Gemma King | Indo-Pacific Fellow
Indonesia is the world’s largest democracy, but it is also one of the youngest. And in just nine months’ time, it will have a new president for the first time in eight years. With current president Joko Widodo – popularly known as Jokowi – unable to seek re-election after two terms in office, Indonesians will head to the polls in February 2024 for a historic election.
The Indonesian presidential election is occurring against a broader backdrop of increased concerns over the resilience of democracy across the world. The controversy surrounding the 2020 US presidential election and the resulting January 6 riots made clear that even in the world’s largest and oldest democracies, peaceful elections cannot be taken for granted.
Indonesia became a republic in 1945 after gaining independence from colonial Dutch rule. Over its relatively short lifespan, Indonesia has endured political challenges including authoritarianism, a coup attempt, separatist movements, and Islamic uprisings. After the fall of the authoritarian Soeharto regime in 1998, Indonesia has made hard won progress to become the vibrant democracy it is today.
While Indonesia suffers from some systemic corruption at the political level, its electoral infrastructure is strong and is capable of facilitating a peaceful transition of power. This is an impressive feat for a country that only 25 years ago saw significant political unrest, particularly as regional neighbours like Myanmar continue to struggle for democracy. Indonesia’s ability to hold free and fair elections despite its history of political challenges is just one demonstration of the country’s growth potential. Indonesia is quickly becoming a significant player in the international community; it is set to become one of the world’s five largest economies by 2050, it successfully hosted the 2022 G20 Summit, and in 2023 it’s serving as ASEAN Chair.
In recent years, Indonesia has signalled to the world that it is a diplomatic player to contend with. As Indonesia takes an increased role on the global stage, the upcoming election warrants the attention of the international community.
With President Jokowi recently endorsing current Governor of Central Java Ganjar Panowo as his preferred candidate, the electoral race is beginning to speed up as we get closer to the new year. Now is the time to begin taking a closer look at what’s at stake in the election, and how this might affect the domestic politics of Australia’s nearest neighbour.
Key Issues at Stake in the 2024 Election
Economic issues are at the forefront of voter’s minds as they head to the ballot. Indonesia is still recovering from the impacts of COVID-19, unemployment is at a high, and increasing inequality worries many Indonesians. Other issues including corruption and ongoing political and social tensions demand attention from Indonesian policymakers, and the next president will need to address these problems head-on.
Younger voters will play an instrumental role in determining the outcome of the election. With 54 per cent of Indonesia’s total electoral base comprised of millennials and gen-Z voters, canditates’ positions on key youth issues such as education, financial assistance, health care, and climate change will be an important deciding factor.
Who Is Likely to Be Indonesia’s Next President?
Although it’s too far out to predict a winner and exactly who’s on the ticket is yet to confirmed, we are likely to see three candidates in the running. Of these, Ganjar has emerged as the frontrunner and is riding high on endorsement by Jokowi’s governing party, the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P).
As a popular governor and political moderate, Ganjar is seen as being able to unify voters across diverse religious and ethnic backgrounds. As a senior member of the PDI-P, his election priorities are likely to align with Jokowi’s current policies with the economy front of mind, including infrastructure development, the construction of Indonesia’s new capital Nusantara, and bolstering the country’s mining industry. Ganjar will likely be running against Indonesia’s current Minister of Defense Prabowo Subianto, and former Jakarta governor Anies Baswedan.
At 71 years old, Prabowo previously ran for the presidency in 2019 representing the Gerindra party, a right-wing populist party that currently forms part of Jokowi’s government. Prabowo is the most conservative candidate with a strong base of Muslim supporters. Some analysts believe that a win for Prabowo would be dangerous for Indonesian democracy, given his track record of human rights abuses and repeated statements about a recentralisation of power.
Baswedan is also an experienced politician – he served as Governor of Jakarta and before that was Jokowi’s Minister for Education and Culture. He is running as an independent candidate with a focus on economic growth, better access to healthcare, and improving education. Arguably the most internationally minded candidate, Baswedan has taken a proactive approach in making Indonesia’s foreign policy an election priority, focused on enhancing defence capability. He has emphasises the importance of enhanced cooperation with Australia, particularly on climate change and the South China Sea.
It remains difficult to predict who will prevail at ballot boxes next year. A long lead time until the election in February next year and fluctuating polling numbers mean that a lot can unfold between now and then, and the race is just beginning to heat up. As candidates continue on the campaign trail and debates surrounding the next Indonesian leader intensify, the presidential race of our nearest neighbour will be one to watch.
Gemma King is the Indo-Pacific Fellow for Young Australians in International Affairs.