Much is riding on Indonesia’s election

opinion March 28, 2019 01:00

By The Nation

Presidential candidates are focused on domestic issues ahead of next month’s vote, but democracy itself hangs in the balance



Given Indonesia’s importance not just in Southeast Asia but also in the global community, all eyes will be on its presidential election, scheduled for April 17. Indonesia is one of the world’s largest democracies, so the manner in which the election 

proceeds and its outcome will be of genuine interest as voter sentiment everywhere turns increasingly conservative and restrictive. A different 

outcome in Indonesia could offer some hope to people of more progressive beliefs.

A clean, free and fair election in Indonesia, one of the world’s most populous countries, would set a good example for our region. At stake for the rest of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations is much more than Indonesia’s vast consumer market.

In this respect, it would be ideal if the leading candidates – incumbent President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo and Prabowo Subianto – make known their visions for the region and its ongoing integration. Indonesia should feel obliged to lead the region and demonstrate how democratic and open 

societies are formed and sustained. 

 Indonesian voters might be 

forgiven for thinking that next month’s election is a purely domestic affair. They should be reminded, though, that their homeland is a major player in this region, one of immense size and 

endless potential.

With Indonesia as a worthy role model, Asean can take more meaningful steps towards closer integration, a process that requires the investment and participation not just of state agencies but ordinary citizens as well.

At the moment it appears that the popularity gap between Jokowi and Prabowo is closing. Parliamentary elections currently taking place have seen Joko’s Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle securing most votes, followed by Prabowo’s Gerindra and Golkar.

As is happening elsewhere, Indonesia is facing an onslaught of fake news and misinformation online, steadily increasing as April 17 draws nearer. As is common elsewhere in national elections, the campaigning in Indonesia is largely centred on domestic issues – economics, jobs, the quality of life and the like. Uncommonly, though, religion plays a major role. Memories remain fresh of the 2017 downfall of Jakarta’s Christian-Chinese governor, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, better known as Ahok. He was felled by dubious charges of blasphemy whipped up on social media, a powerful warning of the dark and atavistic forces lurking in Indonesia society.

In terms of geopolitics, much of the world will be watching closely, perhaps none as keenly as China. Beijing’s ties to the region suffered a setback following Mohamad Mahathir’s shock victory in Malaysia’s election last year. He promptly rolled up the welcome mat his predecessor had set out for Chinese businesses. The welcome mat remains in plain view in the Philippines, however, where President Rodrigo Duterte, stung by America’s dislike for him, has been cuddling up to the Chinese. That alone gives Beijing a free hand to continue occupying 

territory in the South China Sea that’s also claimed by Vietnam, Brunei and, until now, the Philippines.

Indonesia, a G20 member, may be wary of China’s geopolitical ambitions but, like many countries in the region, it is also eager for Chinese investment. Whatever China policy it adopts, the next government in Jakarta must bear in mind the best interests of its Asean colleagues. 

We hope too that the Indonesian election will provide the Thai political establishment, and the military in particular, a lesson – that power can be perpetuated in a democratic, free and fair manner.