Indonesia election 2024: as Jokowi ends his term, what issues do 3 presidential hopefuls face?

Last Updated on October 28, 2023 3:31 pm

By Amy Sood

After this week, there is unlikely to be any major reveals regarding the candidates involved in the Indonesian presidential election or their policy platforms.

The three tickets have all filed their nomination papers for the February 14 polls, and unveiled their policy platforms.

But open elections are very rarely focused solely on the candidates and their policies. Campaigns often tend to be dominated by major issues of public concern that sometimes the political players hope to skirt around during the hustings.

As the three pairings of Ganjar Pranowo and Mohammad Mahfud (also known as Mahfud MD), Prabowo Subianto and Gibran Rakabuming Raka, and Anies Baswedan and Muhaimin Iskandar get ready to enter the fourth gear of campaigning, what might be the issues they will have to contend with?

Dynasty politics

Political observers in Indonesia have signalled that the subject of political dynasties – and their merit or lack thereof – will inevitably be front and centre of the campaign.

The incumbent President Joko Widodo, a former furniture salesman, was the country’s first leader to not come from an established political or military background.

He provided hope to millions that Indonesia was pushing back against the elites who had dominated the country’s political scene following Suharto’s 32-year authoritarian rule. His victories in 2014 and again in 2019 against former military general Prabowo was hailed as a sign that the nation’s democracy was maturing.

Now, however, with Widodo’s son Gibran running as Prabowo’s vice-presidential candidate, there has been rising a perception that Widodo is eyeing the type of political dynasty all too familiar in Southeast Asia’s various semi-autocratic nations.

“What we’re seeing is a new version of [Widodo],” said political researcher Noory Okthariza, who works at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Indonesia. “This is not the same person we saw at the start of his career as a mayor.”

As his political prowess has grown, Widodo – known popularly as Jokowi – has been able to tame his staunchest political opponents such as Prabowo, Noory said.

Not leading a party of his own, observers say Widodo has been looking to establish a nascent dynasty and prolong his legacy by embedding his sons into the country’s political scene.

How this will play with voters remains yet to be seen, observers say. But the fiasco over Gibran’s nomination has given Widodo’s detractors ammunition to attack the president’s continued meddling in the electoral process.

Controversy over ‘jungle utopia’

A large part of Widodo’s legacy is inextricably linked to the construction of a new US$32 billion capital called Nusantara in Borneo.

While speculation at the start of the year suggested Widodo wanted to extend his presidency to safeguard the project, that might no longer be necessary.

A National Capital City Law – that was revised last month – has been put in place to future-proof the outgoing president’s flagship project, said observer Noory, essentially preventing a new regime from backing out of its construction.

Anies, who is lagging behind the other two candidates in opinion surveys, is the only one opposing Widodo and the ruling Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) thus far.

But Anies’ criticism of Widodo and his policies has become more subdued as of late, analysts say.

Even Widodo’s more controversial policies, including the Omnibus Bill on jobs creation, are not being challenged, said Sana Jaffrey, a research fellow at Australian National University specialising in Indonesian politics.

“Anies is not doing something controversial, and the reason for that might be that Jokowi has shown a tendency for using state institutions to influence these kinds of things,” she added, pointing out that there had been corruption investigations against Widodo’s former allies who have joined Anies’ camp.

“People would be cautious in terms of taking a very confrontational line against Widodo now, especially now that his son is in the running,” she said.

A lot will depend on how Anies focuses on the prospect of a change in policy and leadership to turn voters away from Widodo’s policies and brand of politics, observers say.

“The idea of keberlanjutan dan perubahan, or continuity and change, is really important for voters,” Noory said.

“For Anies, this is the time for him to exploit issues like Gibran’s ruling in his favour, especially as he is trailing in the polls.”

Watching the vote banks

According to Indonesia’s election commission, people aged under 40 will make up around 52 per cent of all eligible voters in the election. At least a third of them will be millennials, and 22 per cent are from Gen Z, born in the late 1990s.

Prabowo, 72, has suggested his nomination of Gibran, 36, will be imperative to courting the youth vote, even as he has turned to social media himself to connect with Indonesia’s young people.

Adhi Priamarizki, a research fellow with the Indonesia programme at Singapore’s S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, said Prabowo’s “nicely curated Instagram feed” and attempts to present a friendly image of himself had played well with younger voters.

The presidential hopefuls are also looking to win the Islamic voting bloc.

Ganjar and Anies might have an upper hand with these voters, some observers suggest, as they have chosen vice-presidential candidates with strong links to Indonesia’s biggest Islamic organisation, Nahdlatul Ulama (NU).

Eastern Java, Indonesia’s third-most populous province, is the heartland of the NU and is going to be the most important battleground in this coming election, Noory said.

While Prabowo did not choose a candidate with backing from the NU, his manifesto showed that he is hoping to gain favour with Islamic voters through “endowment”, Jaffrey said, referring to donations.

“[Prabowo and Gibran] have connections with the president who can make some of these promises credible, even before the election,” she said.

Internecine rivalries

Perhaps what observers are watching most closely, is how Megawati Soekarnoputri, chairwoman of the ruling PDI-P party, will respond to Widodo’s son joining hands with Prabowo, who provides the biggest competition to her nominee, Ganjar.

Both Widodo and his son are still members of her party, and Widodo has used the PDI-P as a political vehicle during his time in power.

Growing rifts between Megawati and Widodo have been discernible over the past few months, and observers say the party leader, a former Indonesian president herself, is likely to perceive Widodo’s move as a “stab in the back”.

She has been very vocal about the importance of loyalty, and the PDI-P’s displeasure with Widodo and his son might come to a head, particularly if the election becomes a two-horse race, with leading candidates Ganjar and Prabowo fighting it out.

“Things might become more polarising then, and the PDI-P might be more keen to attack Widodo to bring Prabowo and Gibran down,” Noory said.

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