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.

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