Indonesia’s presidential candidates embark on campaign trail with vow of peace

At stake is the future of Southeast Asia’s largest economy, and that of a generation of young voters who stand to lose a lot if the election once again deeply divides the people.

Dio Suhenda and Nur Janti

Dio Suhenda and Nur Janti

The Jakarta Post


Personnel of the National Police's Mobile Brigade (Brimob) patrol in front of the General Elections Commission (KPU) headquarters in Central Jakarta in early November 2023. PHOTO: ANTARA/THE JAKARTA POST

November 29, 2023

JAKARTA – Campaigning for the 2024 general election officially kicked off on Tuesday, a day after candidates pledged to maintain peace on the campaign trail while poll officials and law enforcers geared up for what is set to be the nation’s most ambitious election year yet.

Indonesia will hold its largest simultaneous elections on Feb. 14, 2024, when voters head to the ballot to elect the next president, vice president, lawmakers and councilors.

At stake is the future of Southeast Asia’s largest economy, and that of a generation of young voters who stand to lose a lot if the election once again deeply divides the people.

On Monday, representatives from 18 political parties contesting next year’s race, as well as the three presidential tickets and their political sponsors, gathered at the General Elections Commission (KPU) office in Central Jakarta to declare their commitment to a “peaceful campaign”.

The declaration marks the start of the official campaign window that runs from Tuesday through to Feb. 10, 2024.

The event was witnessed by thousands of spectators and opened with a parade of election organizers from across the archipelago.

Read also: Presidential candidates on the move ahead of official campaign season

In his remarks, KPU chairman Hasyim Asy’ari stressed that the campaign period should be used by participants to promote the positive aspects of their election bids, rather than to use the occasion to deride their opponents.

“A healthy election and campaign season should not focus on the negatives of their rivals,” he said.

The campaign season, though severely truncated to just 75 days, is expected to be as heated as the 2019 election, which drove a deep wedge between friends and families over political preferences. This has led to fresh security concerns among democracy activists.

It will be a closely contested race among the Anies Baswedan-Muhaimin Iskandar candidate pair, Prabowo Subianto-Gibran Rakabuming Raka and Ganjar Pranowo-Mahfud MD, based on recent opinion polling.

With barely any difference between their popularity ratings, the race looks likely to end in a run-off election, which will add another 20 days of campaigning before voters must head to the polls a second time on June 26.

But some candidates have vowed to exact a quick victory, whatever the cost.

Vulnerability concerns

Earlier on Monday, the Elections Supervisory Agency (Bawaslu) held a national coordination meeting for members of the integrated election law enforcement center, during which Bawaslu chairman Rahmat Bagja said that all candidates were “welcome to campaign as widely as they can”, so long as they follow the rules.

“Candidates must maintain their commitment to staging campaigns in accordance with prevailing laws and regulations, and refrain from vote buying or engaging in the politics of SARA,” Rahmat said, referring to the politicization of tribal affiliations, religion, race and other social groups, which has been the bane of previous elections.

In its Election Vulnerability Index, which measures the likelihood that a region’s election faces disruption, Bawaslu has singled out Jakarta as the nation’s most vulnerable province.

This is in part due to the greater perceived risk of vote buying or campaigns that are marred by hate speech or identity politics.

Read also: KPU Jakarta to take extra measures to prevent death of polling station workers

The National Police have said they are prepared to deploy more than 260,000 personnel nationwide to safeguard the February polls.

Police spokesman Brig. Gen. Ahmad Ramadhan said the force’s Security Intelligence Agency (Baintelkam) had come up with its own Vulnerability Index, although he declined to reveal which regions were considered vulnerable.

“Vulnerability [is measured] in various aspects and across various fields, and we have mapped them out in full anticipation,” Ahmad told The Jakarta Post on Monday.

For other security concerns, he added, the police had deployed separate task forces that prioritize “preemptive and preventive measures”.

Combating misinformation

Tensions have bubbled up recently amid concerns that the government is in a position to control and deploy the state apparatus to the benefit of certain election candidates.

President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, who is constitutionally barred from reelection, faces accusations that he has a personal stake in the 2024 race due to the candidacy of his eldest son Gibran.

Jokowi has also admitted to political meddling in the past.

But even if the state manages to remain neutral, the polls are still overshadowed by the potentially widespread dissemination of election misinformation, said Khoirunnisa Nur Agustyati of the Association for Elections and Democracy (Perludem), an election watchdog.

“If disinformation is not handled properly, it could result in more conflict that divides the public,” Khoirunisa said.

Read also: Jokowi allows ministers, regional heads to take regular leave for election campaigns

“Looking back on the 2019 elections, there was a massive demonstration in front of the Bawaslu building, and one of the mitigating factors was misinformation.”

In May 2019, a month after people voted in favor of Jokowi for a second time, a protest by supporters of Prabowo descended into a violent skirmish.

Prabowo suggested at the time that the election had been rigged against him, but the arbiters of election disputes rejected his claim.

Online misinformation, it was later revealed, played a part in boosting negative sentiment during the election. (tjs)

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