See More on Facebook

Opinion, Politics

In Indonesia, a nation of voters won’t be swayed

Change no longer the rallying cry in Indonesia.


Written by

Updated: April 18, 2019

When Joko Widodo first ran for president in 2014, Indonesia was in the mood for change.

Everything about Mr Joko then was about hope and change: his path to power, his man-of-the-people image, his focus on services.

A businessman selling furniture in Solo, he was not part of the Jakarta political elite and triumphed at the polls as an outsider candidate.

Leaving aside whether Mr Joko has delivered on his promises or what one might think about his opponent Prabowo Subianto, what is striking today is that change is the furthest thing from voters’ minds. If the projections from the pollsters hold up, then the results of Wednesday’s (April 17) election will be very similar to the 2014 one.

That’s unusual when one considers all the water under the bridge since Mr Joko took his oath of office in October 2014.

Billions have been spent on infrastructure. The country has shifted to the right after the blasphemy trial of former Jakarta governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama – Mr Joko’s one-time ally and deputy. Economic growth has been underwhelming but Mr Joko has run a mostly scandal-free government.

Yet the 192 million eligible voters on Wednesday remain fixed in their views.

Take for example Firdaus Amien, 39 in Asem Baris in South Jakarta. Mr Firdaus’s grandfather started the Attahiriah Pesantren – a religious school for girls.

Most people here are dyed- in-the wool supporters of Nahdlatul Ulama, the world’s biggest Islamic organisation. The district went for Mr Prabowo last time. That Mr Joko chose a former head of the organisation, Ma’ruf Amin, as his running mate has cut no ice with them.

“This is a Prabowo neighbourhood,” said Mr Firdaus, a former reporter. He voted for Mr Joko this time and in 2014. The rest of his family opted for his opponent – again.

“They think Jokowi is using Ma’ruf to get Muslim support,” said Mr Firdaus, using the popular moniker for Mr Joko.

Then there’s Muhammed Thohir, 79, who lives a stone’s throw away from the Jakarta home of Habib Rizieq, the head of the hardline group the Islamic Defenders Front, who is currently in exile in Saudi Arabia.

The area went for Mr Joko in 2014. It picked Anies Baswedan over Mr Basuki for Jakarta governor in 2017, and opted for Mr Joko again on Wednesday.

All this despite a surge in religious sentiment sparked by Mr Basuki’s blasphemy trial. In the end voters here were unfazed with Mr Joko’s close association with Mr Basuki and stuck with him.

Mr Muhammed, who voted for Mr Prabowo last time, rued the lost opportunity to oust Mr Joko.

“I was hoping we would change the president,” Mr Muhammed said.

“There’s a Christian school and there’s many (ethnic) Chinese here,” Mr Muhammed said by way of explanation of Mr Joko’s victory in the neighbourhood.”

But in Tanjung Duren, to the west of the city, toward the airport, ethnic Chinese were steadfast behind Mr Joko, even after he withdrew support for Mr Basuki, a Christian of Chinese descent. Mr Basuki was released from jail in January after serving most his two year sentence for insulting the Koran.

That Mr Ma’ruf testified against Mr Basuki at the blasphemy trial hasn’t sullied Mr Joko’s standing among voters here.

“We hope that Ma’ruf will help calm the more extreme Muslims so that Jokowi can work on infrastructure,” said Pauline Liongosari, a brand manager at a big consumer products conglomerate, who is ethnic Chinese.

Ms Pauline’s husband, Kris Antoni, a 33-year-old games software developer is hoping that the next five years will bring more of the same.

His industry has thrived under Mr Joko, who lifted investor caps on the entertainment industry. It’s a far cry from how things were a decade ago when government officials harassed him and other ethnic Chinese for bribes to process applications for identification documents.

“There’s less corruption,” Mr Kris said.

“Of course I want Jokowi to win. We’ve already seen an improvement.”



Enjoyed this story? Share it.


About the Author: The Straits Times is Singapore's top-selling newspaper.

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

Opinion, 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

Opinion, 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

Opinion, 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

Opinion, 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

Opinion, Politics

Philippines government says no cheating in mid-term elections

Duterte’s government says left’s defeat was due to its own shortcomings. The loss of senatorial candidates and party-list groups backed by the Left should be a “wake-up call to re-asses their actions,” Malacañang said Wednesday. Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo issued this statement as he dismissed the claim of Bayan Secretary-General Renato Reyes that the midterm elections were not that credible due to cheating. “We expect the likes of Bayan Secretary-General Renato Reyes to cry “cheating” and question the ‘Duterte magic’ following the crushing defeat of many left-leaning party-list groups and their candidate for senator, Mr. Neri Colmenares, in this year’s elections,” Panelo said. In a statement, Reyes said the “Duterte magic” was the “use of government resources to favor administration bets, use of the AFP and PNP to target and harass opposition gr


By Philippine Daily Inquirer
May 16, 2019

Opinion, Politics

Junta loyalists pack Senate in Thailand

The senate will have a key role to play in choosing the next prime minister. The National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) took a major step towards retaining power by naming scores of people it patronises and who are loyal to it as constitutionally endorsed senators. Of the 250 names announced yesterday for the junta-picked Senate, 104 were military or police officers –retired and in service – while other figures included former members of junta-appointed bodies who had served the post-coup regime in the past five years. The move marks an about-turn for the junta, which had pledged to stay away from politics and had come to power promising to cleanse the country of corruption and nepotism. In addition to people from the Armed Forces, the senator list also included family members of junta leaders as well as close aides. The list includes General Pree


By The Nation (Thailand)
May 15, 2019