Presidential Election in Indonesia: Favorite Dancing General

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President of Indonesia and his potential successor: Joko Widodo (front left) and Prabowo Subianto (front right) in Jakarta in 2019. © Ran Raphael/AFP

Indonesia will elect a new president next year and the election campaign has now begun. This could be the last stand of the old elite.

How things can change. In the late 1990s, when Suharto’s dictatorial regime was at its weakest point, Prabowo Subianto, Suharto’s son-in-law and later a high-ranking general, hunted down democracy activists. Human rights activists accused him and his forces of torture, kidnapping and murder, and America denied him entry for years. Currently, Prabowo is a star on TikTok; the short video was viewed hundreds of thousands of times. You can usually see the 72-year-old dancing, standing somewhat awkwardly in front of his followers and shaking his hips to the beat of the music. He calls it a “happy dance,” and with Indonesia’s population still very young and memories of the bloody transition from dictatorship to democracy slowly fading, the former military man could succeed in assuming the presidency next year despite his dark past.

Indonesia is a superlative country: with more than 17,000 islands, it is the largest archipelagic country in the world, with a population of almost 280 million people, the country with the fourth largest population and the largest number of Muslims. Some 205 million people will elect a new president and parliament in mid-February next year. This will be the world’s largest democratic election held in one day. In India, the world’s largest democracy, elections usually last several weeks.

Election campaign in Indonesia: President Joko Widodo continues to be involved

The election campaign begins this week. Prabowo Subianto, a former dance general, is the favorite in the election; his team distributed free meals to schools in nine cities on Tuesday. Prabowo leads in all opinion polls with around 40 percent. He is also likely to win a runoff election scheduled for late June. He wanted to become vice president in early 2009, and then twice became president. Both times he was defeated by Joko Widodo, the current popular incumbent. Widodo is the first president since Indonesia’s democratic revolution in 1998 to rule completely without the old elite; But he soon realized that this was a futile effort. So he roped in the elites; He finally appointed his arch rival, Prabowo, as defense minister.

Therefore, observers assume that if Prabowo becomes president next year, he will continue Widodo’s policies. Widodo is even likely to support it because he does not want to withdraw from politics completely – after his attempt to change the constitution to allow him to run for a third term failed. It is his “moral obligation” to accompany the transition in the coming year to prevent damage to the nation, Widodo said.

Whatever happens, power will likely remain in the hands of the family, at least a little: Prabowo recently nominated Widodo’s son, Gibran Rakabuming Raka, as his vice presidential candidate. The country’s highest court had previously amended the constitution specifically for this purpose because the 36-year-old Raka was actually too young to take office. Most interesting was Widodo’s father-in-law who presided over the court when the decision was made.

Indonesia is on the “verge of next generational change”

Prabowo’s main challenger is Ganjar Pranowo (55), a former governor of Central Java province and actually a candidate for Widodo’s ruling party. Ganjar angrily rejected his bid for a third term as undemocratic. But he also wants to continue Widodo’s policies. He started his campaign in South Papua, Indonesia’s poorest province, where on Tuesday he listened to residents’ complaints about poor health services and damaged roads. Anies Baswedan, 54, the third candidate who polls say has no chance, is campaigning in a slum area of ​​the capital Jakarta, where he was once governor. In the past, Anies often courted hardline religious groups, but now he promises “change” – change for moderate Muslims. The poor must become richer without the rich becoming poorer, he said.

The focus of election campaigns in Indonesia is on issues such as high unemployment, widespread poverty and infrastructure expansion. There is also the question of whether the country should be more oriented towards China or the United States in the future. The People’s Republic is Indonesia’s largest trading partner; However, clashes have repeatedly occurred between the naval vessels of the two countries in the South China Sea.

For Sana Jaffrey of the US think tank Carnegie Endowment for International Peace But this is also about the influence of the old elite on Indonesia in the future. This election brings the country to the “threshold of coming generational change” and may be the “final battle of the Titans,” the old men who have determined the fate of the country for decades. However, the Indonesian expert doubts that much change will happen in the country: “The tactics used to dominate politics in the world’s third-largest democracy over the past two decades may be at odds with the original tactics.”

Ambrose Fernandez

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