On Feb. 14, nearly 205 million people in Southeast Asia's largest democracy will go to the polls to choose their next president.
The current president, Joko "Jokowi" Widodo, is serving his second five-year term and is constitutionally barred from seeking another. Indonesia will therefore have a new man at the helm.
And it will be a man, with Indonesia's General Election Commission confirming three candidates. They are Prabowo Subianto, Anies Baswedan and Ganjar Pranowo. One of them will be president.
The fact that Indonesia is a close neighbour of Singapore should be reason enough for us to pay more attention to the election.
But in case you needed more, here are some facts:
- Singapore is Indonesia's largest trading partner in Asean, while Indonesia is our second largest trading partner.
- Total bilateral trade reached US$33.8 billion (S$45.6 billion) in 2022.
- Singapore has been the biggest foreign investor in Indonesia since 2014, investing US$3.4 billion (S$4.6 biliion) alone in the second quarter of 2023.
On top of mere numbers, Singapore also has close ties in areas like security, civil aviation, and law enforcement, not to mention the close personal ties between our two peoples.
Depending on how the votes come in, there might even be two rounds involved if no candidate pair obtains more than 50 per cent of the vote, with 20 per cent of the vote spread out over more than half the provinces of Indonesia.
But maybe you're not too sure of the people and policies involved.
Perhaps you can't tell your Prabowos from your Pranowos, and your most personal experience of Indonesia so far has only been Bali getaways.
No worries, we're here to be your guide to the biggest election of 2024 (until we get Biden vs Trump Round 2).
Prabowo Subianto & Gibran Rakabuming Raka
Prabowo may be the candidate most familiar to Singaporeans. He currently serves as Indonesia's defence minister, and has stood as a presidential candidate twice before, in 2014 and 2019.
Prabowo, 72, is the son of a former government minister and the nephew of a freedom fighter who died in the Indonesian National Revolution, for whom he was named.
He is also a former son-in-law of former Indonesian president Suharto, marrying his daughter Titiek in 1983 and separating in 1998 during the political crisis.
Prabowo served as a Lieutenant General in the Indonesian military in the elite Kopassus unit, and was accused of kidnapping student activists and overseeing rights abuses in East Timor. Because of this, he was banned from entering the U.S. since 2000, with the ban rescinded in 2020 under the Trump Administration.
Despite his high-profile military career and links to Indonesia's political elite, Prabowo failed to win the presidency twice, in 2014 and 2019. Perhaps the third time will be the charm, as the preferred candidate of the Gerindra party once again.
His running mate this time is Gibran Rakabuming Raka, the elected mayor of Surakarta, a city in central Java.
A vice presidential candidate with presidential links
Gibran, who is just 36 years old and previously studied in Singapore, also happens to be the son of Indonesia's current president, Jokowi.
Normally, a candidate needs to be a minimum of 40 years of age to stand as a candidate for either president or vice president.
But Gibran was allowed to compete after a ruling by Indonesia's Constitutional Court that allowed candidates below 40 to run, as long as they have held elected office - which means Gibran qualifies.
Incidentally, the chief justice of the court, Anwar Usman, happens to be Jokowi's brother-in-law. Anwar was demoted from his position following the ruling.
As for Gibran, he left the party of his father, the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), and is currently an independent.
Opponents to allies
Prabowo's team-up with Jokowi's son represents a remarkable political turnaround, after he ran in two elections against Jokowi and lost both times.
The 2019 contest was marred by protests that turned violent after Prabowo initially refused to accept the results, claiming "widespread cheating."
There were at least six deaths, with hundreds injured in Jakarta as Prabowo supporters clashed with the police.
This was not the first time Prabowo disputed the results of an election he took part in, having lodged a legal challenge against the result of the 2014 election.
Despite these differences, Jokowi ultimately brought Prabowo into his cabinet, and Gibran's vice presidential candidacy may or may not signal which pair Jokowi himself is backing as his successors.
Positions and relations
So far on the economic front, Prabowo has consistently promoted economic independence, indicating that Indonesia must continue the self-sufficiency economic policies of Jokowi.
A President Prabowo would likely continue restrictions on the export of raw materials, and push for value-added exports instead.
With regard to the global U.S.-China rivalry, Prabowo has not tipped his hand one way or the other, only saying that Indonesia would not side with either.
In his capacity as defence minister, Prabowo met with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in Singapore in Jun. 2022, affirming the close ties between our countries. He also attended the Shangri-La Dialogue.
Prabowo also met Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen in Jakarta in Nov. 2022, discussing defence ties.
Ganjar Pranowo & Mahfud MD
If Ganjar Pranowo should win the presidency in 2024, history might remember his run as the most straightforward of all the three, but delving into the details reveals that this is not quite the case.
Ganjar’s goal is to succeed Jokowi, a task that would appear deceptively simple for him.
Ganjar and Jokowi’s circles overlap in two profound ways: background and political party.
Both men do not come from established political families, and both men belong to the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle, the PDI-P.
Ganjar is the fifth of six children born to a police officer in central Java, just outside the city of Solo, where Jokowi would begin his political rise as its mayor. A University of Melbourne profile of Ganjar notes other similarities; they both went to the same university in Yogyakarta for their undergraduate degrees.
Ganjar studied law, and would eventually earn a Masters in Political Science.
Ganjar spent nearly a decade in the Indonesian House of Representatives, before eventually being elected as the governor of Central Java, where he served for two terms.
Both men joined the PDI-P, and both were governors of important regions in Java. Jakarta for Jokowi, and two terms as governor of Central Java for Ganjar.
But Jokowi joined the PDI-P after already rising to prominence, where Ganjar on the other hand is a party man, having relied on party organs in his political rise.
As such, Jokowi was able to build his own network of grassroots supporters, in addition to the one provided by the PDI-P. This has made him more able to carve out his own policy strategy outside of the demands of the PDI-P.
Ganjar will struggle to do the same, on the one hand he needs to cater to the demands of his party, on the other he seeks to tie himself to Jokowi, his popularity, and thus his legacy.
But whereas in other countries, such as the United States or Britain, the candidate or holder of the country’s top job might be expected to lead his party, this is not true for the PDI-P.
Megawati Sukarnoputri is the leader of the party, and also daughter of Indonesia’s founding father Sukarno; and holds tremendous sway.
She was the one who anointed Ganjar as the party’s candidate for 2024, and Ganjar will need to keep her onside. Ganjar has also nominated a current minister for his VP, Mohammad Mahfud MD.
Mahfud, 66, is the country's current Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal, and Security Affairs.
But PDI-P’s goals do not fit perfectly with that of the Jokowi government, thus highlighting the difficult situation Ganjar faces.
Ganjar has adopted Jokowi’s style of governance, making unannounced inspection visits, and listening to complaints and concerns of local people.
An RSIS profile indicates that he had a relatively successful time as governor, overseeing an average growth rate of 5 per cent (not including the Covid blighted year of 2020), and an increasing level of foreign investment.
This was on top of a successful implementation of popular local initiatives such as establishing vocational schools and improving public services.
According to Antara News, he intends to bring a robust approach to the economy should he be elected, targeting jobs growth of 17 million in order to take advantage of Indonesia’s youthful demographics.
But to do that, he will have to navigate the demands of his party and the legacy of his mentor.
Anies Baswedan & Muhaimin Iskandar
Anies Baswedan is the perpetual dark horse of the upcoming election. He has consistently trailed in the third place, while Prabowo and Ganjar consistently scrap for the top spot.
But his political achievements mean that it would not be wise to write him off.
Even if he doesn’t win the presidency, his performance will probably determine who does and might even make him a kingmaker in the second round.
If Prabowo is a military man, and Ganjar a machine politician, then Anies emanates from the academic side of Indonesian politics.
His parents were university lecturers, but his grandfather was a prominent Indonesian activist, even serving as a deputy minister during the Indonesian National Revolution in the late 1940s, before going on to serve as a diplomat.
Anies became rector of Paramadina University after completing a PhD in the United States.
He then became a nationally recognised figure by starting Gerakan Indonesia Mengajar (GIM), a program of bringing educational resources to the far reaches of Indonesia.
He would then enter the orbit of the incoming president Jokowi, helping him campaign, and was eventually rewarded with the position of education minister.
He would serve in that position with mixed results until 2016, before being replaced in a reshuffle.
After this point he would be elected to the position of governor of Jakarta, winning under controversial circumstances.
Anies is known as a talented speaker, according to a 2020 ISEAS report, with his early political activity being noted for espousing “positive values”, such as multicultural principles, progressive anti-poverty goals, and a an appeal to Indonesia’s young, educated people.
But when Anies ran for governor of Jakarta, he appeared to make a decision between his persona as a unifying figure, and the one that was willing to trade that for political gains.
Basuki Purnama, also known as Ahok, was Jokowi’s lieutenant as governor, and his successor to the role. Popular as governor of the city, he was expected to handily win a second term before becoming embroiled in a blasphemy scandal.
Ahok and his allies said the charges against him were politically motivated, aimed at dividing Ahok’s supporters along racial and religious lines, as Ahok was both Chinese and a Christian.
Ahok faced off against what was called the 212 Movement, a series of protests by Indonesian Islamists.
Anies sought, and received, the endorsement of Rizieq Syihab, the movement’s religious leader, eventually winning the election but also leading to accusations that he used divisive tactics to do so.
The election raised him to international prominence, not as the progressive, unifying figure he was known as before, but now being seen in some quarters as a nativist and fundamentalist trading in identity politics.
The Jakarta Governor
As governor of Jakarta he has received mixed reviews, with an ISEAS report noting that he has been criticised as a “man of words”, instead of a “man of works”.
While he opened his term by going after a hotel chain accused of tolerating prostitution, he was also criticised for not continuing Ahok’s program of flood alleviation measures, thus failing to deal with a perennial problem for residents.
This extended to his response to the pandemic, on the one hand, fast and responsive by closing tourist attractions and implementing social distancing; but without accounting for the stress it would put on public transport.
Anies’ goals as president are cited by Antara News as poverty alleviation, unemployment, and inequality, touching back on his roots as in progressive politics.
But it remains to be seen what impact his 2017 governor election strategy would have on his presidential election, with some commentators saying that it appears to have cost him significant support in West Java.
This is coupled with polling that suggest that his pro-Islamist stance has not helped him in the other parts of the country where he might have expected it to, such as Aceh and West Sumatra.
He faces an uphill battle to win the election now, but his supporters, and maybe his endorsement, will not prevent him from being influential in it, and maybe into the future.
Top image from Wikimedia Commons, candidate Facebook pages.