Shortcuts / 15 February 2024

Indonesia’s Election

Indonesia’s election held yesterday was a big one – more than 200 million people cast a vote. In this Squiz Shortcut, we won’t go through the ins and outs of what’s known about the result, but because Indonesia is an important neighbour, we’ll get you across who’s who and what’s what Indonesia’s political system and demographics, the legacy of outgoing president Joko Widodo, and the favourite to take over presidency.

Remind us again just how big Indonesia is?
It’s the fourth most populous country in the world, with roughly 278 million Indonesians. It’s also a young electorate – the figure to know here is that 56% of the total eligible voting population is aged under 40yo.

Any other background to know?
To get the basics out of the way, Indonesia has a presidential system of politics – which means that, unlike Australia, they elect their leader directly. For the past 10 years, that leader has been Joko Widodo. 

And why won’t he be the president going forward?
Indonesia also has a 2-term limit on their presidents, which means that Widodo can’t run for president again, and Indonesia will be getting a new leader…

What kind of legacy does Widodo leave?
Widodo is really popular – he has consistently held an approval rating of over 70%. One reason for that popularity is the fact that he has very humble roots.

How humble?
He was actually born in an illegal slum, before working as a furniture manufacturer… so, pretty rootsy for someone who would go on to become the leader of hundreds of millions of people. In fact, Widodo’s rise through the ranks of Indonesian politics was seen as a high point in their democracy because he was the first president who wasn’t from Indonesia’s military establishment or political elite.

Impressive… what were his policies?
Widodo built a reputation for focusing on the needs of ordinary Indonesians, and as president that meant he worked on job creation and the nation’s economic development. For example, he reduced Indonesia’s exports of raw materials, like nickel, to create a processing industry domestically. During his presidency, the country achieved a GDP growth rate of around 5% per year.

Not too shabby… any other signature policies?
The big one to note is Widodo’s plan to build a futuristic new capital city. The current capital city, Jakarta, is crowded and sinking, so Widodo decided to build a green city called Nusantara in the jungle.

What do Widodo’s critics say?
According to outside observers, Indonesia has become more corrupt under Widodo’s presidency. For example, the country has fallen in the corruption index maintained by Transparency International – and just in the last year, there have been new concerns about Widodo’s political interference to benefit his family.

Uh oh… what are those concerns?
Maybe now is a good time to get across the 3 main candidates running for Indonesia’s presidency. You’ll see why…

Go on…
First up, there’s Anies Baswedan, a former academic and the governor of Jakarta – he was the candidate promising change, including scaling back on Joko Widodo’s new capital city. There’s also Ganjar Pranowo, who is from the same party as Widodo and wants to continue his legacy while also offering new changes, like free internet. But neither of those two men were the frontrunners…

Who was the frontrunner?
The person leading the race is a man called Prabowo Subianto, a former military leader who was appointed as the defence minister in Widodo’s government. Prabowo also happened to choose Widodo’s eldest son, Gibran Rakabuming Raka, as his vice-presidential running mate…

Tell me about him…
Raka is 36yo, but Indonesia’s constitution says that you have to be 40yo to run for high office. Last year, the country’s Constitutional Court, which is led by Widodo’s brother-in-law, passed a ruling that allowed Raka to run for vice president. A lot of people inside and outside of Indonesia saw this whole episode as clear political interference from Widodo to keep his family in high office.

It does seem suss…
There have also been allegations that Widodo has used state funds and officials to boost Prabowo’s campaign (Prabowo’s campaign has called those allegations slanderous). Either way, Prabowo’s campaign was the clear favourite heading into yesterday’s election.

In that case, what else should we know about this Prabowo figure?
We’ve already mentioned that Prabowo has a military past, and he was actually the son-in-law of Indonesia’s last military dictator. So he’s from an elite background. There are also allegations that he’s been involved in human rights abuses.

What allegations?
That he was involved in the disappearance of student activists back in 1998, and of human rights abuses in Papua and East Timor. Prabowo has always denied those claims. It’s also worth noting, too, that Prabowo has run for president twice before, and presented himself as a strongman during those campaigns.

Has that changed?
You bet it has. After Prabowo was installed as Widodo’s defence minister in 2019, he actively set out to change his image from a strongman into that of a… cuddly grandpa. For example, he’s now known for doing dances on TikTok. Prabowo’s cat, Bobby, also has his own curated Instagram account.

What a change…
Absolutely – and while we made this Shortcut before the results came in, you can check out the preliminary results here.

Squiz recommends:

Reading – News analysis from Peter Hartcher at the Sydney Morning Herald, with more depth on Indonesia’s political history, and what the election could mean for Australia.

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