Indonesia: Implications of Prabowo Subianto's victory - Hindustan Times
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Indonesia: Implications of Prabowo Subianto's victory

ByHindustan Times
Feb 23, 2024 10:07 AM IST

This article is authored by Ananya Raj Kakoti and Gunwant Singh, scholars, international relations, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi

Indonesia, the world’s third largest democracy, conducted its general election on February 14, 2024, with election day designated as a national holiday. Approximately 75% of the eligible 200 million voters participated, selecting not only the president but also members of Parliament and local representatives. This election cycle sparked concerns about Indonesia potentially regressing toward its authoritarian past, prompting implications beyond its borders. As a major exporter of coal, nickel, and palm oil, Indonesia holds a significant influence on the global climate change crisis. Moreover, in the ongoing competition for influence between the United States (US) and China in Asia, Indonesia is viewed as a pivotal player by US officials. President Joko Widodo's tenure witnessed a marked improvement in relations with China alongside strong defence ties with Washington.

Presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto votes at a polling station during the general election in Indonesia.(REUTERS)
Presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto votes at a polling station during the general election in Indonesia.(REUTERS)

Prabowo Subianto, a controversial former general and former son-in-law of long-time authoritarian leader Suharto, seems poised to become Indonesia’s next leader after apparently securing a convincing victory in this week’s election. Official results may take up to a month to be confirmed, but exit polls known as “quick counts” conducted by reputable polling firms in Indonesia indicate that Prabowo is leading with nearly 60% of the vote, suggesting a landslide victory. There will probably be no requirement for a run-off election in June. The second-place candidate, Anies Baswedan, seems to have garnered approximately 24 to 25% of the vote, while Ganjar Pranowo trails behind with just 17%.

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Despite facing rejection three times in previous attempts for the presidency or vice presidency, Prabowo has emerged as the unequivocal preference of Indonesian voters. However, allegations of human rights abuses, including purported kidnappings, forced disappearances, and war crimes by troops under his command, have been levied against him. Furthermore, his campaign was tarnished by accusations of unethical behavior and collusion.

Prabowo's convincing victory can be attributed in part to the absence of his main rival, the immensely popular incumbent Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, who had defeated him in two previous elections and still enjoys approval ratings of well over 70%. While Jokowi maintained neutrality in the campaign and refrained from explicitly endorsing any candidate, his stance became evident when it was revealed that Prabowo’s vice-presidential running mate was Jokowi’s oldest son, Gibran Rakabuming Raka. The candidacy of Prabowo and Gibran was contentious from the outset, marked by a heavily criticized Constitutional Court decision that deemed Gibran eligible to run, and allegations that Jokowi had facilitated improper campaign support for Prabowo and Gibran from government entities. These circumstances triggered numerous protests against the Prabowo-Gibran ticket within civil society.

The successor to Widodo will take over an economy experiencing significant growth and oversee ambitious infrastructure endeavors, such as the relocation of the nation’s capital from Jakarta to Borneo, which comes with a price tag exceeding $30 billion. Moreover, the election holds substantial implications for both the United States and China, given Indonesia's vast domestic market, abundant natural resources like nickel and palm oil, and diplomatic sway within Southeast Asia. Throughout much of his decade-long tenure, Widodo prioritised advancing Indonesia’s economy, famously setting a goal for it to become the world’s fourth largest by 2045. Under his leadership, economic growth and infrastructure development saw improvements, with efforts to attract major Chinese companies and electric car giant Tesla to invest in the nation's nickel mining industry.

However, experts suggest that Prabowo, despite being a wealthy and astute businessman with assets reportedly exceeding $125 million, primarily identifies as a military figure and is likely to have differing priorities. According to experts, there are concerns that Prabowo may seek to politicise the military to serve his interests or turn a blind eye to instances of corruption and abuse. Moreover, there is a heightened worry about the potential acceleration of a resurgence of the military's dual-function role, which could pose significant challenges.

On TikTok, Prabowo's image as a tough special forces commander seems to have vanished, thanks to a successful rebranding campaign that made him appear more friendly and grandfatherly to young voters. But his past is still fresh in some minds. Usman Hamid of Amnesty International Indonesia is worried about the potential human rights implications of Indonesia's next president. Papua, with its history of unrest and military presence, is a particular concern due to reports of abuse by soldiers against civilians. Abuza believes Papua will be a key focus for Prabowo's policies, expecting a more militaristic approach rather than seeking political solutions.

Although many of Prabowo's supporters seem to support the continuation of Widodo's policies, there are indications that Prabowo may adopt a more nationalist stance on foreign affairs compared to his predecessor. Prabowo's election manifesto outlines his intention to prioritize the strengthening of Indonesia as a nation. The manifesto emphasizes the goal of Indonesia becoming a respected player in international relations and highlights the importance of well-managed defense and security measures to safeguard the nation and maintain peace within its borders.

Prabowo is expected to focus initially on building a coalition for his administration and garnering support for his policies, which may keep him occupied. Widodo's success in enacting his ambitious policies, such as the capital relocation plan, was facilitated by a large coalition, largely owing to his ties with the ruling Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P). However, by endorsing Prabowo over PDI-P's candidate in the recent election, Widodo might have estranged a significant portion of parliament for Prabowo. Megawati and her PDI-P remain influential, posing a challenge for Prabowo. He will likely collaborate with Jokowi to replicate the broad party alliance Jokowi established previously. Yet, this time, PDI-P might opt for opposition, necessitating a significant political adjustment for Prabowo.

Prabowo's victory was heavily reliant on his alliance with Jokowi, but after decades of pursuing the presidency, he, at 72, is eager to assume office. With a strong sense of pride and urgency, he is unlikely to tolerate being subordinate or even a mere equal partner for an extended period. Should he decide to part ways with Jokowi in the future, it could precipitate another significant and potentially tumultuous reshaping of Indonesia's political landscape.

This article is authored by Ananya Raj Kakoti and Gunwant Singh, scholars, international relations, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.

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