A guide to Indonesia’s 2024 election

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What are your plans this Valentine’s day?

For 204.8mn voters in Indonesia they will spend it heading to the ballot box to elect the next president of the world’s third largest
democracy. Indonesia, the world’s fourth most populous and largest Muslim- majority country, transitioned to democracy in 1998 following decades of a brutal dictatorship. Indonesia has enjoyed 10 years of popular rule from current president Joko Widodo, but as his constitutional term limit comes to an end, three presidential candidates are vying for his position. This election is highlighting the
fragility of Indonesia’s young democracy and its outcome will have significant repercussions for the trajectory of the country. So who are the candidates?

This election is highlighting the
fragility of Indonesia’s young democracy and its outcome will have significant repercussions for the trajectory of the country.

Anies Baswedan is the former Governor of Jakarta, Indonesia’s capital city. He took over the role from Mr Widodo after his ascent to presidency, and in it he has proven his aptitude as a leader. He has a popular image among the public, perceived as intelligent, polite, firm, and religious, all desirable traits for the Indonesia electorate. Mr Baswedan is running independently, albeit under an alliance of four parties called the ‘Coalition of Change’, and is positioning himself as the voice for mainstream, conservative Muslims.

With a similarly competent record is Ganjar Pranowo, who is former Governor of Central Java, the country’s economic centre. He is seen as sharing many favourable traits with the current president, such as a down-to-earth communication style which has made him well liked among the public. Mr Pranowo is running under the same party as Mr Widodo the Indonesia Democratic Party of Struggle (PDIP) – and is committed to continuing his progressive, pluralist, and developmentalist vision for Indonesia’s democracy.

The final candidate is Prabowo Subianto, the former Special Forces General of the Indonesia military. In this role he was responsible
for the violent suppression of the independence movements in East Timor and has been linked with the abduction, torturing, and disappearance of several dozen democracy activists. Beyond the allegations of human rights abuses, Mr Subianto is renowned for his
family’s corruption, a bad temper, and a desire to rollback democratic reforms.

Beyond the allegations of human rights abuses, Mr Subianto is renowned for his
family’s corruption, a bad temper, and a desire to rollback democratic reforms.

Mr Subianto stands in direct contrast to the educated, competent, law-abiding, and liberal reputations of both Mr Baswedan and Mr Pranowo. Despite having lost two bids for the presidency, every official opinion poll puts Mr Subianto as front runner. On average he is predicted to win 46.8% of the vote, compared to Mr Baswedan’s 24.7% and Mr Pranowo’s 21.9%. Even a coalition between
the latter two wouldn’t defeat Mr Subianto who is the undoubted favourite among Indonesians. Why is this?

Mr Subianto is preaching a message of authoritarian populism, projecting strength, confidence and passion to portray himself as an assertive leader that can deliver Indonesia to its rightful destiny as a regional power. His campaign evokes nostalgic sentiments of the ‘Orde Baru’ days (Indonesia’s time under dictatorship), recalling the strength of character, discipline, and national unity promoted during this time.

Key to understanding the success of Mr Subianto’s campaign is the fact that this election will be dominated by the youth. The median age in Indonesia is 30 and 56.4% of voters are aged 22-30 with over half of these being first time voters. Therefore many do not remember the reality of living under a dictatorship and thus are receptive to Mr Subianto’s revisionist representation of it. This youth has a large social media presence with Indonesia’s 106mn TikTok users making it the second largest user base in the world. Mr Subianto’s campaign has been disseminating its message across TikTok to target the youth. However this content has been intentionally misleading, spreading rampant disinformation underpinned by anti-democratic themes. This has served to not only reinforce Mr Subianto’s authoritarian populism but also to obscure his past, such that 70% of people are unaware of his allegations of human rights abuses.

The median age in Indonesia is 30 and 56.4% of voters are aged 22-30 with over half of these being first time voters.

Bolstering Mr Subianto’s popularity is the tacit endorsement he has received from incumbent President Widodo. Mr Widodo has admitted to ‘cawe-cawe’ (meddling) in the upcoming election to ensure the next leader continues his development projects, such as the
construction of Indonesia’s new capital city Nusantara.

Mr Widodo’s meddling raises questions about the integrity of Indonesia’s relatively fresh democracy. It means democratic backsliding is partially coming from an unlikely source; a popular president who has genuinely contributed a lot to the country’s democratic institutions, economic development, and social stability. Mr Subianto, who poses a direct threat to democracy, would likely reverse many of the achievements of his predecessor.

Image: Ikhlasul Amal via Flickr

James Brine explains the upcoming Indonesian presidential elections, highlighting the risk of democratic backsliding.

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