Tag Archives: indonesia

As Jokowi looks to 2019 reelection, rivals deal a blow by taking Jakarta

After a tough campaign waged on religious and ethnic lines, Jakarta’s incoming governor Anies Baswedan (left) met with his defeated rival, outgoing governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama (right) last week. (Facebook)

Whatever the Jakarta gubernatorial election portends for Indonesian president Joko Widodo’s reelection chances in 2019, it points perhaps to a nastier fight for the presidency and, more generally, in Indonesian politics in the future.

While official results still aren’t available, early counts made clear that Anies Baswedan, backed by both nationalist elites and a growing hardline Islamist movement, unseated Jokowi’s successor as Jakarta governor, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama (known by his nickname, ‘Ahok’) by a far wider margin than expected. A Christian of Chinese descent. Ahok, who ran on Jokowi’s 2012 ticket, took over as governor when Jokowi won the Indonesian presidency in 2014.

Ahok was never quite as popular as Jokowi, and in Indonesian politics, where alliances can shift overnight, it’s too strong to suggest that Ahok’s defeat predicts trouble for Jokowi, who is looking to reelection in mid-2019. But the harsh tone of an election that took on racial and religious tones in a country that prides itself on tolerance and coexistence is an ominous sign.

Jakarta, home to over 10 million people, is one of the world’s 15 most-populous cities and, by far, the largest city in Indonesia. As governor, Ahok perhaps has an even more impressive record in three years than Jokowi had in two. With few ties to the longstanding ruling class, Ahok was an anti-corruption crusader whose brash actions to clean up Jakarta’s canals, reduce pollution and demolish some of the worst slums in the city rankled many of its residents, especially its poorer ones.

Far more damning to Ahok, however, was a concerted effort last year by radical Islamists to drag his name through the mud.

As the campaign wore on, however, it became clear that Ahok’s political rivals were happy to benefit from angst over his status a double minority and, especially, as a non-Muslim. At the end of last year, the hardline Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) organized a series of protests against Ahok that severely dented his popularity, especially among Muslims. The campaign introduced a new and far more divisive edge to Indonesian politics, which has not traditionally revolved primarily around race or religion. Ahok could still be imprisoned for up to five years on charges of violating blasphemy laws — what Ahok’s supporters believe a ridiculous and politically motivated charge. The outgoing governor is accused of insulting the Quran by quoting a Quranic verse last September in his reelection bid.

In an earlier round of voting on February 15, Ahok narrowly led Anies and Agus Harimurti Yudhoyono, the son of Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, Jokowi’s predecessor as president, but failed to secure the majority support necessary to avoid a runoff.  Continue reading As Jokowi looks to 2019 reelection, rivals deal a blow by taking Jakarta

Bali Nine executions highlight Jokowi’s weakness


Despite widespread international opprobrium, Indonesia executed eight prisoners earlier today, including two members of the ‘Bali Nine’ group of Australians convicted for drug offenses, four Nigerian nationals and a Brazilian national. Indonesia Flag

Indonesian president Joko Widodo, known as ‘Jokowi’ throughout the country, was elected on a platform of reform and good government. With today’s executions, and with the executions of Brazilian and Dutch nationals for similar drug offenses earlier this year, Jokowi’s international reputation lies in tatters, just six months into his administration. Mary Jane Veloso, a Filipino woman convicted of similar drug offenses, however, won a last-minute reprieve after conversations between Jokowi and Philippine president Benigno Aquino III. Veloso was allegedly duped into smuggling drugs into Indonesia, and Aquino had argued that she should be granted a stay of execution for the purposes of testifying against the traffickers who sent Veloso to Indonesia with drugs.

It’s a stupendous fall for Jokowi, who swept into office with high hopes domestically and abroad. Though the executions are not especially controversial in Indonesia, where the death penalty for drug-related offenses is popular, its beleaguered president is facing other pressures that have made it virtually impossible for him to grant clemency to the ‘Bali Nine’ and other foreign drug convicts without incurring additional political backlash, most of all from within the party that sponsored his presidential candidacy, the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P, Partai Demokrasi Indonesia Perjuangan). Until the executions earlier this year, Indonesia had been under a sort of unofficial moratorium for the prior four years.

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RELATED: It’s official — Jokowi wins Indonesian presidential election

RELATED: Death penalty diplomacy presents challenge to Jokowi

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Notwithstanding the executions, when viewed in tandem with other missteps, Jokowi risks being viewed as a coward at home and a murderer abroad. For now, Jokowi’s decision, at least domestically, is a nationalist moment reaffirming the sovereignty of the world’s fourth-most populous country, but it comes at the risk of painting Indonesia as the number-one target of anti-death penalty activists worldwide.

Though Brazil and The Netherlands recalled their ambassadors from Jakarta after the January executions, the latest round of executions could bring far more destabilizing consequences for Jokowi. Australian prime minister Tony Abbott and foreign minister Julie Bishop have objected strenuously to the Indonesian government’s decision to carry out the executions.

Though ties between Australia and Indonesia are not perfect, the bilaterial relationship is seen by both countries as vital to security and trade interests. Indonesia is the largest recipient of Australian foreign aid, with Australia contributing nearly $650 million in aid to Indonesia in 2013. Cooperation, however, is an important issue with respect to the smuggling of migrants into Indonesia by boat, which peaked (along with deaths at sea) in the mid-2000s.

When Jokowi came to office, he quickly moved to reduce fuel subsidies that had hogged up nearly one-quarter of the Indonesian national budget. By January, his administration had eliminated them entirely, and the world watched with high regard for a president who seemed willing and, even more surprisingly, able to take bold steps that could liberalize Indonesia’s economy. Record-low oil prices, moreover, made early 2015 a perfect time to eliminate those subsidies.

Since then, however, Jokowi’s record has been much less impressive.

Instead of taking on widespread corruption, Jokowi instead seems to have weakened it. His initial appointment of Budi Gunawan to the Anti-Corruption Commission (KPK) was put on hold when it became clear that the KPK was investigating Gunawan for corruption. Though the entity is just a decade old, the KPK has earned considerable respect for impartiality and success. Gunawan’s appointment appeared to make a mockery of the KPK’s work, and it called into severe question Jokowi’s commitment to anti-corruption efforts. Jokowi quietly dropped the nomination, but nevertheless appointed Gunawan as the deputy national police chief earlier this month.

After signing an executive order establishing a broad increase in car allowances for government officials, Jokowi feebly responded to criticism that he hadn’t had time to read every regulation that crosses his desk. He’s now reconsidering that as well.

Most emasculating of all, Jokowi sat at the PDI-P party congress last month while its leader, former president Megawati Sukarnoputri (pictured above), the daughter of Indonesia’s founding president, Sukarno, essentially scolded Jokowi for not lining up behind Megawati:

“It goes without saying that the President and Vice President must toe the party line, because the party policies are consistent with what the public wants,” she claimed. Her voice rising, Megawati warned Jokowi against breaking his campaign promises. “I have said this again and again, please stick to the Constitution. Fulfill your campaign promises because they are your sacred bond with the people,” Megawati said, to the thunderous applause of party members attending the national congress at the Inna Grand Bali Beach Hotel.

Megawati has mocked Jokowi for not expediting the executions of the ‘Bali Nine,’ and she has somewhat controversially linked drug offenses with the rise of HIV/AIDS in Indonesia. As vice president, Megawati became president in 2001 when Abdurrahman Wahid was removed from office. She failed in both 2004 and 2009 to win election in her own right, losing both times to popular former army general Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who left office to middling reviews last October. Jokowi’s push to reinstate Indonesian executions contradicts the conventional wisdom that Yudhoyono (who is known by his initials, ‘SBY’) cared too much about international opinion.

In the meanwhile, Jokowi has raised eyebrows by reaching out to his former rival in last year’s presidential election, Prabowo Subianto, who leads a nationalist party, Gerindra (Partai Gerakan Indonesia Raya, the Great Indonesia Movement Party) that, along with the more market-friendly Golkar (Partai Golongan Karya, Party of the Functional Groups); and SBY’s own Partai Demokrat (Democratic Party) controls the Indonesian legislature.

If Jokowi were to abandon the PDI-P and Megawati’s iron fist, and turn to the Golkar-Gerindra-Demokrat alliance instead, he could conceivably effect more control over Indonesia’s government. Though such a sudden switch would be unprecedented in the history of the country’s brief democratic era, it reflects the fluid nature of Indonesian presidential coalitions. Moreover, Jokowi’s vice president, Jusuf Kalla, is a former Golkar leader who also served as SBY’s first vice president in the 2000s.

Nothing, at this point, will bring back any of the executed victims of Indonesia’s death penalty. Jokowi, whose term runs through 2019, will eventually have to make amends with Australia and the international community. For now, though, his global legacy begins with the stain of reintroducing the death penalty to his country, even as capital punishment is quickly being eradicated throughout much of the developed and developing world alike.

Death penalty diplomacy presents challenge to Jokowi


Guest post by Andrew J. Novak

Indonesian president Joko Widodo (known popularly as ‘Jokowi’) was perceived as a promising agent for change when he was elected to office last July, but he has triggered recent diplomatic criticism for his unrepentant views on the death penalty, especially for drug trafficking, in ways that are drawing attention to the use of the death penalty in southeast Asia and beyond. Indonesia Flag

Jokowi claims that drug use takes the lives of 50 Indonesians per day and he promises no mercy in combating traffickers. Though drug trafficking is an often intricately premeditated crime, the death penalty for drug offenses appears to have little deterrence value, as it primarily ensnares drug mules –often poor migrant workers — rather than drug lords. In addition, the death penalty for drug trafficking falls heavily on foreign nationals, especially in southeast Asia where countries are increasingly interlinked, and their own nationals are on their neighbors’ death rows. Accordingly, diplomatic pressure to prevent the executions of a country’s citizens by foreign governments places increasing strain on the death penalty throughout the region. The Malaysian government’s opposition to the planned execution of its national Yong Vui Kong in Singapore, for instance, ultimately helped spur a major reform of Singapore’s death penalty laws in 2012 and led to Yong’s removal from death row. As a result of that opposition movement, Malaysia sent promising signs that it was internally reviewing its own mandatory death penalty laws, including for drug trafficking.

Jokowi’s government is now trapped in this diplomatic web. In January 2015, after a four-year moratorium, Indonesia carried out six executions, five of them of foreign nationals. In response to the execution of a Dutch national, the Netherlands, Indonesia’s former colonial power, withdrew its ambassador. Brazil followed suit after Jokowi rejected Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff’s personal appeal for clemency on behalf of a Brazilian national. The row with Brazil, in particular, has deepened: this past week, Rousseff indefinitely postponed accepting the credentials of the Indonesian ambassador-designate to Brazil, a snub that elicited strong protest from Jakarta. On February 22, Indonesia recalled its ambassador to Brazil. Rousseff is also pleading for another Brazilian national — one with a documented mental illness — who is facing imminent execution in Indonesia. In Vietnam, where recent wrongful convictions and grants of clemency have spurred reflection on its own death penalty regime, the foreign ministry publicly (and unsurprisingly) opposed Indonesia’s execution of a Vietnamese national. News reports also indicate that the Nigerian foreign minister summoned the Indonesian ambassador to protest the execution of a Nigerian national, and pressure is mounting to withdraw the Nigerian ambassador from Jakarta. Continue reading Death penalty diplomacy presents challenge to Jokowi

Jokowi takes office in Indonesia as cabinet choices await


With the inauguration of former Jakarta governor Joko Widodo (‘Jokowi’) as its new president on Monday, Indonesia took a bold step to enshrine a meritocratic democracy, 16 years after the autocratic Suharto regime fell under the strain of the Asian currency crisis. Indonesia Flag

It represents, after all, the first transition of power between two democratically elected presidents.

Whether Jokowi will succeed as president, however, is yet to be determined. Even though his election was surprisingly harder than expected, bringing material improvements to Indonesia’s infrastructure and social welfare may prove even more difficult. That’s in addition to defending and deepening Indonesia’s nascent democratic traditions and boosting an economy that, while still strong, is showing signs of cooling.

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RELATED: What Jokowi’s apparent victory in Indonesia means

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Jokowi’s cabinet… TBD

He must finalize the appointments to his cabinet and demonstrate that his administration will be his own. That means he will have to show, through his cabinet, that he can stand up former president Megawati Sukarnoputri, the powerful leader of his party, the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), as well as his vice president, Jusuf Kalla, a former leader of Golkar (Partai Golongan Karya, Party of the Functional Groups) and previously vice president from 2004 to 2009.

Intriguingly, the delay in the announcement derives from Jokowi’s determination to vet his cabinet picks through Indonesia’s anti-corruption commission. That could be a gentle way of respecting his allies by appointing old-guard figures close to Megawati and Kalla on the initial list without ultimately naming them ministers. It’s a canny approach, and it may result in a widely technocratic government without the taint of backroom Indonesian corruption or ties to autocratic Suharto-era controversies.

A robust Prabowo-led opposition

But once Jokowi names his cabinet, he’ll still face a united opposition in the Indonesian legislature, where the feisty ‘Red-White coalition’ controls more than 60% of the seats in the Dewan Perwakilan Rakyat (DPR, People’s Representative Council), the lower house of the Indonesian legislature, after April’s legislative elections. The Red-White Coalition is, for now, in no mood for conciliatory gestures, and its most strident members are already indicating that it will mount a strong opposition to Jokowi.

The most prolific member of the opposition forces is Prabowo Subianto, the former Suharto-era general (and former Suharto son-in-law) who very nearly defeated Jokowi in the July presidential election. The leader of the nationalist Gerindra (Partai Gerakan Indonesia Raya, the Great Indonesia Movement Party), Prabowo narrowed a wide gap with Jokowi over the summer by espousing popular protectionist ideas and projecting himself as a strongman. Despite Jokowi’s humble roots — a first for an Indonesian leader — cosmopolitan voters increasingly warmed to the aristocratic Prabowo, despite concerns over his spotty human rights record during his military career.

The opposition also includes Golkar (for now), which has been part of government for the past decade under Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (widely known by his initials, ‘SBY’), and most of Indonesia’s various Islamist parties, which often forced Jokowi’s predecessor to take a softer line on the rise of Islamic fundamentalism across Indonesia in the past decade.

Most immediately, the coalition passed a law revoking the right for democratic elections for local mayors and governors. Though SBY effectively revoked the law temporarily, Prabowo and his allies, many of whom have voiced doubts about direct elections at the national level as well, may try to reintroduce the bill.

Jokowi has also indicated that he will reduce fuel subsidies that consume around 20% of the public budget. As the global price of oil continues to drop, however, it’s far from certain that the Prabowo-led opposition will deliver the votes (at least without significant concessions) that would inflict at least an initial shock on many of their supporters.

Golkar leadership battle could be a gamechanger

Notwithstanding the bleak outlook for Jokowi’s reform agenda, there’s a potential game-changer on the horizon.

That’s because Golkar, which ultimately backed Prabowo in the presidential election (despite Kalla’s joining Jokowi’s ticket), remains splintered. Its current leader Aburizal Bakrie will face a leadership election that he could easily lose. Aburizal’s initial 2014 presidential hopes crumbled under the charisma of both Prabowo and Jokowi, and Aburizal himself remains politically unpopular due to a scandal involving one of his business’s roles in deadly mudslides.

That leadership election, which is supposed to occur next April but could be moved forward, will almost certainly be a proxy battle between Aburizal and Kalla (who isn’t expected to contest the leadership himself). If Aburizal or former industry minister M.S. Hidayat win, Golkar will likely remain in opposition.


But if another leadership frontrunner, former welfare minister and Kalla ally Agung Laksono (pictured above) wins, Golkar could leave Prabowo’s Red-White coalition and join Jokowi’s government instead.

Right now, Jokowi’s coalition holds 247 seats in the 560-member DPR. But if Golkar delivers its 91 seats to Jokowi, the new president would suddenly control a hefty majority. Golkar, which controlled the country during Suharto’s three-decade reign, is a party of entrenched interests, but it’s far more pro-business than Prabowo and Gerindra, and its switch from opposition to government would vastly improve the outlook for significant reform.

There’s almost nothing that would change the trajectory of Jokowi’s administration more than a friendly Golkar leadership change.

Accordingly, it will be worth examining the ultimate cabinet members for signs that they have ties to leading Golkar figures, especially those close to Kalla. If so, it could easily presage Golkar’s eventual turn into government.

Indonesia post-mortem: why young, cosmopolitan voters chose Prabowo


Last Thursday, the United States-Indonesia Society and the International Republican Institute held a briefing of data from R. R. William Liddle, a professor emeritus of political science at The Ohio State University and one of the leading US experts on Indonesian politics, government and culture. Indonesia Flag

Dr. Liddle brought with him a compelling set of exit polling data conducted by Saiful Mujani, a Jakarta-based research and consulting firm.

The data provided the strongest narrative details yet for how Jakarta governor Joko Wododo (‘Jokowi’) effectively outpaced former general Prabowo Subianto in what was Indonesia’s most fiercely and closely contested election since the introduction of direct voting for the presidency in 2004.

For example, it may be counterintuitive, but younger, urban voters appeared to prefer, by a slight margin, Prabowo to Jokowi. After all the talk of Jokowi as the younger candidate of hope and of reform, the ‘Barack Obama’ of Indonesia after his meteoric rise from Solo mayor to Jakarta governor to, now, president-elect, it isn’t necessarily intuitive that Jokowi edged his way to the Indonesian presidency on the support of relatively poorer, rural and older voters.

Voters by age

Voters under 21 years old supported Jokowi by a margin of just 53% to 47%, but voters over 55 supported Prabowo by a margin of 59% to 41%. Though you might expect younger voters to be most enthusiastic for a relatively young, modern president, they opted for Prabowo, nine years Jokowi’s senior.

One possibility is that younger voters don’t entirely remember Indonesia’s authoritarian age, but older voters remember only too well the human rights abuses of Suharto’s three-decade reign and, most especially, the economic pain of the financial crisis of 1997-99 that brought down Suharto’s ‘New Order.’ Given Prabowo’s ties to the regime — he was a top Suharto-era general and he used to be married to Suharto’s daughter — older voters might have been warier about supporting the former general, given his checkered past.

Rural and urban voters and voters by class

Rural voters preferred Jokowi by a margin of 56% to 44%, but Prabowo narrowly won urban voters by a margin of 51% to 49%. The data also showed that ‘white-collar’ voters supported Prabowo by 55% to 45%, while ‘blue-collar’ voters backed Jokowi by 54% to 46%.

Again, it’s a fascinating turn, considering Prabowo’s emphasis on economic nationalism that, in most countries, finds a greater audience among the least economically powerful. Wall Street bankers and investment attorneys in the United States, for example, are much less likely to support protectionist policies than, say, blue-collar ironworkers or manufacturers who acutely feel the sting of global competition.

As Liddle noted, there might be several reasons for Prabowo’s apparent strength among educated, successful, cosmopolitan Indonesians. One of them is the way that Jokowi framed himself as a ‘common man’ candidate — not a president who, like Prabowo, comes from the Indonesian elite, educated in international schools and has exquisite English-language skills. Prabowo, throughout the campaign, effectively demonstrated that his much greater exposure to the United States and the wider world, and many cosmopolitan voters found that quality reassuring.

Voters by religion

Islamic voters narrowly favored Prabowo by a margin of 51% to 49%, while non-Islamic voters overwhelmingly backed Jokowi by an 80% to 20% margin. That’s not surprising, given that three of the four major Islamist parties backed Prabowo and that his running mate, Hatta Rajasa, former coordinating minister for economics, is the leader of the Islamist Partai Amanat Nasional (PAN, National Mandate Party). It’s also not surprising in light of the whispering campaign that Jokowi is secretly Christian. The predominantly Hindu island of Bali, for example, has always been a stronghold for Jokowi’s party, the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P, Partai Demokrasi Indonesia Perjuangan), and Jokowi did particularly well in predominantly Christian areas, such as Papua. It also explains why Prabowo won Indonesia’s most populous province, West Java, home to some of Indonesia’s most conservative Muslims — with 46.3 million people, West Java contains nearly 19% of the country’s population.

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The Javanese-Sundanese split

The data indicate that Jokowi triumphed among the Javanese by a margin of 56% to 44%, while Prabowo won the Sundanese by a margin of 80% to 20%. That explains why, despite Prabowo’s West Java breakthrough, with a heavy Sunda population, Jokowi narrowly won Jakarta (9.6 million) and East Java (37.5 million), and he racked up an even more solid victory in Yogyakarta (3.5 million) and Central Java (32.4 million), the traditional Javanese homeland. Among non-Javanese and non-Sundanese voters, Jokowi won by a margin of 53% to 47%. While Prabowo generally won more provinces in Sumatra, for example, Jokowi won the most populous province, North Sumatra (13 million), and Jokowi’s running mate Jusuf Kalla may have helped Jokowi win much of the island of Sulawesi.

The most interesting finding of the survey, though? Continue reading Indonesia post-mortem: why young, cosmopolitan voters chose Prabowo

It’s official: Jokowi wins Indonesian presidential election


The two-week gap between the July 9 Indonesian election and today’s announcement of final results could have been a tense showdown between the two candidates, one a political neophyte, the other a stalwart of the Suharto-era military, who contested Indonesia’s closest-ever direct presidential election. Indonesia Flag

As it turns out, what could have been a constitutional crisis in Indonesia was an example of orderly democratic transition.

Joko Widodo (known as ‘Jokowi’), governor of Jakarta since late 2012, has won the Indonesian presidency with 53.15% of the vote. His rival, former general Prabowo Subianto, won just 46.85%. The gap of more than 6% is actually larger than many ‘quick counts’ reported in the vote’s aftermath.


Prabowo (pictured above, left, meeting with Jokowi last week), who refused to concede defeat, despite signs of a narrow Jokowi win, worked with Jokowi and outgoing president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (known by his initials, ‘SBY’) to keep tensions relatively low, and Prabowo’s campaign staff over the weekend all but conceded the Indonesian presidency to Jokowi. Prabowo’s team, which had indicated it might file a lawsuit to contest alleged fraud, has now said it won’t file a case in Indonesia’s constitutional court.

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RELATED: What Jokowi’s apparent victory in Indonesia means

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That’s worth a sigh of relief, given the nationalist themes that Prabowo struck in his presidential campaign. At one point, the former Suharto son-in-law, whose human rights record in the Indonesian special forces came under significant scrutiny during the election, argued that democracy wasn’t right for Indonesia and that he might return to the country’s more authoritarian 1945 constitution.

Jokowi’s victory, above all, cements the foundations of Indonesian democracy.

So what happens next?

Jokowi will be inaugurated no later than October 20. In the meanwhile, expect a significant amount of churn within Indonesia’s politics. Continue reading It’s official: Jokowi wins Indonesian presidential election

What Jokowi’s apparent victory in Indonesia means


His Javanese fans call him the ‘Barack Obama of Indonesia.’Indonesia Flag

At age 53, the reformist Jakarta governor, Joko Widodo – or ‘Jokowi’ (pictured above)– is very likely to become Indonesia’s next president, with reliable ‘quick counts’ giving him a margin of around 52% to 48% for his rival, former Suharto-era general Prabowo Subianto in the country’s fiercely contested presidential election.

Though the final vote won’t be announced until July 22, leaving Indonesia in a two-week state of semi-uncertainty, the ‘quick count’ results from a half-dozen reputable institutions are generally consistent, they were reliable indicators of the final vote results in Indonesia’s April legislative elections, and they have been reliable indicators in past national elections. Oxford University’s Kevin Fogg, an expert on Indonesia, writes that Jokowi’s ‘quick count’ margin places him safely beyond the realm of ‘dirty tricks, challenges, or underhanded moves,’ despite Prabowo’s alternative declaration of victory, on the basis of less reputable counts from Prabowo-friendly media.

Indonesia, with nearly 247 million citizens, is the world’s fourth-most populous country, the world’s third-largest democracy, Asia’s fifth-largest economy, and it’s an important strategic and trading partner for China, the United States and Australia.

Jokowi’s apparent victory will be welcomed in Washington, Brussels and Canberra because it gives Indonesia a modern leader whose principles are firmly rooted in Indonesian democracy, not Suharto-era authoritarianism. It will also be welcomed among investors in New York, London, Shanghai and Jakarta, who feared that his rival Prabowo’s protectionist and nationalist rhetoric could endanger foreign capital, Indonesia’s rule of law and the steady political, legal and economic gains of the past decade under outgoing president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

A victory for Indonesia’s democratic institutions

Prabowo, Suharto’s former son-in-law, spent parts of the campaign disparaging the idea of ‘one person, one vote,’ and called into question whether ‘Western-style’ democracy was an incredibly good fit with Indonesian values. He waxed about restoring Indonesia’s 1945 constitution, which would have rolled back direct presidential elections and would more easily allow the president to suspend Indonesia’s legislature on the basis of ‘emergency rule.’ Investigative journalist Allan Nairn, who covered the East Timorese struggle against Indonesian rule, published excerpts from a 2001 interview with Prabowo in which the former general argued that Indonesia wasn’t ready for democracy because it still had ‘cannibals’ and ‘violent mobs.’ Though Prabowo ultimately tried to assure voters of his respect for the democratic process in the 2014 campaign, and though he was Megawati’s running mate in her failed 2009 presidential campaign, Prabowo consistently deployed rhetoric reminiscent of Indonesia’s first two authoritarian leaders, the communist Sukarno and the anti-communist Suharto. Continue reading What Jokowi’s apparent victory in Indonesia means

In Depth: Indonesia

jakartanight prambanan

On July 9, voters in the world’s fourth-most populous country, the world’s third largest democracy and the world’s largest Muslim country will directly elect its president for just the third time in its history.Indonesia Flag

From independence to Sukarno to Suharto to SBY

Indonesia’s initial post-independence period was dominated by two authoritarian leaders, the first of whom was the Soviet-backed Sukarno, who led Indonesia from the end of the Dutch colonial era and World War II in 1945 (and formal Dutch recognition of Indonesian sovereignty in 1949) until 1967.

The left-leaning Sukarno developed the principles that would cumulatively be come to known as pancasila, the dominant state ideology for the next four decades, which even today influences the nature of Indonesian governance and politics. Pancasila is comprised of five principles — in brief: belief in God, just and civilized humanity, Indonesian unity, ‘guided democracy,’ and social justice.

Under Sukarno, those principles sometimes took a hard edge — ‘guided democracy’ hardly meant any kind of cognizable participatory voting at all, while ‘Indonesian unity’ served to motivate a brutal and relentless campaign in West Papua in the early 1960s, a process that ended in 1969 with the incorporation of Irian Jaya province.

Following a military coup in 1965 that severely limited Sukarno’s power, which saw an unprecedented amount of political and social upheaval amid a state transforming into a staunchly anti-communist country (the famous ‘year of living dangerously’). Military general Suharto became Indonesia’s president in 1967, finalizing the country’s turn to his ‘New Order,’ a new Western-oriented regime.

Suharto ruled with even tighter control, and Indonesia doubled down on its West Papua approach with a three-decade campaign to subdue the formerly Portuguese colony of East Timor, beginning in 1975. At the same time, Suharto furthered the attempts to bring more unity to an archipelago of thousands of islands dominated by the most populous island, Java, which today contains 56% of Indonesia’s 247 million citizens.


Despite a diverse array of languages, cultures, traditions and ethnicities, Java had long been the center of the Dutch East Indies in the colonial period as well as the Majapahit empire that extended control over much of the empire between 1293 and 1500.

Though the concept of a pan-Indonesian language began with efforts in 1928, well before independence, the invented language of Bahasa Indonesian, which draws heavily on Malay, became an official language after 1945. Today, Bahasa Indonesian is the lingua franca of the entire country, one of its most unifying elements.

After three decades in power Suharto’s end came to an end in May 1998. In a post-Cold War era, without US economic and military support, Suharto’s elites found themselves unable to withstand the Asian financial crisis, which began with a Thai currency crisis in April 1997 and that extended from South Korea to Indonesia. The fall in the Indonesian rupiah‘s value and the resulting economic recession proved too much for Suharto’s regime, all while facing down growing criticism from pro-democracy activists in Jakarta to pro-independence guerrillas in East Timor.

Out of the ashes of Suharto’s ouster came a period of reformasi, during which the framework of Indonesia’s current democracy came into relief. Indonesian officials, under caretaker president B. J. Habibie, significantly amended Indonesia’s 1945 constitution to introduce new measures for greater democracy, additional freedoms and check and balances on presidential power.

Indonesia’s legislature elected its first post-Suharto president, Islamist leader Abdurrahman Wahid (known as ‘Gus Dur’) in 1999, who was succeeded after his impeachment in 2001 by the more secular Megawati Sukarnoputri — the daughter of Indonesia’s first president.

Megawati, however, lost her bid for the presidency in the country’s first direct elections in 2004. Instead, she lost to her former minister of security, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (known as ‘SBY’), who has governed Indonesia for the past decade, decisively defeating Megawati in a landslide in their 2009 rematch.


Though Yudhoyono (pictured above, right, with Australian prime minister Tony Abbott) has been criticized for doing too little in his decade in power, he’ll transfer to the next president an investment-grade Indonesia with robust democratic and legal institutions. That doesn’t mean there’s not room for reforming Indonesia’s still-too-inefficient economy nor does it mean that Indonesia is corruption-free.

But Yudhoyono has a handful of praiseworthy achievements:

  • he largely accepted that Indonesia’s military forces were to blame for human rights atrocities in the Suharto era;
  • SBY continued to recognize the newly independent Timor-Leste;
  • he adroitly handled the aftermath and international efforts at recovery from the December 2004 tsunami that killed over 200,000 Indonesians;
  • SBY signed a peace deal with pro-independence rebels in the western Aceh province in 2005;
  • he kept fundamentalist Islamic terrorist attacks at bay without resorting to Suharto-style authoritarian means (if not eliminating them completely); and
  • he largerly presided over an era of strong economic growth. Indonesia’s GDP skyrocketed during the SBY years from $256.8 billion in 2004 to $878 billion in 2012. Between 2004 and 2012, Indonesia notched an average GDP growth rate of 5.78%. Impressive, if not quite the same economic magic that China and other economies have harnessed over the last decade.

The race to succeed Yudhoyono pits two very different candidates against one another in what’s become the closest race since the transition to direct presidential elections began.

Joko Widodo — the young reformer


Jakarta governor Joko Widodo (known as ‘Jokowi’), age 53, served as mayor of Sukarna (or Solo) between 2005 and 2012. Elected in an upset victory in Jakarta’s gubernatorial election in September 2012, Jokowi became the rising rock-star of Indonesian politics, winning comparisons to US president Barack Obama — a popular figure in Java, in part because he spent four years of his adolescence in Jakarta.

A man of humble means, unique in Indonesian politics, Jokowi is known for a hands-on administrative style in the tradition of blusukan, impromptu visits throughout Solo and Jakarta to check in with everyday constituents and to check in on the performance of his governments. In less than two years as Jakarta governor, he introduced additional spending for education, raised the minimum wage and rolled out a universal halt care program almost immediately after his election.

That common touch, along with a corruption-free record, earned him a reputation as a reformist who could deepen Indonesia’s path to a modern economy and a developed democracy. But with no experience at the national level, and with no real way to deploy the principles of blusukan across thousands of islands, Jokowi’s rivals have attacked him boldly for being too inexperienced and for advancing only the vaguest of campaign policy platforms.

Whispering campaigns suggest that Jokowi is a Christian (a slur for a country that’s 87% Muslim) and that he’s Chinese (he’s actually Javanese, but anti-Chinese sentiment was a common instrument of displacement during the Suharto era). When the official campaign ended on July 5, Jokowi left the country for two days in the middle of the Muslim month of Ramadan to make the hajj pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia, emphasizing his Muslim credentials.

He represents the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P, Partai Demokrasi Indonesia Perjuangan), the party of Indonesia’s first president and of former president Megawati. Today a slightly center-left party, it’s been in opposition under Megawati for a decade, and there’s a general impression that Megawati (and not Jokowi) holds the true behind-the-scenes power within the PDI-P and, accordingly, would hold considerable influence in a Jokowi administration.

His running mate, Jusuf Kalla, served as vice president to Yudhoyono between 2004 and 2009, before pursuing his own presidential bid five years ago. A native of south Sulawesi (Sulawesi, with 18.5 million residents, is Indonesia’s third-most populous island after Java and Sumatra), Kalla also served at the time as the leader of Golkar (Partai Golongan Karya, Party of the Functional Groups), the dominant party of the Suharto era and today a mildly center-right party. At times during Yudhoyono’s first term, Golkar’s dominance in the Indonesian legislature made Kalla a more influential force on domestic policy than anyone else in the country, Yudhoyono included. But he brings to the ticket experience that Jokowi lacks — at least at the national political level.

Though Golkar’s current leadership isn’t supporting Jokowi, a handful of other parties have lined up behind him, including:

  • Partai Kebangkitan Bangsa (PKB, National Awakening Party), one of Indonesia’s most longstanding Islamist political parties, is closely connected with Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), a Sunni Islam group founded in 1926 that operated int he Sukarno era as the only legal Islamist party.
  • Nasdem (Partai Nasdem), a small, secular party.
  • Hanura (Partai Hati Nurani Rakyat, The People’s Conscience Party), a 2008 spinoff of Golkar founded by Golkar’s 2004 presidential candidate and controversial former military leader, Wiranto.

Prabowo Subianto — the strongman


His opponent is Prabowo Subianto, a former military commander who left Golkar in 2008 to form Gerindra (Partai Gerakan Indonesia Raya, the Great Indonesia Movement Party) when it became clear that Golkar’s leaders had no intentions of nominating him for the presidency in 2009. Instead, he wound up running as Megawati’s vice presidential candidate on a ticket with the PDI-P.

This time around, Prabowo gained traction slowly over the past year with a populist message of economic nationalism, the kind that led Indonesian lawmakers to pass a recent law limiting the export of raw mineral ore. That’s led investors to regard Prabowo warily, with expectations that, far from liberalizing the Indonesian economy, he might introduce new taxes or foreign restrictions, all while creating new debt-financed projects in the state capitalist tradition.

But if it’s economic nationalism that led Gerinda to a third-place finish in the April legislative elections, it’s outright political nationalism that’s brought Prabowo into an essentially tied race in July. After trailing Jokowi by between 20 and 30 percentage points as recently as two months ago, Prabowo has effectively narrowed the gap. He’s done so with a generally sharper campaign, shrewder alliances and with much of Indonesia’s television media supporting a Prabowo candidacy.

Opening his campaign in a military-style rally on horseback, he’s billed himself as a candidate who will be a ‘strong’ president capable of ‘firm’ leadership. He’s called into question the need for Western-style democracy during the election, and critics worry that he will drag Indonesia further away from political reform and closer to the ‘New Order’ era of Suharto. Prabowo, after all, was once Suharto’s son-in-law, and though he divorced in 2001, he’s close to his ex-wife, Siti Hediati Hariyadi (known as  ‘Titiek’).

As a top military general in the Suharto era and the leader of Indonesia’s special forces, Prabowo headed the 1978 campaign that killed Timorese national hero, Nicolau dos Reis Lobato. He’s also been accused of responsibility a 1983 massacre in the East Timorese village of Kraras, and he lost his military command in 1998 when he was implicated in the kidnapping and torture of 23 pro-democracy activists, charges that Prabowo denies.

After a stint in Jordan, Prabowo turned to business. Descended from Javan royalty, his brother is one of the wealthiest members of the global Indonesian elite. But he soon turned to politics, and he’s now on the threshold of winning the most important office in Indonesia.

His running mate, Hatta Rajasa, is the leader of the Partai Amanat Nasional (PAN, National Mandate Party), one of Indonesia’s mildly Islamist parties. But Hatta is also one of the most high-profile economic policymakers of the Yudhoyono administration. Hatta served as transportation minister from 2004 to 2007, was promoted to state secretary from 2007 to 2009 and, until his vice presidential nomination in May, served as Indonesia’s coordinating minister for economics in Yudhoyono’s second term.

In addition to Gerindra (which is currently in opposition), Prabowo enjoys the support of nearly all of the current governing parties:

  • Golkar, under the leadership of Aburizal Bakrie, has endorsed Prabowo, though it’s not certain if all of Golkar’s voters will follow that lead, considering that Kalla is running as Jokowi’s running mate.
  • In addition to Hatta’s PAN, Prabowo has won the support of two more of the four main Islamist parties, the Partai Keadilan Sejahtera (PKS, Prosperous Justice Party) and the Partai Persatuan Pembangunan (PPP, United Development Party).
  • In the last week of the campaign, Yudhoyono’s own party, the Partai Demokrat (Democratic Party) endorsed Prabowo too.

State of the race

The final Australia-based Roy Morgan poll, conducted in late June, found Jokowi with 52% support and Prabowo with 48% support, a too-close-to-call lead for the young Jakarta governor.

Jokowi had a slightly higher lead in the most populous island of Java, by a margin of 53.5% to 47.5%, while Prabowo had a wider margin on Sumatra, the second-most populous island, by a margin of 60% to 40%. Jokowi led on the remaining islands, in Sulawesi by a margin of 60.5% to 39.5%.

Female voters preferred Jokowi by a margin of 55% to 45%, while male voters preferred Prabowo by a 51% to 49% margin.

Younger voters slightly favored the elder candidate, Prabowo, by a slight margin, while older groups increasingly supported Jokowi.

What the April legislative elections tell us

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In April, Indonesians voted for all 560 members of the Dewan Perwakilan Rakyat (DPR, People’s Representative Council) and the additional 132 members of the non-partisan Dewan Perwakilan Daerah (DPD, the Regional Representative Council), a second legislative body formed in 2004 with relatively more limited powers than the DPR. Both bodies have fixed five-year terms.

Under Indonesia’s somewhat arcane process, a party (or a coalition of parties) must win either 25% of the national vote in the April parliamentary elections or hold 20% of the seats in the Dewan Perwakilan Rakyat (DPR, People’s Representative Council) in order to nominate a presidential candidate. That forced, throughout May and early June, intense behind-the-scenes discussions to form coalitions and nominate vice-presidential running mates.

It’s a somewhat peculiar system, and it’s one that will change with the 2019 election, when Indonesians will vote simultaneously for a legislature and a president. It’s a system that, ironically, would have almost certainly resulted in a Jokowi win, had both elections been held in April. Instead, Jokowi finds himself in a tight race against Prabowo.

There were signs, however, that Jokowi’s strength was less than might have been expected.

In the April elections, though the PDI-P indeed won the largest share of the votes, it was far less than the party expected, having timed their announcement of Jokowi as its presidential candidate just days before the voting. As it turns out, the PDI-P only narrowly edged out Golkar. Moreover, Indonesia’s four Islamist parties together won nearly 30% of the vote, demonstrating their continued viability among conservative Muslim voters.

Gerindra, though it placed third, marked its best-ever performance, while the fourth-place finish of SBY’s Democrats foreshadowed the relatively minor role they would play in vice-presidential and coalition talks.

All told, it means that Jokowi will be hard-pressed to push through an agenda as president without winning over support from other parties.

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Here’s the full list of Suffragio‘s 2014 coverage of the Indonesian presidential and legislative elections:

Indonesia post-mortem: why young cosmopolitan voters chose Prabowo
July 28, 2014

It’s official: Jokowi was Indonesian presidential election
July 22, 2014

What Jokowi’s apparent victory in Indonesia means
July 9, 2014

Jokowi declares victory on basis of ‘quick count’ Indonesia election results
July 9, 2014

What Indonesia’s election means for Timor-Leste
July 7, 2014

Indonesia’s Prabowo all but declares he’ll become Suharto 2.0 if elected
July 1, 2014

Ruling Democrats in Indonesia endorse Prabowo
June 30, 2014

Will Prabowo Subianto become Indonesia’s next president?
June 28, 2014

In Indonesia, it’s Jokowi-Kalla against Prabowo-Hatta
May 20, 2014

Veepstakes, Indonesia style — will Kalla return as vice president?
May 12, 2014

Jokowi effect falls flat for PDI-P in Indonesia election results
April 9, 2014

Four key points to watch as Indonesia elects a new parliament
April 5, 2014

Who is Joko Widodo?
April 3, 2014

Top photo credits to Bernard Anthony Burrola — Indonesian capital by Jakarta by night and Prambanan, the iconic 9th century Hindu temple in central Java.

Jokowi declares victory on basis of ‘quick count’ Indonesia election results


Jakarta governor Joko Widodo (‘Jokowi’) appears to have won the Indonesian presidency today by a steady, if narrow, margin. Indonesia Flag

Both he and former military leader Prabowo Subianto have declared victory, but Jokowi’s claim to Indonesia’s presidency is far more credible. Final results, however, won’t be announced by Indonesia’s elections commission until July 22, creating a window of uncertainty for the next 13 days.

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RELATED: In Depth — Indonesia’s elections

RELATED: Who is Joko Widodo?

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Why, ultimately, should we be relatively confident in Jokowi’s actual win? In Indonesia, there’s a handful of private companies that conduct ‘quick counts’ of the votes. These ‘quick counts’ are generally reliable, and they’re based on exhaustive counting of the real votes. These aren’t exit polls, these aren’t samples, these are full counts. 

All of the most reputable companies showed a narrow lead for Jokowi. The Center for Strategic and International Studies gives Jokowi a 52% to 48% margin, while Saiful Mujani Research and Consulting determined Jokowi won with 52.8% to just 47.2% from Prabowo. Kompas‘s quick count gave Jokowi a 52.34% edge against 47.66% for Prabowo.

Though this year marks the first closely contested race since Indonesia turned to direct presidential elections in 2004, the ‘quick counts’ were generally very reliable during Indonesia’s April legislative elections, which delivered a narrow victory for Jokowi’s Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P, Partai Demokrasi Indonesia Perjuangan).

Jokowi, in a gracious victory speech, cautioned against fraud and tampering with the final vote, while Prabowo delivered a less assured address to supporters urging caution:

“I want to assert, that this victory is not the victory of Jokowi-JK [Jusuf Kalla], not the parties’ victory, nor the victory of the success team. This is the victory of the entire Indonesian people. Once again dear all, this is the victory of the whole Indonesian population!” he said. “Now our obligation is to guard today’s election outcome until it becomes the official result of the KPU. We must guard it and make sure that vote counting at the KPU proceeds properly, cleanly and without any intervention from any party. I call on all parties not to try to tarnish the sincere aspiration of the people of Indonesia in today’s ballot.”

Several hours after Jokowi’s speech, rival Prabowo Subianto took the stage inside the ballroom of the Bidakara building in South Jakarta to deliver a fiery speech in which he instructed his supporters not to believe quick counts that were not financed by his team. “It is not over. We should respect the KPU [General Elections Commission]. The battle is not over. We should ensure that the KPU is not influenced by circulating quick counts that are misleading,” said Prabowo.

Only one public quick count showed a Prabowo lead, TV One, which Out of six major Quick Counts seen by The Australian, only one attributed victory to Prabowo, TV One, which projected a 51% to 49% margin in favor of the former general. That’s a problematic count, however, because the partisan TV One is owned by Aburizal Bakrie, the leader of Golkar (Partai Golongan Karya, Party of the Functional Groups), the second-largest party in Indonesia’s legislature, which supports Prabowo in the current race.

In Depth: Indonesia

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On July 9, voters in the world’s fourth-most populous country, the world’s third largest democracy and the world’s largest Muslim country will directly elect its president for just the third time in its history.Indonesia Flag

From independence to Sukarno to Suharto to SBY

Indonesia’s initial post-independence period was dominated by two authoritarian leaders, the first of whom was the Soviet-backed Sukarno, who led Indonesia from the end of the Dutch colonial era and World War II in 1945 (and formal Dutch recognition of Indonesian sovereignty in 1949) until 1967.

The left-leaning Sukarno developed the principles that would cumulatively be come to known as pancasila, the dominant state ideology for the next four decades, which even today influences the nature of Indonesian governance and politics. Pancasila is comprised of five principles — in brief: belief in God, just and civilized humanity, Indonesian unity, ‘guided democracy,’ and social justice.

Under Sukarno, those principles sometimes took a hard edge — ‘guided democracy’ hardly meant any kind of cognizable participatory voting at all, while ‘Indonesian unity’ served to motivate a brutal and relentless campaign in West Papua in the early 1960s, a process that ended in 1969 with the incorporation of Irian Jaya province.

Following a military coup in 1965 that severely limited Sukarno’s power, which saw an unprecedented amount of political and social upheaval amid a state transforming into a staunchly anti-communist country (the famous ‘year of living dangerously’). Military general Suharto became Indonesia’s president in 1967, finalizing the country’s turn to his ‘New Order,’ a new Western-oriented regime.

Suharto ruled with even tighter control, and Indonesia doubled down on its West Papua approach with a three-decade campaign to subdue the formerly Portuguese colony of East Timor, beginning in 1975. At the same time, Suharto furthered the attempts to bring more unity to an archipelago of thousands of islands dominated by the most populous island, Java, which today contains 56% of Indonesia’s 247 million citizens.


Despite a diverse array of languages, cultures, traditions and ethnicities, Java had long been the center of the Dutch East Indies in the colonial period as well as the Majapahit empire that extended control over much of the empire between 1293 and 1500. Continue reading In Depth: Indonesia

What Indonesia’s election means for Timor-Leste

Capoeira Practice on Dili Beach

No matter who wins Indonesia’s presidential election on July 9, one of the most central foreign policy issues for its winner, will be relations with tiny Timor-Leste, the state that occupies the eastern half of the island of Timor and that broke from Indonesia formally in 2002 after three decades of unrest.Indonesia FlagEast Timor

Timor-Leste is just 12 years out from its hard-won independence from Jakarta, following centuries of benign Portuguese colonial neglect, a three-year not-so-benign Japanese interregnum during World War II and 27 years of terror perpetuated largely by the Indonesia military, some of the worst in the immediate aftermath of the United Nations-administered August 1999 independence referendum.

No matter who wins tomorrow’s presidential election in Indonesia, relations with Dili, the East Timorese capital, will undoubtedly be just as important for Indonesia’s next president as they were for outgoing president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (‘SBY’), who has largely improved the relationship between the two countries.

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RELATED: Will Prabowo Subianto become Indonesia’s next president?

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Megawati Sukarnoputri, when she was president between 2001 and 2004, traveled to Dili to mark both Timorese independence and the swearing-in of its first national president.

But it’s been under Yudhoyono’s watch that Indonesia truly turned the chapter from post-colonial occupier to economic partner and increasingly, friendly neighbor. Yudhoyono went to Dili for the first time within six months of taking office, laying a wreath to commemorate the deaths in the 1991 Santa Cruz massacre, and he attended a 2012 celebration marking the 10th anniversary of Timorese independence. Under SBY, Indonesia has become, by far, Timor-Leste’s largest trading partner.

For the first time, in 2012, Australian prime minister Julia Gillard hosted trilateral talks alongside Yudhoyono and Xanana Gusmão, a former resistance leader, Timor-Leste’s first post-independence president and its prime minister since 2007.

With Gusmão planning to step down later this year after seven years leading Timor-Leste’s government, it will be especially important for the next Timorese prime minister and the next Indonesian president to develop the same diplomatic relationship that Yudhoyono and Gusmão share today.

That may prove difficult if Indonesians elect Prabowo Subianto, the leader of the nationalist Gerindra (Partai Gerakan Indonesia Raya, the Great Indonesia Movement Party), a former Suharto-era general and former leader of Indonesia’s special forces. Dismissed in 1998 upon Suharto’s ouster and self-exiled to Jordan, Prabowo returned as a businessman and now, as a politician, and he’s climbed back from a double-digit deficit, with essentially even odds to defeat Jakarta governor Joko Widodo (‘Jokowi’) in tomorrow’s election.

Yudhoyono also came to democratic politics from the Indonesian military, where he developed a reputation as a particularly thoughtful general. Like Prabowo, Yudhoyono has been sullied by his leadership role in the Indonesian National Armed Forces (TNI, formerly ABRI) and its misconduct in East Timor from the 1970s through the 1990s. But Prabowo has been tied to specific abuses in East Timor, including a troubling 1983 massacre in a village called Kraras:

But in recent months allegations of human rights violations involving Prabowo have intensified. Jemma Purdey voiced the opinion that as an soldier Prabowo had four tours to East Timor and led units that were “involved in some very extreme instances of violence”. Many believe that Prabowo also played a role in the 1983 massacre in Kraras, known as the village of widows, which killed many East Timorese. Prabowo protested in the strongest terms and refuted the scurrilous allegations in a letter to the editor of The Jakarta Post on Dec. 27, 2013.

Despite Prabowo’s protestations of innocence, those questions will continue to haunt any Prabowo administration, as will more well-documented accusations of human rights abuses in 1998, when Prabowo is said to have kidnapped and possibly tortured pro-democracy activists, are among the reasons the United States denied him a tourist visa in 2000. Continue reading What Indonesia’s election means for Timor-Leste

Indonesia’s Prabowo all but declares he’ll become ‘Suharto 2.0’ if elected


Almost overnight, Indonesia’s July 9 presidential election has transformed into a contest over the very future of democracy in the world’s fourth-most populous country.Indonesia Flag

Prabowo Subianto, the nationalist leader of Gerindra (Partai Gerakan Indonesia Raya, the Great Indonesia Movement Party), has narrowed what, just last month, was a double-digit deficit to become Indonesia’s next president. Polls suggest that the lead Jakarta governor Joko Widodo (‘Jokowi’) once enjoyed has narrowed or dissipated altogether.

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RELATED: Will Prabowo Subianto become Indonesia’s next president?

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But as Prabowo’s campaign has gained so much momentum over the past month, he’s becoming even more explicit about his views on democracy — and those views aren’t incredibly positive, according to remarks Prabowo (pictured above) made over the weekend:

[Prabowo said] elites presume that Western ideas such as one man, one vote and direct elections for provincial and national leaders are the best on offer. “Even though they’re not appropriate for us. Like direct elections — we’ve already gone down that path. But it’s like someone addicted to smoking; if we ask them to stop, the process will be difficult,” Prabowo said.

“I believe much of our current political and economic systems go against our nation’s fundamental philosophy, laws and traditions, and against the 1945 Constitution,” he said. “Many of these ideas that we have applied are disadvantageous to us, they do not suit our culture,” Prabowo said.

The 1945 constitution, it’s worth noting, is the founding document that allowed the rise of Sukarno, Indonesia’s first post-independence leader (who conveniently dismissed the country’s parliament and often invoked ‘temporary’ emergency rule), and the rise of Suharto, the strongman who reoriented Indonesia away from Soviet influence and toward a slightly more liberal path between the 1960s and his overthrow in 1998. It allows for the president to declare emergency rule, thereby suspending typical constitutions protections, provides for an indirectly president by the Indonesian legislature, and it precedes the constitutional amendments of the post-1998 regime that have greatly decentralized power from Jakarta to Indonesia’s provinces.

Though Prabowo hasn’t expressly said that he’d like to end direct elections in Indonesia, he’s made enough statements dismissing democracy and other ‘Western ideas’ that it’s worthy of concern.  Continue reading Indonesia’s Prabowo all but declares he’ll become ‘Suharto 2.0’ if elected

Ruling Democrats in Indonesia endorse Prabowo


In a stunning surprise that highlights the shifting momentum in  Indonesia’s presidential election, the ruling party of outgoing president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (‘SBY’) has endorsed the presidential campaign of former general Prabowo Subianto.Indonesia Flag

Though many members of the Partai Demokrat (PD, Democratic Party) were already sympathetic to Prabowo’s campaign, its leaders indicated that the party would take a wait-and-see approach to the election earlier in the spring, when polls showed that Jakarta governor Joko Widodo (‘Jokowi’) would win the presidency by a wide margin.

Over the past month, the race has tightened as Prabowo (pictured above, left, with SBY, right) has waged a spirited campaign, high on economic nationalism and populism, and relentless in his attacks on Jokowi’s relative inexperience.

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RELATED: Will Prabowo Subianto become Indonesia’s next president? 

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The PD’s embrace is not so incredibly important from an organizational standpoint because the Democrats, founded by SBY in 2004, are still a relatively new force in Indonesian politics, and there’s no guarantee the party will even survive SBY’s retirement. Accordingly, the Democrats lacks the local grassroots structure of Jokowki’s Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P, Partai Demokrasi Indonesia Perjuangan), which dates to the socialist government of Sukarno in the 1950s and Golkar (Partai Golongan Karya, Party of the Functional Groups), which dates to Suharto’s ‘New Order’ regime that spanned from 1967 to 1998. Continue reading Ruling Democrats in Indonesia endorse Prabowo

Will Prabowo Subianto become Indonesia’s next president?

Prabaho Subianto

Joko Widodo has the opposite problem of US president Barack Obama, whose more unhinged opponents claim that Obama, who spent four years of his childhood in Indonesia, is secretly a Muslim.Indonesia Flag

In Indonesia’s presidential race, it’s the young Jakarta governor who has to assure voters he’s a Muslim and not, as the dirty-trick accusations suggest, a secret Christian.

With the campaign to elect Indonesia’s next president in full gear, everyone assumed that the political phenomenon that is Widodo (know universally in Indonesia as ‘Jokowi’) would easily win on July 9.

Though the race was invariably set to tighten, it’s now a toss-up — and Prabowo Subianto (pictured above), a Suharto-era ‘military strongman,’ may yet manage to steal an election that’s long been considered Jokowi’s to lose.

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RELATED: In Indonesia, it’s Jokowi-Kalla against Prabowo-Hatta

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Jokowi’s meteoric rise began with his surprise election as Jakarta’s governor in September 2012. Since then, he’s accomplished an astonishing amount of policy reforms, including the implementation of a universal health care program for Jakarta.

Going into the April parliamentary elections, the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P, Partai Demokrasi Indonesia Perjuangan) named Jokowi as its presidential candidate, ending months of speculation with an announcement designed to maximize  excitement over Jokowi’s presumed candidacy — and also foreclosing the possibility that former president Megawati Sukarnoputri would make a third consecutive run.

Though the PDI-P won the April elections, it didn’t do nearly as well as polls indicated, garnering just 18.95% of the vote, narrowly leading Golkar (Partai Golongan Karya, Party of the Functional Groups), the vaguely liberal party founded by Indonesia’s late 20th century strongman, Suharto. Golkar continues play a strong role in Indonesian politics today, most recently as the junior partner in the government led by Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (‘SBY’) since 2004.

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RELATED: ‘Jokowi’ effect falls flat for PDI-P in Indonesia election results

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Yudhoyono is term-limited after winning the 2004 and 2009 presidential elections in landslide victories, though he’ll leave office with somewhat mixed ratings. His own party, the Partai Demokrat (Democratic Party) won just 10.2% in the April legislative elections, falling to fourth place overall. 

Golkar, in turn, only narrowly outpaced Prabowo’s party, the nationalist Gerindra (Partai Gerakan Indonesia Raya, the Great Indonesia Movement Party), which he formed in 2008 when he left Golkar, hoping to use a new party vehicle to power his own 2009 presidential run.

For much of 2013, earlier this year, and even after the parliamentary elections, Jokowi led every poll survey in advance of the July 9 election. But Prabowo, age 62, has hammered against Jokowi, age 53, for his relative inexperience, chipping away at what’s perhaps Jokowi’s chief strength — his novelty, reformist instincts, and the lack of any trace of corruption.

Prabowo is neither novel nor reformist nor corruption-free.

He’s a battle-toughened veteran of Indonesian politics, who has shifted from one alliance to another over the past decade.

Some critics argue that he’s essentially ‘Suharto 2.0’ — or worse.

Most publicly available polls from May and early June still show Jokowi with a lead, sometimes even with a double-digit lead. But there’s a sense that, as the parties engaged in post-April elections over alliances and running mates, and as Prabowo and Jokowi have engaged on the campaign trail and in three of five scheduled presidential debates, the race is tightening — and the momentum is with Prabowo. Dirty tricks, including rumors that Jokowi is Christian and that Jokowi is Chinese, have marked the campaign in its final weeks.

it’s hard to know exactly where the candidates stand because polling is still unreliable in Indonesia and, moreover, there’s been a lack of recent polls from more reliable pollsters. But a poll taken between June 1 and 10 by the DC-based International Foundation for Electoral Systems and the Indonesian Survey Institute found 42% of Indonesian voters support Jokowi and 39% support Prabowo, with 19% undecided. Other pollsters are rumored to have withheld polling that shows Jokowi’s lead sharply narrowing or, in some cases, a Prabowo lead.

In opposition since leaving Golkar six years ago, Prabowo has powered Gerindra into a force in Indonesia with a platform of populist rhetoric high on economic nationalism in a country with particular anxiety about global markets since the 1997-98 Asian currency crisis that caused a 13% contraction in the Indonesian economy in 1998, precipitating Suharto’s downfall after three decades in power.

So who is Prabowo? And how would he govern Indonesia differently than Jokowi?   Continue reading Will Prabowo Subianto become Indonesia’s next president?

In Indonesia, it’s Jokowi-Kalla against Prabowo-Hatta


It’s official — with Monday’s announcement that Indonesian presidential frontrunner Joko Widodo (‘Jokowi’) has chosen former vice president and former Golkar party chair Jusuf Kalla as his running mate, the chief presidential tickets and their alliances for the July 9 election are now largely settled.Indonesia Flag

The Jokowi-Kalla ticket pairs the young Jakarta governor, age 52, with a longtime steady hand who, at age 71, is nearly two decades older than Jokowi, the standard-bearer of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P, Partai Demokrasi Indonesia Perjuangan), which emerged as the strongest in Indonesia’s parliamentary elections in April shortly after naming Jokowi as its presidential candidate. Its leader, Megawati Sukarnoputri, daughter of Indonesia’s first post-independence president, and a former president between 2001 and 2004, remains a powerful figure behind the scenes.

Kalla (pictured above, left, with Jokowi) previously served as vice president between 2004 and 2009 under outgoing president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (known in Indonesia as ‘SBY’). The two often clashed, and Kalla often appeared the more substantial figure, given his party’s much larger bloc of seats at the time in the Dewan Perwakilan Rakyat (DPR, People’s Representative Council), the lower house of the Indonesian parliament. Though Kalla will undoubtedly boost Jokowi’s chances of winning in July, there’s a risk that he could come to be seen as the puppet-master of a future Jokowi-led administration. 


Despite last-minute speculation that Kalla’s party, Golkar (Partai Golongan Karya, Party of the Functional Groups), would support Jokowi, Kalla seems to have split from his party to join Jokowi’s ticket. Golkar will instead back the presidential candidacy of Prabowo Subianto, the leader of Gerindra (Partai Gerakan Indonesia Raya, the Great Indonesia Movement Party), itself a spinoff from Golkar in 2008.

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RELATED: ‘Jokowi’ effect falls slat for PDI-P in Indonesia election results
RELATED: Veepstakes, Indonesia-style: Will Kalla return as vice president?

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What’s remarkable is that Golkar’s leader, former presidential candidate Aburizal Bakrie, ultimately supported Prabowo without winning the vice presidential slot for himself.

Instead, Prabowo last week chose Hatta Rajasa, the chair of the Partai Amanat Nasional (PAN, National Mandate Party), a moderate Islamist party. Hatta (pictured above, right, with Prabowo) has served since 2009 as coordinating minister for economics in the current administration; he previously served from 2007 to 2009 as state secretary and from 2004 to 2007 as transportation minister. He’s been the chairman of the PAN since 2010 — and he has deeper ties to Yudhoyono, given that his daughter is married to Edhie Baskoro, the president’s youngest son.

What does Kalla bring to the ticket? Aside from experience, he’ll bring the gravitas of someone who can balance Megawati’s influence in a Jokowi administration. He’ll bring a great deal of support to the ticket from his native Sulawesi and from his wider base in eastern Indonesia. Even if Prabowo has Golkar’s formal support as a party, many of its voters will follow Kalla’s lead and vote for Jokowi.

Kalla, too, is Muslim, and he’s a member of Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), a longtime Sunni Islamic civil society group, so the Jokowi-Kalla ticket will win at least some Muslim votes. Though three Islamist parties have backed Prabowo, the one that won the most votes in the April legislative elections, the Partai Kebangkitan Bangsa (PKB, National Awakening Party), is backing Jokowi. 

So now that Indonesia’s version of ‘veepstakes’ is over, where does that leave the two presidential campaigns? Continue reading In Indonesia, it’s Jokowi-Kalla against Prabowo-Hatta