2024February 2024Spring 2024 ElectionsFocusAsia

FOCUS on Spring 2024 Elections: Indonesia

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Anna Thibodeau
International News Editor

Indonesia is the world’s third largest democracy, and its 205 million eligible voters made its election on February 14 one of the world’s largest elections. Seats were open for executive, legislative, and administrative representatives at all levels, but most importantly, the presidency was up. Three candidates dominated the polls, according to The Guardian: Prabowo Subianto, Anies Baswedan, and Ganjar Pranowo. 

Subianto won the race last Wednesday, stating “a win for all Indonesians” according to The Associated Press. According to unofficial tallies, Subianto received 57 to 59 percent of the vote, which puts him above the 50 percent of votes needed to win a presidential election in Indonesia. Although he seems to have won by a comfortable majority, many Indonesians worry about Subianto’s violent past.

According to The Conversation, all three candidates campaigned to continue Indonesia’s “free and active” foreign policy, which has been in place since 1948, but they have vastly different approaches. The candidates emphasize the importance to continue current President Joko Widodo’s policy to remain neutral between the United States and China. Subianto wants to focus on strengthening defense and being a “good neighbor” to other Southeast Asian countries. Baswedan wants to “globalize” Indonesia, becoming a leading voice in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). Pranowo wants to focus on combatting the regression of democracy, global inequality, economic decline, and escalating regional conflicts.

Front runner Subianto is a former military general and the current defense minister. This was his third time running for president after losing twice to current president Widodo, better known as Jokowi. In his first election, Subianto ran as a military strong man, says The New York Times. The second time he ran on a devout Muslim platform, claiming fraud when he lost and inciting violent street protests from hardline Islamists. Now, he is attempting to distance himself from his former reputation by portraying himself as a cute grandfather figure who cannot dance.

Baswedan, the previous governor of Jakarta, is the only candidate who has not pledged to continue Jokowi’s plan to move the capital city from Jakarta to Borneo, says The Guardian. He claims there are more urgent issues pressing Indonesia and the state’s money should be more equally distributed among regions. Baswedan is popular among hardline Islamist groups.

Pranowo, the former governor of central Java, ran on the same political party platform as current president Jokowi, but trailed third in the polls. The Guardian says his campaign is based on his portraying as a down-to-earth man of the people. According to The Conversation, Pranowo is endorsed by Indonesia’s largest political party, the Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P).

Although Subianto is the current front runner, his campaign worries many Indonesian citizens. Firstly, people are worried that his win would make way for a new dynasty. His running mate is Jokowi’s son, who was only able to join the race after a court headed by Jokowi’s brother-in-law tweaked eligibility criteria, states The Guardian. 

Reuters adds that while Jokowi has not explicitly endorsed any candidates, he has made highly publicized appearances with Subianto, despite tradition for the incumbent candidate to remain neutral. Protests which broke out on February 12 have accused Jokowi of abusing power by backing Subianto in an attempt to prepare his son to run for president in the future.

Many older voters also regard Subianto as a symbol of the 32-year kleptocratic regime that ended in 1998, says The New York Times. In 1998, Subianto was discharged from the military for kidnapping and torturing pro-democracy activists, many of whom are still missing today. He was also criticized for leading special forces into East Timor and slaughtering hundreds of citizens, leading him to be banned from the U.S. for many years. Subianto was never charged in a criminal court. The Guardian says that Indonesia has a large young voter population, with more than half of voters between 17 and 40 and about a third under 30. Because much of this painful past is not covered in Indonesian textbooks, says The New York Times, young people do not know about Subianto’s past. 

According to The Economist, all three candidates have a strong presence on TikTok. Subianto has been flooding TikTok with bad dancing videos which gain average of 20 million views. Baswedan was able to take second place in the polls by appealing to the Indonesian K-Pop community. All three candidates have also been using “buzzers,” fake accounts paid to praise a politician online.

Experts say that these TikTok campaigns reduce the election to memes, songs, and dances, and claim that the campaigns focus more on gimmicks than actual programs tailored to young people. The Economist also cites a study that found that TikTok approved the highest percentage of false political advertisements in the U.S. 2022 midterm elections compared to other social media websites, showing its potential negative political consequences.

This election has brought up many old and new fears for Indonesian voters. According to The Associated Press, the U.S.-China rivalry permeates across all of Southeast Asia. While each candidate has a different approach to foreign policy, Indonesia’s membership in the Non-Alignment movement means any candidate is likely to maintain the country’s neutral stance. Foreign policy, re-emergence of dictatorial regimes, misinformation, and trivialization of campaigns permeates Indonesia’s 2024 elections. How the population responds will be a better view into the mind and feelings of the young voter.

Image courtesy of Getty Images

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