansion. But beyond proselytizing, much of Islam's success in Indonesia may be due to geography.

Indonesia's is a territory spread over 17,000 islands, totally surrounded by water, not particularly famous for the quality of its soils, and therefore forced to trade. "Tired of paying tribute to the large and prosperous Hindu and Buddhist empires in the region," historian Carool Kersten told TRT World, many Indonesian rulers saw it as an opportunity to convert to Islam and "seek allies in Africa and the Middle East" at a time when Muslims, after the fall of Constantinople in the 15th century, controlled the world's sea routes.

It was not the consequence of foreign conquest, nor the result of the work of waves of preachers. Islam in Indonesia spread through a fluid, slow, diverse and probably peaceful process. Today nearly 90 percent of Indonesia's more than 275 million people are Muslim, a statistic that makes the country the largest Muslim-majority state in the world. A country not fully secular, but still democratic and tolerant. 

The preamble of the constitution still contains the Pancasila, or the five fundamental principles on which the Indonesian state is founded, stipulated in 1945. The first one states "faith in one God," and it is a deliberately vague concept. Early drafts of the text explicitly talked about introducing sharia, or Islamic law, into the constitution, a possibility later shelved in favor of greater religious openness. In fact, one cannot claim to be an atheist in Indonesia, but the constitution recognizes six other major religions (including Catholicism) and religious minorities are integrated into discussions of national interest. The vast majority of Indonesians, the offspring of this cultural and constitutional setting, are first and foremost nationalists and reject extremist currents that disavow the concept of belonging to the Indonesian nation-state. Islamic radicalism is present, but a minority, and the last elections on February 14 certified the marginality of the Muslim world as such within Jakarta's democratic system.

Extremist Islamic groups have rarely really mattered politically, but in 2014 and 2019 the dual clash between Joko Widodo and Prabowo Subianto had also played out on the level of religious polarization. If Jokowi could count on the support of moderate Islam, in the second presidential race Prabowo had brought to his side the Islamist organizations that had developed from the "212" movement, which arose between 2016 and 2017 during the campaign for the Jakarta governor's post between Anies Baswedan and Basuki Tjahaja Purnama ("Ahok"). Ahok, an ethnic Chinese Christian and a favorite for reelection, was accused of blasphemy by Anies, who stirred up his more radical supporters against him and effectively started the trial that led to his opponent being sentenced to two years in prison.

On the wave of increased political relevance, groups that grew out of the "212" movement had chosen Prabowo as their spokesman for the 2019 presidential election. This was despite the fact that the history of the former general and Gerindra, his right-wing nationalist party, was totally unrelated to religious extremism. It was about mutual political opportunism. Prabowo was looking for voters, the Islamists for support to enter state institutions. Jokowi's victory extinguished their hopes.

After the Ahok case, the Indonesian president had already disbanded the radical group Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia in 2017, later doing the same with the Islamic Defenders Front (FDI) in 2020. During Jokowi's second term, the rise of extremist organizations gradually lost momentum, due to government repression and reduced popular support, while moderate associations ended up tying themselves even more closely to institutions.

The two most important nonpolitical moderate Islamic organizations are the Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) and the Muhammadiyah, to which tens of millions of people belong. Connected to them are various members of Indonesian civil society and the political class, distributed fairly evenly across the various political forces, not just the purely Islamic ones, indeed. Since the first elections in 1955, Muslim parties have never been strong enough to govern on their own, and even the preliminary results of the February 14 parliamentary vote confirmed their secondary status. In order to enter institutions, therefore, moderate Islam has always been forced to distribute its support among various political leaders, especially after the 1998 democratic reforms and the end of the Suharto era.

While maintaining a facade of neutrality, support for the right candidates guarantees NU and Muhammadiyah access to public office. For example, in the last Jokowi government, NU delivered Vice President Ma'Ruf Amin and four ministers, including Religious Affairs. In the face of the diminishing relevance of the ideological aspect, pragmatism and political opportunism led Indonesia's two largest moderate Islamic groups to support all three candidates in the last elections with different leading figures: winner Prabowo Subianto, Anies Baswedan and Ganjar Pranowo.

The process of depolarization has thus reduced the value of political support from religious associations, making the role of Islam marginal in determining the outcome of the 2024 elections. For Anies, who given the precedent with Ahok was thought to be the more radical candidate, public support from Abu Bakar Bashir-the spiritual leader of Jemaah Islamiyah, the al-Qaeda-affiliated terrorist group that organized the 2002 Bali bombings in which 202 people died-was indeed threatening to undermine his cleaned-up image as a moderate politician.

Rather than the ultimate goal, with the establishment of sharia law, Islam in Indonesia increasingly counts as a means to political ends and as a positioning tool, domestically and internationally. Although now extended to almost all political forces, the support of at least part of moderate Islam is an essential condition of legitimacy for any candidate aiming to govern the country, which is why NU and Muhammadiyah (lately more in trouble) are reserved for prominent roles in the executive. In foreign policy, moreover, the Islamic faith is used as diplomatic leverage to elevate Indonesia to one of the leading countries in the Muslim world, and generally the government is more inclined to tolerate Islamic mobilization of its civil society when international issues are at the center of public discourse.

The universal support for Palestine in these months of escalating conflict with Israel, both by the political class and the public, shows that Islam remains a very important identity component for most Indonesians. Some observers believe that the next few years could see a return of conservative groups, which during Jokowi's second term would only tone it down in anticipation of more favorable political conditions. But it remains a remote possibility. Indonesian Islam has never been monolithic and, after passing through a phase of polarization, seems to have returned to the fluid and opportunistic state that allowed it to penetrate the country between the 13th and 15th centuries.

Nusantara, the bet of the new capital city

The government has pledged to finance 20 percent of the costs from the state budget, and for the rest it relies on private capital, including foreign. But the new capital is slow to attract investors, both domestic and foreign

By Annalisa Manzo 

In 2019, President Joko Widodo "Jokowi" announced the location of Indonesia's new capital in East Kalimantan province, the Indonesian part of the island of Borneo. It will be built on 180,000 hectares of land already owned by the government, thus minimizing acquisition costs, straddling two districts, Penajam Paser Utara and Kutai Kartanegara, near Balikpapan and Samarinda, the province's two largest cities. Balikpapan is home to oil refineries and a port, making it a major economic center. Samarinda is the capital of East Kalimantan Province. Compared to other areas of Kalimantan previously considered, much of the necessary infrastructure is already in place. Both cities have an international airport and could be connected to the rest of the island via highways and railways. Kalimantan is geographically located in the center of the country and is less exposed to volcanic eruptions, earthquakes and floods. "We cannot let Jakarta and the island of Java continue to bear the increasing burden of population density, subsidence, traffic, and air and water pollution," Jokowi said in a speech broadcast live on television. "The economic gap between Java and other islands in the archipelago has continued to widen despite the regional autonomy policy launched in 2001," he added. 54 percent of Indonesia's more than 260 million people reside on Java and 58 percent of the country's GDP is produced on the island, despite it being the smallest of Indonesia's five main islands.

The $32 billion megaproject aims to create a new capital from scratch. Its name is Nusantara - Indonesian for 'archipelago' - precisely to reflect the geography of the world's largest archipelago-state. Its construction has been planned in five phases until 2045, the 100th anniversary year of Indonesian independence. Work on the first phase began in 2022 and is expected to be completed by this year.

The primary stated goal in the Ibu Kota Negara Nusantara project-in short, IKN-as it is officially known, is to create a new, more geographically central hub for Indonesia and drive the nation's economic transformation, without centralizing Indonesia around Java anymore. The government estimates that the city's population will reach 60,000 in 2024, rising to 2 million by 2040.

The capital relocation is currently in the infrastructure development phase. The Ministry of Public Works and Construction has assured that the IKN project is proceeding according to plan. Work is focusing on the development of basic infrastructure and government buildings. The development of the central government area (KIPP, Kawasan Inti Pusat Pemerintahan), especially the Presidential Palace, which will be the largest complex in KIPP, is key to building public confidence and attracting investors. The palace will cover twice the area occupied in Gicarta and will be able to accommodate up to eight thousand people for ceremonial activities on August 17. Public infrastructure will also be built, such as places of worship, health facilities, parks, sports, educational and commercial areas, and housing for officials. This area will also be surrounded by green belts in line with the goal of making the capital a "smart forest city," with 65 percent of the land covered by urban forests, which will help achieve the goal of zero net emissions by 2045 through the use of renewable energy. Starting in August, many government ministries and agencies will open offices there, and the government plans to relocate 3,000 civil servants from July to November. In contrast, embassies and headquarters of foreign companies located in Jakarta have been reluctant to discuss relocation.

Regarding investment, the government has pledged to finance 20 percent of the costs from the state budget, and for the rest it relies on private capital, including foreign capital. But Nusantara has been slow to attract investors, both domestic and foreign. SoftBank has withdrawn plans citing concerns about economic sustainability. The government is claiming the interests of nearly 300 companies worldwide, but negotiations have yet to conclude. Few investors are willing to commit funds until Jokowi's successor--and his views on the new capital--are clear. Foreign investors also need to make sure that Nusantara's plans move forward after the elections.

Jokowi has made every effort to ensure that his successor continues the project, going so far as to pass a law on the new capital in early 2022, supported by 93 percent of the parties in the House of Representatives. Another guarantee became clear last October when Prabowo Subianto, the 72-year-old defense minister and former army general now leading the preliminary outcome of the Feb. 14 presidential election, announced that his running mate in the next election would be Jokowi's 36-year-old son Gibran Rakabuming, who intends to carry on his father's legacy.

The skepticism of foreign investors also reflects the observation that historically there have been few successful transfers. Many fear that Nusantara may share the fate of similar projects pursued by its neighbors in Southeast Asia who transferred their capital in the postcolonial era. In 1999, for example, Malaysia began relocating federal ministries and government agencies to its new administrative capital, Putrajaya, 25 kilometers south of Kuala Lumpur, which remains the country's financial and commercial capital to this day. Similarly, Myanmar in 2005 moved its administrative capital from Yangon to Naypyidaw, but most major embassies remained in Yangon.

There are many who doubt that Nusantara will be able to quickly replace Jakarta as a financial center. Kalimantan has industries that could support development, including forestry, agriculture, and mining, but Java has an industrial and service-based economy. It is uncertain whether it will be able to sustain the role of a true capital city: connectivity with other global cities, knowledge creation, administrative services. 

Despite doubts and strong criticism, Nusantara Capital Authority said the metropolis follows the models of Shenzhen and Dubai, two economic centers built from the ground up, as well as the other benchmarks of Canberra, Putrajaya or Washington D.C. to become a center of the world economy as well as a pivot of government and economic growth.

If the plans go ahead, Jokowi and his successor will succeed where previous Indonesian leaders have failed. However, massive deforestation, risks to biodiversity and wildlife, and overexploitation of the area's mineral resources remain major concerns, as well as the danger of corruption and excessive debt. As stated by I. M. Sukma, "a mega infrastructure project presents two distinct possibilities: the potential for a waste of funds if it is completely abandoned, with the project already underway, or the risk of a failed city, especially given the government's continuing challenges to attract the investment needed to make the center of the 'new Indonesia' a reality." We shall see. The future of Nusantara and the incoming government is yet to be written.

Nickel, Indonesia's gold

Jakarta is extremely rich in it, and the element has become strategically important due to the advancement of electric vehicle production. Attracting the interest of major powers

That there is unanimity toward the need to move away from fossil fuels by 2050 is now a fact, especially following the historic COP28 agreement. However, when it comes to considering the shift to renewable energy sources as an opportunity for sustainable growth for developing economies, unanimity leaves room for a view imbued with both optimism and pessimism. Indonesia, with its use of nickel as a driver of the green transition and subsequent environmental damage, is a case in point.

In recent years, nickel (especially class1 nickel) has become strategically important due to the advancement of electric vehicle (EV) production, whose annual sales will reach at least 41 million by 2030, according to the IEA. Due to its exceptional properties and high recycling efficiency, nickel contributes to the circular economy, and more broadly to the achievement of various SDGs. Not surprisingly, Indonesia, as the world's largest nickel producer with 52 percent of total global reserves, aspires to become an indispensable hub for the EV industry. Indeed, the country has cost advantages and relative ease of developing new projects compared to other countries producing the metal, including the Philippines, Russia and Australia. Moreover, with the adoption of regulations banning its export, the government has been able to attract massive investment, mainly from China.

However, while it is true that the phasing out of gas-powered cars is a major part of the energy transition, it is also true that processing nickel for use in EV batteries involves significant environmental impacts. Indeed, it is worth noting that most of Indonesia's production is class2 nickel, which requires processing processes to be transformed into class1 nickel. And, unfortunately, mining and processing activities have generated large volumes of toxic waste, caused deforestation and loss of biodiversity. It gives pause for discussion that the environmental damage is borne entirely by the place where the mining takes place, and ultimately by the communities living there. Just as it makes one wonder that these plants are highly energy intensive, sourcing mostly from coal-fired power plants. 

Nevertheless, nickel exploitation represents a significant opportunity for Indonesia to sustain its economic growth, consolidate its leadership role in the region, and aspire to be a high-income country. Being a critical sector for industrial balances, nickel inevitably affects geopolitical dynamics, making Jakarta an increasingly coveted prey for Beijing and Washington. On the one hand, China as the world leader in EV production, has invested $8 billion in 2022 increasing its influence in the country as a crossroads between the Indian and Pacific Oceans. Effectively, many nickel refining operators are owned by China's Jiangsu Delong Nickel Industry, just as the Morowali Industrial Park (IMIP) is Sino-Indonesian-owned. On the other hand, strategic ties between Washington and Indonesia were elevated to a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership (CSP) in November 2023, although they still remain superficial and lack economic cooperation. Indeed, the absence of bilateral free trade agreements between the U.S. and Indonesia and the resulting trade barriers will make it difficult to implement key programs for the CSP, including precisely the possibility of a critical minerals agreement. In conclusion, just as the transition to EVs alone will not be enough to ensure sustainable development, the persuasive attitudes of the two major powers toward Indonesia will also not be enough to achieve the abandonment of the non-alignment policy pursued by outgoing President Joko Widodo and, apparently, also by the next leader Prabowo Subianto.

‘Capitalism with Indonesian characteristics’: the role of State-owned enterprises in Jakarta's politics

The Indonesian economy is growing at a rapid pace, following a model that combines free market principles with State planning. During Jokowi's administration, state-owned companies have gained even more prominence. How will his successor Prabowo wield this tool?

Over the next twenty years, Indonesia could become the world's fourth-largest economy. Currently, it ranks seventh when measuring its GDP at purchasing power parity. The archipelago is endowed with abundant natural resources and a young, sizable workforce—two key factors for growth, albeit insufficient on their own. It also requires foreign investments and facilitating business activities. The Jokowi administration attempted to accomplish this in one fell and decisive swoop. In 2020, the Omnibus Law, a massive piece of legislation spanning about a thousand pages and touching many sectors, was passed. Even the trade policy follows the path of economic liberalization. Jakarta has intensified its diplomatic efforts to conclude an ambitious free trade agreement with the European Union and strongly opposes any foreign measure that may have protectionist effects on its exports, such as those from Brussels regarding palm oil.

Yet, despite the determined liberalizing push, State-Owned Enterprises (SOEs) continue to play a central role in the Indonesian economy, a role that has further strengthened in the last decade. Jokowism, as his government's economic doctrine is called, is a fusion of free market principles and robust State intervention. In Europe or the United States, where the market is deemed more efficient than the State by principle, such a mix would appear contradictory and even economically irrational. Not to Indonesians, nor to other Southeast Asian countries. This economic model, rewarded in recent decades by stable and vigorous GDP growth, predates Widodo and, as mentioned, is also present elsewhere in the region. In different forms, as described by Dr Gianmatteo Sabatino, a researcher at Zhongnan University of Economics and Law in Wuhan, in the excellent article The emerging trends of the modernization of state-controlled economy in the ASEAN space. The case of Indonesian State-Owned Enterprises (published on Rivista di Diritti Comparati, 1/2023).

Sabatino reconstructs how the Indonesian model of state-owned enterprise has evolved, starting from the commercial law of the Netherlands, which was transplanted into Indonesia during the colonial period, then passing through the regimes of Sukarno and Suharto. The independence process, officially sanctioned by the Indonesian Constitution of 1945, also involved the nationalization of Dutch public and private properties. Article 33 of the Constitution, still in force, states that ‘sectors of production which are important for the country and affect the life of the people shall be under the powers of the State’, as well as ‘the land, the waters and the natural resources’, which must be ‘shall be used to the greatest benefit of the people’. Article 33 also sets ‘economic democracy’ as the lodestar of the Indonesian economy. To implement these principles, Sukarno looked to the socialist economic planning model, also in line with his foreign policy of gradual rapprochement with the Soviet Union. This course was abruptly interrupted by Suharto's coup, supported by the United States to prevent Indonesia from definitively entering the Soviet orbit.

After brutally eliminating any socialist (or suspected socialist) elements, Suharto reversed course by promoting a liberalist economic model, albeit without much success. His reforms introduced corporate governance legal frameworks closer to those of Europe and America but clashed with the corporatism rooted in Indonesian society. Suharto's fall ushered in Indonesia's era of political-economic Reformasi, with the constitutional principle of economic democracy resurfacing and the emergence of a new ‘national’ development model. Despite demands from various sides, particularly from the International Monetary Fund, to continue with liberalizations and privatizations, Jakarta prefers to maintain the State's role in the economy. A well-administered public company can stimulate development and even facilitate the emergence of new private enterprises. Jokowi knows this well. His entrepreneurial career began as a manager of a State-owned cellulose factory and, after starting his own private business, the future president was repeatedly aided by SOEs in times of need.

However, Indonesian state capitalism is exposed to two serious risks. Private enterprises need personal and political contacts in the government to conduct business and cooperate with their State counterparts. A good network of contacts can keep a company afloat that would otherwise be destined to fail. This dynamic then produces the second problem: the risk of interest coalitions forming between ministries and companies that degenerate into corruption or paralyze decision-making processes. This is a significant problem, as a corrupt and unstable political system can deter the much-sought foreign investment. A ministry may put aside more important political goals to prioritize protecting the companies it owns, even at the expense of clashing with other ministries. For example, negotiations with the EU for the free trade agreement were greatly hindered by internal divisions within Widodo's cabinet, with each ministry taking sides for or against certain issues. Perhaps the Ministry of Agriculture would want to reject every European request regarding palm oil, even at the cost of completely blocking the negotiations, to appease a core constituency of the minister. The Ministry of Industry, on the other hand, would be eager to conclude the agreement as soon as possible, to gain greater access to the European market for (its own) manufacturing companies. 

Widodo's successor, former general Prabowo Subianto, may rely on SOEs to promote his policies, unless he intends to change this economic doctrine. It is unlikely that he will, considering that Jokowism is extremely popular and allows for mobilizing the country's growing economic resources for other purposes. It is more difficult to anticipate what these purposes will be. Fulfilling the constitutional principle of economic democracy? Growing the economy, fairly and sustainably, or just focusing on the GDP growth percentage? Or perhaps strengthening his own power system? The proliferation of SOEs under Jokowi recalls a similar trend observed in Xi Jinping's China. The key difference is that in Indonesia, the actions of ministries, and thus their enterprises, can be subject to political debate and change from one legislature to another. As Sabatino points out, the timing of development planning is appropriately synchronized by Indonesian law with elections. Electoral results impact the business choices of SOEs. Borrowing a famous expression associated with China, the ‘capitalism with Indonesian characteristics’ presents unique and undoubtedly interesting elements, as it is an alternative and almost opposite to Western capitalist practices, destined to lead the archipelago to the podium of world economies.

Who are the candidates for the presidency of Indonesia?

Prabowo, Defense Minister and retired general, is the favourite. His deputy is Gibran, son of his historic rival and outgoing President Joko Widodo

By Tommaso Magrini

Here we are. A few days and presidential elections will be held in Indonesia. On February 14, one of the world's largest democracies goes to the polls to choose its next leader. According to the election commission, around 205 million of Indonesia's more than 270 million people have the right to vote, and around a third of these are under 30. The presidential poll will be held on the same day as the national parliamentary elections, and voters will also choose executive and legislative representatives at all administrative levels across Indonesia.

The favorite appears Prabowo Subianto. Suharto's son-in-law and former head of the special forces, the retired general has in the past been accused of being among those responsible for the repression of student protests, the disappearances and extrajudicial killings of opponents, and human rights violations against Papua's minorities and East Timor. After his dismissal from the army and a few years of self-exile in Jordan following an attempted coup, Prabowo is now convinced that in the elections on 14 February he will be able to become president of the largest economy in South-East Asia. In the last ten years, Prabowo had twice attempted to run for the presidential palace in Jakarta, but was defeated by the reformer Joko Widodo.

This time Prabowo really believes it, after joining the government in 2019 as Defense Minister. According to President Widodo, Prabowo was chosen as Defense Minister because "he has vast experience in that field". As Francesco Radicioni, Radio Radicale correspondent from Bangkok, explains, "the macho law-and-order military pose has been archived, now Prabowo shares with his millions of followers on Instagram and TikTok posts with relaxed and captivating tones that have earned him an avalanche of likes and enthusiastic comments: the most used word online is «gemoy», an expression that sounds like «adorable»” . 

The real twist, however, came when Prabowo announced that his vice-presidential candidate would be Gibran Rakabuming Raka: born in 1987, young mayor of a small town on the island of Java, but above all son of the same President Widodo. A truly surprising move, given that in Indonesia the law sets the minimum age to run for vice-presidency at 40. However, on the eve of the presentation of the candidates, the Constitutional Court decided that that limit should not be applied to those who have already won a local election. 

And the challengers? Ganjar Pranowo is the candidate of the ruling Indonesian Democratic Struggle Party. His long career in public service, most recently as governor of Central Java, has earned him a following outside the capital Jakarta. In opinion polls he is second in the rankings behind Prabowo. And then there is the independent candidacy of Anies Baswedan, already at the helm of the capital's government and for a few months also minister in Jokowi's administration, before moving to the opposition. 

Even if Prabowo is considered the favorite today, analysts question whether the ex-general will really be able to win over the voters who over the last ten years have wanted to reward Widodo's liberal and reformist agenda. If no one manages to obtain an absolute majority of votes on Wednesday 14 February, Indonesia will return to the polls in June for a run-off. In August, however, the capital will move from Jakarta to Nusantara, in Borneo: the last legacy of Widodo, who however hopes to see his political dynasty continue with his son as vice president.

Elections in Indonesia: the issues of the vote

The Indonesian presidential elections take place on Wednesday 14 February. The vote is highly anticipated to understand who will be Joko Widodo's successor

By Aniello Iannone

On December 12, the presidential debate in Indonesia brought together presidential candidates Ganjar Pranowo (PDI-P), Prabowo Subianto (Gerindra) and Anies (AMIN coalition composed of (PAN): the National Commitment Party, a moderate nationalist party and Islamic, and (PKS): the Justice and Prosperity Party, an Islamic political party that is based on the principles of Islam and seeks to implement policies in line with Islamic values ​​in society and government.The vice presidential candidate next in Anies Baswedan, Muhaimin Iskandar, is the secretary of the party.Finally, the (PPP): the Unity and Development Party, is a political party formed by Islamic organizations, whose policies are centered on the principles of Islam and active participation in nation building and development. ), who debated Indonesian political issues. Among the topics discussed were the fight against corruption, the protection of minorities, the Papua issue, the democracy index and economic development. Although the debate highlighted the differences in the candidates' programs, the ethical question, in particular linked to Gibran, Joko Widodo's son and vice-presidential candidate, added a unique complexity in view of the upcoming elections, among the most significant post-Soeharto.

Family matters

The choice of vice president plays a crucial role in Indonesian elections, particularly involving those who may not fully identify with the presidential candidate. This dynamic emerged clearly during the 2019 elections, especially after the scandal of the Ahok case, the former governor of Jakarta who in 2018 was accused of blasphemy, from which Joko Widodo had to face instability and political criticism, especially from radical Muslim groups in Indonesia, such as the Muslim Defense Front, who accused him of being a communist and of Chinese descent. The use of political identity in Indonesia partially reflects the country's historical and political process, not based on narrative ideology, but on political identity.

In this context, during the 2019 election campaign, Jokowi chose Ma'ruf Amin, a senior representative of the Indonesian Muslim organization, as a strategy to gain the support of a Muslim population skeptical of his party. This choice has proven effective, although it has prompted questions from nationalists who struggle to identify an identity connection between PDI-P and Ma'ruf Amin.

The political situation in Indonesia has reached partly paradoxical situations. After his defeat in the 2019 elections, Prabowo, the defeated candidate, surprisingly took over as Defense Minister in the Jokowi 2.0 government, a key role that helped reduce and weaken the opposition. This event, along with subsequent strategic maneuvers during the 2024 election campaign, raised suspicions about the direction of Indonesian politics. Jokowi's shadow is cast over the vice president elections, with Gibran, son, current mayor of Surakarta, proposed as vice president candidate.

Gibran, currently 36 years old, should not have been able to run as he is below the age limit allowed by the Indonesian constitution to become vice president, i.e. 40 years. However, through a legislative reform, Constitutional Court judge Anwar Usman, (husband of Idayati, sister of President Joko Widodo) initiated the initiative to change the rules to the advantage of Joko Widodo and Gibran. This maneuver resulted in the reduction of the minimum age to run for office from 40 to 35, with special provisions requiring at least one term as mayor. In practice, it is an ad-hoc law designed specifically for Gibran.

A few months before February 14, election day, the political landscape in Indonesia is preparing to face inevitable conflicts between coalitions and alliances. Joko Widodo always seems closer to the Gerindra party rather than the PDIP. If Prabowo-Gibran were to win, Joko Widodo is likely to take a key role, perhaps in a ministry, acting as a mediator between Gibran and Prabowo, forming a nuanced third term. However, the prospect of Prabowo-Gibran's victory raises not only political, but also social questions. Questions arise about what factors push the population to vote for a party composed of a person accused of human rights violations and crimes against humanity, like Prabowo, and a young man who grew up in his father's shadow.

This situation raises interesting questions about the political and social awareness of Indonesian voters. Entrusting political responsibilities to leaders with a controversial history and the promotion of a political heir become elements of profound reflection in the context of the country's democratic framework. It is hoped that the community will be able to weigh the weight of moral considerations and human rights in the context of their political choices, perhaps opening a new chapter in Indonesia's political history. The outcome of the upcoming elections will not only determine the composition of the government, but may also influence the international perception of Indonesia and its position in the global political landscape. There remains a big question mark over how Indonesian society will respond to this crucial challenge and how the election results will shape the country's future.

The World's Oldest Pyramid? In Indonesia

A team of researchers found that Gunung Padang was built primarily by human hands and found evidence that the structure was built in multiple phases, thousands of years apart

By Tommaso Magrini

A hidden pyramid on a hill on the island of West Java, Indonesia, may be the oldest in the world. This was revealed by an interdisciplinary team of archaeologists, geophysicists, and geologists in an article published in the interdisciplinary archaeological journal Archaeological Prospection. Gunung Padang, also known as the "mountain of enlightenment," is located atop an extinct volcano and is considered a sacred site by the local population. In 1998, Gunung Padang was declared a national cultural heritage. Over the years, there have been divergent opinions among scholars about the nature of the hill. Some argued that it was a man-made pyramid, while others claimed it was a natural geological formation. The research team discovered that Gunung Padang was primarily built by human hands and found evidence that the structure was constructed in multiple phases, thousands of years apart. According to the team, the oldest construction of the pyramid "likely started as a natural hill of volcanic ash before being carved and then architecturally wrapped" between 25,000 BC and 14,000 BC. This means that Gunung Padang is at least 16,000 years old. According to the study, the pyramid was completed between 2000 BC and 1100 BC. The team, which documented the site study, drilled into the mound's center, excavated trenches, and collected soil samples, among other things. This helped researchers dig into the early layers of Gunung Padang, more than 30 meters below its surface. "This study strongly suggests that Gunung Padang is not a natural hill but a pyramidal construction," the researchers state in the document. The team also found evidence of "a large cavity," possibly a hidden chamber, within the pyramid.

Understanding the Upcoming Indonesian Elections

In February 2024, Indonesians will cast their vote. But what will the post-Jokowi era look like?

By Anna Affranio

Southeast Asia's political arrangements are on the brink of a momentous change, as Indonesia will soon bid goodbye to a decade of rule by Joko Widodo, the hugely popular president who has been in office since 2014. Indonesian law, in fact, allows only two presidential terms, which means Widodo will not be able to compete in the election round to be held next on February 14th.

Last October 25th was the deadline for registering presidential candidates. At present, the three pairs of candidates running for office (in Indonesia, presidential candidates always run in pairs with their respective vice presidents) are headed by Prabowo Subianto, Ganjar Pranowo, and Anies Baswedan.

This election campaign seems to follow the trend, known to Indonesia, that sees voters and the media focusing more on the charisma of leaders and agreements between oligarchs and party leaders rather than the details of political programs. However, many analysts have observed how each of the three pairs represents a different vision for what the future of Indonesia might look like. 

Prabowo Subianto, the current Defense Minister, is considered the favorite in the latest polls. The latter, 72 (the oldest among the candidates), comes from an elite family and enjoys a large following despite numerous controversies that have beset him. He has, in fact, been accused of human rights violations related to the kidnapping of pro-democracy activists during the riots that marked the country in the late 1990s, although he has always denied any involvement. He is also the former son-in-law of the late authoritarian President Suharto and in previous elections, has formed alliances with conservative Islamic groups and divisive political parties. This coalition, however, benefits from the (tacit) support of the outgoing president. Although the latter and Prabowo have had some problems in the past, the candidate has announced that he wants to continue the project of Nusantara, the new designated capital, which is Jokowi's main political legacy. Finally, the latter certainly appreciated the choice to appoint Gibran Rakabuminag Raka as potential Vice President, none other than Widodo’s eldest son.

The second candidate in the race is Ganjar Pranowo, current governor of Central Java province. Fifty-five years old, he is perhaps the one who most resembles outgoing President Jokowi, with whom he shares a humble family background and a deft ability to appeal to the masses. This is why he receives extended support among ordinary people and enjoys wide popularity among young people and social media, particularly on TikTok. In addition, he is the candidate supported by the PDI-P (Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle), the same populist-oriented party that had supported Joko Widodo in the previous two elections. 

The third candidate, Anies Baswedan, 54, former governor of Jakarta, is losing popularity in the polls. Despite being educated in the United States and publicly declaring his support to moderate Islam, has been accused of association with the radical Islamic movement, raising concerns among religious minorities and moderate Muslims. This is related to the fact that Anies, during the 2017 Jakarta gubernatorial election, accepted support from radical Islamic groups lashing out at his opponent, then-Jakarta governor Basuki Tjahaja "Ahok" Purnama, a Chinese Christian who was later jailed for insulting Islam. 

In conclusion, this election is not only a race among candidates, but also among different ideas of the Indonesia of tomorrow: a return to the reactionary past, the continuity of a democratic polity, or a possible move toward religious radicalism. It will be fascinating to see which path the Indonesian people choose, and the coming months will be crucial in determining that choice.

Indonesia GDP trends in 2023

Government spending soared an impressive 10.6 percent.The economy is expected to continue its growth trajectory, with an estimated range of 4.5 to 5.3 percent

By Lorenzo Riccardi

Indonesia's economy experienced robust growth in the second quarter of 2023, with a year-on-year increase of 5.2 per cent. This exceeded initial market expectations of a 4.9 per cent gain, showcasing the nation's economic resilience. Building upon the slightly revised 5 per cent expansion in the first quarter, this quarter marked the ninth consecutive period of economic growth and the most vigorous pace seen in the past three quarters.

One of the significant drivers of this growth was the acceleration in household consumption, particularly during the fasting month of Ramadan and the Eid-ul Fitr festivals. Household consumption surged to 5.2 per cent, a notable increase from the 4.5 per cent recorded in the first quarter. This festive season's positive influence on spending contributed significantly to the overall economic upswing.

Additionally, both government spending and fixed investment played pivotal roles in propelling the economy forward. Government spending saw an impressive uptick of 10.6 per cent, a substantial rise compared to the 3.4 per cent growth in the previous quarter. Fixed investment also displayed strong growth, expanding by 4.6 per cent, surpassing the 2.1 per cent growth seen in the previous period. These factors collectively underscored the government's commitment to stimulating economic activity.

However, the balance of trade didn't fare as well, as net trade exerted a negative influence due to declines in both exports (down by 2.7 per cent) and imports (decreasing by 3.8 per cent). These trade-related challenges highlighted the potential areas for improvement within the international trade landscape.

From a production perspective, multiple sectors demonstrated accelerated growth compared to the previous quarter. Agriculture, for instance, experienced an upswing of 2 per cent, a notable increase from the 0.4 per cent growth recorded in Q1. The manufacturing sector maintained its momentum with a growth rate of 4.8 per cent, up from 4.4 per cent. Similarly, the mining sector expanded by 5 per cent, outpacing the 4.9 per cent growth observed earlier. Other sectors like wholesale and retail trade (5.2 per cent growth), communication (8 per cent growth), and construction (5.2 per cent growth) all exhibited enhanced performance in contrast to the previous quarter's figures.

Looking ahead, the central bank's projection for this year indicates that the economy is expected to continue its growth trajectory, with an estimated range of 4.5 per cent to 5.3 per cent. This forecast highlights the authorities' cautious optimism about the country's economic prospects despite potential global uncertainties.

Comparing this with the previous year, Indonesia's economy expanded by 5.3 per cent in 2022, marking its most substantial growth since 2013. This previous growth milestone underscores the nation's ability to overcome challenges and tap into its economic potential.

In summary, Indonesia's economy showcased impressive growth in the second quarter of 2023, surpassing market forecasts. Driven by increased household consumption during festive seasons, robust government spending, and stronger fixed investments, the country's economic expansion remains on a positive trajectory. While trade posed some challenges, the overall production landscape demonstrated encouraging growth rates across various sectors. As Indonesia aims for continued growth in the face of uncertainties, its recent economic achievements build upon the substantial progress made in the preceding year.

From Indonesia a new circular economy

We publish here an excerpt from an article by Bambang Susantono, Chairman of the Nusantara Capital Authority, in Nikkei Asia

In the heart of Borneo's island forests, the development of Nusantara and its surrounding area is now underway. The new capital's population is projected to reach 1.8 million by 2045.

Staying true to the green vision behind it, the new capital city will be largely encircled by the existing forest, which will be protected.

But it is the city's circular economic model that will translate Nusantara's green vision into meaningful everyday practices.

For example, the new city will implement a comprehensive and well-coordinated system that prioritizes reduction, reuse and recycling, with 60% of Nusantara's waste to be recycled by 2045 and all of its water supply treated through a recovery system by 2035.

This approach will not only minimize the amount of waste generated but also ensure that valuable resources are recovered and reintegrated into the economy.

The circular economy will also offer a win-win approach for investors and communities. According to a joint study by Indonesia's National Development Planning Agency and the U.N. Development Programme, the full implementation of the circular economy approach across the key industrial sectors of food and beverages, textiles, wholesale and retail trade, construction and electronics could create 4.4 million jobs in Indonesia and raise the country's economic output by $45 billion by 2030.

Nonetheless, a full implementation of the circular economy approach will require greater collaboration between the public and private sectors.

By involving businesses, entrepreneurs and investors in the development and implementation of circular economic models, Nusantara will unlock more opportunities for growth and job creation, while minimizing environmental impact.

Areas of collaboration currently being explored include the establishment of recycling facilities and green infrastructure projects that could further cement the new capital's position as a pioneer in sustainable urban development. To attract investment and drive sustainable growth, we have launched comprehensive investment incentives, including tax breaks for businesses that adopt circular economy practices. In addition, tax holidays of up to 30 years and other tax deductions will be given to corporations engaging in research and development and to investors who adopt strict environmental, social and governance standards.

By aligning economic incentives with environmental goals, the new capital will be an attractive destination for forward-thinking investors committed to sustainability.

The success of the new capital's zero-waste, zero-emission infrastructure can serve as a catalyst to combat plastic pollution on a national and global scale as its developing blueprint can become a reference point for similar mega projects.

What legacy will Widodo leave for Indonesia?

Self-made man of humble beginnings, Indonesia's first president without a political dynasty or the military behind him. With only a few months left in his second and final term, Joko Widodo remains wildly popular, and his successor will likely emerge from his entourage. Outstanding story of a leader who embodies the strengths and contradictions of his country

Joko Widodo is almost always referred to by the nickname "Jokowi." Shortening names and titles or giving nicknames is a widespread habit in the spoken Indonesian language, but it seems that the president's nickname was coined by one of his French business partners. Prior to entering politics, Jokowi was involved, with some success, in manufacturing and exporting furniture made from the fine timber of the tropical forests of the Indonesian archipelago. This was, in some ways, the family business, although his father carried it out on a much smaller scale. In fact, Jokowi had been born in the home of a carpenter in Surakarta, a town in Central Java, who sold the furniture he made on the street. After studying forestry engineering, Widodo first worked in a state-owned pulp mill and then opened his own company, joining the trade association. Business did not take off at first, and in the early 1990s, Jokowi was in danger of bankruptcy, but was saved by a loan from a state-owned company. The company manages to grow through exports, mainly to Europe and, in particular, France. In short, Widodo's entrepreneurial success was built on the support of state-owned companies and exports, two elements that would later be central to his economic policy, dubbed Jokowism by some entrepreneurs.

Furniture manufacturers are an influential industry group in Indonesia, and Widodo, president of the association for the city of Surakarta, is ready to enter politics. In 2005, he won the election for mayor of Surakarta, and his administration proved extremely popular due to its tough on crime and promotion of tourism. The successful entrepreneur now mayor, however, does not forget his humble beginnings and often visits the city's slums, where he promotes social housing and access to education. Appreciated policies that Jokowi will replicate on a larger scale in his later posts. His popularity is sky-high, and in 2010 he is re-elected mayor with more than 90 percent of the vote. On the strength of that result, just two years later he aims for the position of governor of Jakarta and is elected. A position he holds for a short time, as in 2014 his party, the PDI-P (Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle) nominates him as its candidate for the country's presidency. Jokowi's meteoric political career is built on his talent for appearing as a "man of the people" who does not forget his origins, capable of getting things done, and sincerely interested in improving the living conditions of poorer Indonesians.  

The PDI-P's choice of Widodo was exceptional for the dynamics of Indonesian politics. The then Jakarta governor was neither a former army officer like his rival, former conservative general Prabowo Subianto, nor the scion of a political dynasty like PDI-P leader and daughter Sukarno Megawati. Before him, all of Indonesia's presidents had belonged to one of two categories, but for Widodo and the PDI-P the anomaly could become the lever with which to lift the party after years of electoral debacles. Jokowi presented himself as a new man, estranged from the establishment and close to the people. Like so many other leaders in the same years, Widodo wins with a populist platform that put the fight against corruption at the center. The election was a triumph, Jokowi beating Prabowo with 53 percent of the vote and repeating the success in 2019, again against Prabowo, with 55 percent. To this day Jokowi remains wildly popular, with approval ratings around 76 percent. It is difficult to hear critical voices against the president, not least because offending him can lead to 18 months in prison, as happened to an 18-year-old Sumatran boy in 2017.

Widodo is indeed a democratically elected leader, willing to relinquish power at the end of his two terms as required by the Constitution, but he is also the leader of a "hybrid" democracy. Power is contestable in elections, but dissent is suppressed when he raises his voice too much or steps out of the groove drawn by the government. Somewhat vague laws against defamation and "blasphemy" have been written during the Widodo administration and are now broadly interpreted to restrict freedom of expression, assembly and association. Another gray page with regard to fundamental rights is a recent and unprecedented assumption of responsibility by Jokowi for certain incidents of violence perpetrated by the Indonesian state in the past. This is only a partial step forward, as the president has been silent about the crimes committed by the military during the occupation of East Timor and the violent repression still perpetrated against West Papuan natives demanding independence from Jakarta. The promise to fight corruption has also remained unfulfilled. Rizal Ramli, a longtime politician and former minister in the first Widodo government, recently wrote in The Diplomat that under Jokowi "the hands of the clock have turned back," as the president's clique has proven to be "horribly corrupt, with huge conflicts of interest." Widodo keeps quiet and lets it be, so as to keep opposing interest groups together and maintain power. Former rival Prabowo has also been co-opted as defense minister.

Despite the fact that corruption is a very serious problem and perceived as such by the public, Indonesia's economy is growing and experiencing no crisis. Jokowism seems to be working and remains popular. Mindful of his personal experience, Widodo sees the country's wealthy state-owned enterprises as a useful tool for guiding its economy and infrastructure toward its goals of economic as well as social development. In this, the president has been successfully assisted by his minister of state-owned enterprises Erick Thohir, an entrepreneur known in Italy for buying and leading Inter Milan for a number of years. Another tenet of Jokowism is the search for new markets and investment abroad. Indonesia recently held the chairmanship of both the G20 and ASEAN, placing great emphasis in both forums on trade and economic growth. And Jokowi has been able to find many investors, especially in China. Beijing's presence in the country has increased greatly, both in investment and in the presence of Chinese workers, a category that is often the victim of violence. This is a somewhat uncomfortable topic for the administration, which has been criticized in the past by the opposition for "selling out" the country to China and is now committed to keeping anti-Chinese sentiment in check.

Although it is difficult to predict who will be Jokowi's successor, he will certainly be a Jokowist in economics. Appearing in continuity with the popular outgoing president will be necessary to emerge from a still crowded pool of contenders. The two most likely names seem to be former rival, now ally, Prabowo and official PDI-P candidate Ganjar Pranowo, governor of Central Java. The two could even ally and run as a ticket, in absolute continuity with the grand coalition supporting Widodo. If Jokowi entered politics without coming from a power dynasty, he is coming out having created one of his own: his sons have already begun to groom themselves, and the eldest son is already mayor of Surakarta, the city from which Widodo's rise began. We will hear more about them. In any case, the fact that the post-Jokowi transition is taking place in a democratic manner demonstrates the strength of Indonesia's democracy, albeit a "hybrid" one. A democracy full of contradictions that required an out-of-the-box politician like Jokowi to lead it: as capable and effective as he was condescending to the corruption and vices of the system.