See More on Facebook

Politics

Preview: Indonesia elections

The world’s largest Muslim country prepares to go to polls.


Written by

Updated: April 5, 2019

The world’s third-largest democracy will hold legislative elections and presidential elections on April 17. With more than 192 million people eligible to cast ballots, the Indonesian polls will be the world’s biggest direct presidential election and the country’s fourth since the democratic era began in 1998.

This will also be the first time in the country’s history that voters will choose their president, parliamentarians, and local legislative positions on the same day.

The numbers in the legislative race are staggering. Across the country, more than 20,000 legislative seats are being contested by upwards of 245,000 candidates.

The presidential race, the big ticket contest, is set to pit incumbent President Joko Widodo, popularly known as Jokowi, against his old rival, former Suharto-era lieutenant general Prabowo Subianto, in a rematch from the 2014 election

The incumbent president, Joko, 57 was born in a slum in Central Java and made his money in the furniture business before becoming mayor of Surakarta, a city in Central Java, and then the governor of Jakarta. Joko is running on his presidential record, and voters appear ready to give him another chance at the office.

A recent poll released by Washington, D.C.-based think tank Center for Strategic and International Studies found that Joko and his running mate Ma’ruf Amin have a double digit lead over the Prabowo-Sandiaga Uno ticket with less than a month until votes are cast.

Joko’s challenger, Prabowo, the chairman of the Gerindra Party has a controversial history. His role in the military during the autocratic Suharto era—he was a former special forces commander, and is also the former son-in-law of Suharto—has led observers to raise concerns that about the ways his vision for Indonesia might undermine the country’s democratic institutions in favor of military dictatorship.

Prabowo is running on a platform that emphasizes national strength. His populist rhetoric, has earned him comparisons to Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte and Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro.

Prabowo has also been accused of having a hand in some of the worst human rights abuses in Indonesia’s history—the abduction and torture of 23 pro-democracy activists between 1997 and 1998, and the mass killings of hundreds of East Timorese in the 1980s the orders for which allegedly came from Prabowo.

The Issues

Human rights have, understandably been a major focal point of this election season, with both major presidential candidates, and their running mates tasked with explaining their record on the issue.

In his 2014 campaign, Joko vowed to investigate and resolve past human rights abuses, including the tragic anti-communist purges of 1965, the May 1998 riots, but the lack of attention or action on these issues for the past five years of his term have left advocates disappointed.

And, activists have been critical of Joko’s government’s increasing use of excessive force to deal with drug crime—including extra-judicial killings and use of the death penalty for drug dealers.

Additionally, Joko’s choice of running mate has rights advocates concerned. Ma’ruf Amin, the chairman of the Indonesian Ulema Council, the country’s top clerical body, has played a role in advocating for restrictions on religious freedom for minority groups. Under his leadership, the Council issued several fatwas including declaring Ahmadi Muslims as deviant, calling for the criminalization of LGBT activities and coming out in support of female genital cutting.

It’s widely assumed that Joko chose his running mate in part to quell criticisms that he’s not Muslim enough to be president, and to court more conservative members of the Indonesian electorate.

Religion has become a hot topic that has Indonesian voters debating the place of Islam in the country’s politics and Ma’ruf’s history isn’t the only background that has come under fire. Analysts have also questioned Prabowo’s connections to Islamist groups.

One question that has surrounded this election will have ramifications for years to come—that question touches on the overall health of Indonesia’s democracy.

Indonesia observers have, for the past several years been warning of a democratic backsliding. New regulations from President Joko have given authorities sweeping powers to ban social and civil society organizations they deem to be in opposition to “Pancasila” the foundational theory of the Indonesian state.

These regulations, coupled with the instances of government critics who face arrest for makar, or treason, and a rising intolerance for religious, cultural and sexual minorities have analysts and advocates worried.

In 2018, Indonesia’s democracy was downgraded by The Economist’s Intelligence Unit which placed the country on the low end of “flawed democracies.” The next lowest category, which Indonesia is approaching, is “hybrid regime.”

Perhaps it’s this democratic backsliding that has contributed to another major issue that has defined this Indonesian election—the concept of “golput,” a colloquial term that covers voter abstention, ballot spoiling, and other forms of quiet poll protest.

In recent weeks golput has taken over social media with some Indonesians publicly announcing plans to avoid the polls, and others lambasting those who might golput as harmful to the democratic process.

This movement over social media means that, among other issues, turnout will be a crucial indicator to watch come April 17.

 



Enjoyed this story? Share it.


Quinn Libson
About the Author: Quinn Libson is an Associate Editor at Asia News Network

Eastern Briefings

All you need to know about Asia


Our Eastern Briefings Newsletter presents curated stories from 22 Asian newspapers from South, Southeast and Northeast Asia.

Sign up and stay updated with the latest news.



By providing us with your email address, you agree to our Privacy Policy and Terms of Service.

View Today's Newsletter Here

Politics

Pro-junta bloc says it’s ready to form a government

The group claims deal with Democrats, Bhumjaithai parties. The Pro-Junta Phalang Pracharat Party claimed to have successfully cobbled together a coalition that could form a new government with the participation of the Democrat and Bhumjaithai parties, a source from the major coalition partner said yesterday. Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha will again head the post-election administration, with many members of his current post-coup Cabinet joining him, including General Prawit Wongsuwan, General Anupong Paochinda, Somkid Jatusripitak and Wissanu Krea-ngam, according to the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity. However, it remained unclear if Prayut would also double as defence minister or allow Prawit to assume the post again in addition to the deputy PM’s post. Phalang Pracharath will get at least 16 Cabinet seats and the Democrats and Bhumjaith


By The Nation (Thailand)
May 20, 2019

Politics

Jakarta on edge ahead of protests against election results

The opposition has yet to yield and admit defeat. Indonesia is on edge following plans by an Islamist group to hold a two-day rally at the elections commission (KPU) on Tuesday (May 21), to protest the impending results of last month’s presidential polls. The call for Muslims to throng the streets around the KPU headquarters in downtown Jakarta has been circulating on social media at the weekend – just before Wednesday’s deadline for the official vote count to be completed. The rally organisers, who identified themselves as Persaudaraan Alumni 212, are calling the mass gathering a “constitutional Jihad”, according to publicity material seen by The Straits Times on Sunday (May 19).


By The Straits Times
May 20, 2019

Politics

Exit polls show Narendra Modi’s coalition set to return to power

Most pre-election surveys had suggested that India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi would return to power. Exit polls predicted Prime Minister Narendra Modi will return to power in a landslide win as curtains came down on the largest democratic exercise in the world. Voters in 59 constituencies voted on Sunday (May 19), ending the seven-phase elections in which 900 million people were eligible to vote. At least four exit polls, which were released half an hour after the voting ended, showed between 286 to 306 seats for the alliance led by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). They pr


By The Straits Times
May 20, 2019

Politics

Blip on Modi’s social media, communications radar

Has Modi’s social media policy backfired. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s attempts to ‘humanise’ himself over the past 10 days or so seem to have boomeranged. At least on social media. For a politician who has championed the use of social media platforms and integrated them into his communications strategy to gain direct access to the people without the “filter” of intermediaries, that’s saying something.  Modi refused to hold even a single Press conference through his five-year tenure as PM and keeping professional media at arm’s length.  But he went on an interview spree in the past fortnight aimed at reaching out to voters in the last two phases of India’s weeks-long general election. Informal, one-on-one interactions with leading television anchors and editors of m


By Ishan Joshi
May 20, 2019

Politics

China vows action as US moves to blacklist Huawei

Hopes of a trade deal recede as experts fear American companies could face a backlash. China has slammed the United States for putting technology giant Huawei on an export blacklist and said it will take “all necessary measures” to protect the legal rights of Chinese firms. The latest twist in the face-off between the US and China not only suggests that hopes of a trade deal are fast evaporating, but it could also delay the roll-out of 5G networks worldwide. US technology firms could also face a backlash, experts said. China’s Ministry of Commerce said yesterday that it resolutely opposed any coun


By The Straits Times
May 17, 2019

Politics

Kami Rita Sherpa climbs Everest for the 23rd time

Sherpa breaks his own record and is untouched as the man who has summited Everest the most number of times. Soft-spoken and always smiling, Kami Rita Sherpa is an affable man. At 49, he is lean and wiry, with a forehead burnt brown from the sun. But his amiable manner belies his accomplishments. On Wednesday morning, Kami Rita Sherpa scaled Mount Everest for the 23rd time, breaking his own record for the most ascents of the world’s highest peak. On the mountain, Kami Rita is seemingly unstoppable. But despite his unparalleled feats of skill and endurance on the world’s highest peak, he remains humble. “Climbing is my duty,” Kami Rita had told the Post in April, before he returned to Everest. “It’s not about the money, I enjoy working on the mountains.”


By The Kathmandu Post
May 16, 2019