Indonesian Update

16 Oct 2023POLITICS

The Valentine’s Day Democracy


Entering the Indonesian general election period this coming 3rd quarter 2023, political temperature, mostly centered in the capital of Jakarta, is brewing, resulting in a confusing warm feeling, as warm as the short period of dry season in this vast archipelago. The people are holding their breath, as if to keep the toxic air of the world’s most polluted city from filling up their lungs. Since the reformation era that commenced in 1998, Indonesia is proud of becoming one of a few countries in the world practicing western-inspired democratic elections. This will continue to be the case on the national election day that will be held on the Valentine’s Day of February 14th, 2024.

The presidential election will be held nationally to elect the President and Vice President of the Republic for the office period of 2024-2029. At the same time, for the first time, it will be joined by election of 580 seats for the national parliament and 19,882 seats for local parliaments, and 548 local government leaders. Indonesia will keep this status as the most democratic country if the parameters used are the capability to show the existence of: (a) comprehensive regulatory regime of general election, (b) robust election systems that will be done in 823,220 election booths spread out from the most western part to the most eastern part of the country spanning a distance of more than 5.245 kilometers, longer than the distance between San Francisco to New York City, (c) independent national body that runs the election, (d) independent national body that watches the governance and process of the election, and (e ) constitutional court that would adjudicate election’s disputes. Analysts, academics and CSOs focused their activities in governance studies predict however, that this coming general election will be heavily influenced by populism politics, non-merit based candidates, money politics and non-transparent campaign fund accountability. People also fear that this general election will again be influenced by identity politics, using religion and religious group differentiation, that in the past almost broke up this nation into pieces. Many academics believe that the electoral process in Indonesia now is not a contest of ideological and welfare programs of the contestants like in the first general election of 1955, but more of a contest of influencing not-so-informed voters in order to simply get the power.

As of the date of this writing, there are 3 pairs of president and vice president candidates that have announced part of their candidacy. The first who announced it to public is the pair of Anies Baswedan (the former governor of Jakarta Capital City, and Minister of Education under the first administration of the current President Joko Widodo) and Muhaimin Iskandar (the chair of PKB, an Islamic Party claiming to be the political party closer to Nahdatul Ulama – the biggest Islamic non-political organization in Indonesia). The second is Prabowo Subianto who has not announced his vice president’s candidate. He is now still functioning as the Minister of Defense of the current President Jokowi’s administration. Retired General Prabowo was the opponent of Jokowi in the last 2019 presidential election, and he was appointed by Jokowi to be in his cabinet as a smart step to prevent polarization of the country post the election. He was the former son-in-law of the late President Suharto who was in power for more than 30 years until 1998 with his draconian style of governance. The third candidate is Ganjar Pranowo, the current governor of Central Java, a seasoned parliament member from PDIP, the controlling political party. Pranowo has also not appointed his vice president candidate, and as a loyal party member, it would appear that he will just follow the appointment of the Chair of PDIP, Megawati Soekarno, the daughter of the first Indonesian President, Soekarno, and former 5th president of the Republic.

The dynamics of forming a coalition among political parties who support and nominate the candidates is very liquid, and it has changed very quickly from time to time for the last couple of months, and yet still not solidly decided, which reflects the notion that this is not an ideological and program contests, but merely a political game to be elected and control the power in this country, a member of G-20.

The law requires all political parties to adopt the basic principles of the Indonesian Constitution, Pancasila, which makes all political parties to be a nationalist party. Anies Baswedan’s supporters and voters will be mostly from the nationalist and Islamic religious groups. Prabowo Subianto will be supported by nationalists, part of military people, and religious groups. Ganjar Pranowo will be supported by nationalist, military people, bureaucrats, and people in rural areas who are loyal supporters of PDIP. Ganjar Pranowo gets the advantage of support from President Jokowi and his administration, although rumor has it that he also supports Prabowo Subianto in secretive ways to softly declare that for very strategic matters he is not always under Megawati Soekarno’s directives. The close relations and show-off meetings between Prabowo and Jokowi’s son, Gibran Rakabuming Raka, the mayor of Solo, and the move of another son Kaesang Pangarep to become the chair person of a small young people party, Partai Solidaritas Indonesia (PSI) that shows recently a closer encounter with Prabowo in several public functions, are indicators of a possibility Jokowi at the last moment may turn his choice to Prabowo, in consideration that Gibran will be nominated as Prabowo’s pairing mate in this next election. Many observers believe that a dynastic political kingdom is being constructed.

The political survey changes rapidly day by day on who is in the front run. And it will still be very dynamic until the day voters go to the voting booth next year. In any case, analysts say that whoever wins the race, these following conditions would be maintained. First, Indonesia will position herself neutral in the global political arena, meaning it would maintain good relations with the US, the rest of the West, Japan, and Australia, and keep friendly relations with China. Second, the fact that China is the biggest investor, and will keep investing will likely not make any newly elected leader surrender to the wish of any Western allies to stand against China. Third, Indonesia will maintain the status of Indonesia as a country, with 87 % of its people are registered as Moslems, practicing moderate, peaceful, and pluralistic practices. Fourth, with the benefit of demographic bonus enjoyed years to come, and the chance to position Indonesia as the fifth biggest economy in 2045, it’s difficult to imagine that Indonesia will not keep its freer economic and investment policies that would increase interests of foreign investment, open capital markets and trade.

The race has begun. Hopefully it will be a peaceful one.

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