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Indonesia Go to the Poll

Indonesians go to the poll to elect their next president on14 February 2024. About 205 million Indonesians are eligible to vote.

Three candidates are vying for the country’s next president. Whoever wins, the new president will assume office in October when incumbent President Jokowi ends his two terms as President. The three candidates are Prabowo Subianto, an ex-army general and currently vice president to President Jokowi, Ganjar Pranowo, the governor of Central Java for ten years ( 2013-2023) and Anies Baswedan, a former don, who was also the education minister during President Jokowi’s first term in office.

To be the next President, the candidates need to win more than 50 percent of the popular vote and at least 20 percent of the votes in half of Indonesia’s provinces. If none of the candidates achieve the threshold, the candidates will go for another run-off in July to decide the country’s next leader.

The last three months have seen the election campaigning gathering pace. And as polling day nears, many are hinting that Prabowo will be the likely winner, even clinching more than 50 percent of the vote and avoiding a run-off. Prabowo’s rating has increased tremendously, especially after naming President Jokowi’s son, Gibran Rakabumi Raka, as his running mate, Prabowo’s choice of vice-President.

Overseas postal started on 11 February 2024. My random asking of Indonesians of who they will vote points to a clear winner – Prabowo. The reason: they want continuity of policies. In Prabowo they see Indonesia continuing its growth trajectory. Having Gibran as his running mate seems to be a winning move; a clear indication that Jokowi’s growth plan will continue under Prabowo-Gibran leadership. Gibran was initially barred from contesting as Vice-Presidential candidate. He is 36-years old, four years short of the 40-year old threshold to qualify to contest the election. The initial decision however was overturned. The court ruled in favour of Gibran on grounds that he was the mayor of Surakarta. But the ruling had an added twist; judgement was made by a chief judge who is also Jokowi’s brother in law, Gibran’s uncle.

Critics of Prabowo-Gibran cried foul viewing the court ruling as a start of another political dynasty – the Jokowi ruling dynasty. But the rancor and displeasure however did not gain much traction. Soon after Gibran was allowed to contest, Prabowo approval rating went double digit compared to the other two candidates. Latest poll surveys confirm that Prabowo-Gibran partnership is gaining ground, and that Prabowo might surpass the 50% magical threshold.

The Prabowo-Gibran team has taken the criticisms in their stride with Prabowo brushing aside claims of a dynasty rule calling it as “biasa” or normal. Prabowo’s political rhetoric and deftness, honed from many years in politics stand out. With the Gibran issue, Prabowo managed it with ease to what was supposed to be the most difficult issue in his campaign. He also impressed in his campaign trails, using the media to good effect that wooed younger voters, a pivotal voting bloc in this election. Youths between 17- 40 years old make up 52 percent of the voting public. Prabowo endeared himself to the young voters, potraying himself as the cuddly grandad. On few occasions in the campaign trail, he called himself Pak “Gemoy”, a term used by millennials and gen Z, to enthuse his younger voters.

While no one is suggesting that the possible Prabowo-Gibran team will be a rule by proxy, it is not difficult to connect the dots. In Prabowo- Gibran, Indonesians see Jokowi. Jokowi looms large in this campaign, with some of his critics saying the election was already won before it started. Nearing polling day, the Jokowi effect has taken a stronger hold on the public psyche; Indonesians have generally disregarded the court ruling. Warming up to the Prabow-Gibran team is more so after Jokowi made his attachment to the Prabowo-Gibran team more apparent closer to the poll. Jokowi’s face is on billboards, along side Prabowo and Gibran. And Jokowi has come out strongly to say that there is nothing wrong in him taking sides. He says, the President is allowed to take sides. What is wrong is when the President campaigns using state facilities. Jokowi’s open admission made his routine “blusukan” or on the ground visits seemingly hollow and suspicious. In January, he made three trips to central Java – the most heavily populated region on Java island – handing out cash assistance and distributing fertilisers and rice that stirred talks of possible vote-buying.

Indonesia’s latest presidential race put fear that Indonesian politics is taking an illiberal turn. To some, the latest development brought back vestiges of the “new Order’, that of nepotism and patronage that Indonesia is working so hard to part with after the end of Suharto-rule.  Critics also view the Prabowo- Gibran will be a rule by proxy. They are convinced that Mr Jokowi  will still make important policy calls and this could be problematic, as it could lead to a strong-man rule lacking in accountability. Indeed, the court ruling that favoured Gibran, Jokowi’s open admission of who he is supporting and Prabowo’s human rights record that saw him being barred him from entering the United States, until 2020 , did little to inspire confidence among critics that Indonesia is on the straight path of democracy.

What is evident is that personality continues to be a big part of Indonesian politics. There is the Jokowi’s hangover. Indonesians are still rooting for Jokowi’s policy legacies and in Prabowo-Gibran they find a close proximate. It is difficult to imagine otherwise. Mr Jokowi’s presidency is a hard act to follow. The Indonesian economy is riding high, averaging slightly more the 5 percent growth since Mr Jokowi assumed office. Indonesians have more money now and the wealth is visible. There are also impressive infrastructure projects to show. To many voters it is obvious that the Prabowo-Gibran team – with Jokowi in the shadows – offers the best option to continuing such growth.

Institutions do “bite.” Despite the fear of patronage and nepotism creeping into Indonesian politics, it is hard to imagine Prabowo losing out to the other two candidates. The nature of Indonesian politics suggests that, for now, the fear of the reenactment of “new order,” cronynism and patronage will have to take a backseat. For most Indonesians, it does seem, that for now, the best option would be to go with the candidates that Mr Jokowi’s endorses, just so that it guarantees policy continuity and growth.

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