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What's next for Indonesia

Publication Date : 15-07-2014


Indonesia went to the polls last Wednesday to elect a new president, ending what was a roller-coaster of a campaign marked by character assassination, titanic debates and see-sawing opinion polls.

All the reputable polling houses point to a victory for the furniture manufacturer-turned-governor of Jakarta, Joko Widodo (“Jokowi”).

His rival, the ex-General Prabowo Subianto, has naturally refused to concede.

Nonetheless, the narrow margin (projections have shown Jokowi winning by 4 per cent to 6 per cent of the popular vote) is a cause for concern as the official results will only be announced on July 22.

The time lag has led to fears of electoral fraud, or even instability.

Should Prabowo challenge the result, the suit would be heard by Indonesia’s Constitutional Court, which would have to rule on it by Aug 22.

The Court has rarely granted such challenges.

But the former chief justice of the Constitutional Court – Mahfud MD – is a Prabowo man and it’s unclear how much residual influence he has on the bench.

The republic’s establishment has long proven wary of Jokowi’s reformist intentions. Thus there’s a real concern that Jokowi’s undoubted victory could well be denied.

Also, what role will the republic’s highly influential military play in the event of a dispute?

This is crunch time for Indonesia’s democracy. Everything is in play: are the judiciary, civil service and military really independent?

Will they uphold the will of the people rather than political expediency?

Thus far, most of the attention has been on the two candidates.

However, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (SBY) could well be the deciding factor.

Can the diffident former general keep the peace? Can he stay neutral and uphold the integrity of the vote? Can he differentiate his role as president with that of chairman of the Democratic Party, which has backed Prabowo?

One must hope for the best; that Indonesia will remain a beacon of democracy.

But these worries should not detract from Jokowi’s accomplishments.

Indonesia’s little people, the “wong cilik”, can now justly boast that one of their own has made it to the State Palace.

That Jokowi was outgunned in terms of media heft, finances and campaign organisation makes his victory sweeter.

Better yet, he was able to overcome his own limitations – including his mild-mannered persona – to convincingly make the case for the Indonesia he is seeking to create.

Should Jokowi’s victory hold, he will hit the ground running. There’s red tape to cut and stalled infrastructure projects to get moving. Fuel subsidies – costing up to US$21 billion annually – will have to be reformed.

There’s a looming China slowdown and Indonesia’s worsening current account deficit (3.3 per cent of Gross Domestic Product in 2013) plus an underperforming rupiah to deal with.

Furthermore, a troubling environmental, food and energy security scenario haunts 250 million-strong Indonesia.

Fulfilling his most cherished policies, including universal healthcare and education – a veritable “mental revolution” that will transform Indonesians – will require hard work and tact.

The next president will also have to play the regional statesman, especially with the dawning of the Asean Economic Community next year.

Indonesia will not only have to champion further regional integration but unite Southeast Asia in the face of growing Great Power rivalry between China, the United States and Japan.

However, challenges await, especially Indonesia’s widening political divide.

Just days before Wednesday’s vote, parties allied to Prabowo in the outgoing House of Representatives (DPR) used their majority to force changes to rules that would have automatically granted its speakership to Jokowi’s PDI-P – which won a plurality in April’s legislative elections.

This sets the stage for a series of bruising legislative battles.

Besides this, the country’s second-largest party, Golkar, a key partner of the pro-Prabowo alliance, is expected to shift to the eventual winner of the presidency.

This will lead to a potentially devastating political tussle between Jokowi’s running mate Jusuf Kalla and the incumbent party leader, coal-to-media tycoon Aburizal Bakrie.

Also, Jokowi will have to manage ties with his party leader, former president Megawati Soekarnoputri, who will no doubt have scores to settle and allies to reward.

Furthermore, the elections have exposed fault lines in Indonesian society.

Thanks to “black campaigns” which questioned his religiosity, Jokowi appears to have lost in Indonesia’s devoutly Muslim provinces, including the crucial West Java.

Jokowi must hence add uniting a now-polarised Indonesia to his to-do list.

It’s a formidable set, but if anyone can do it, it’s Jokowi.


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