Indonesia is a massive country with a population of 280 million people. But its politics and economy are dominated by a narrow elite. Its upcoming general elections, slated for February 14, Ward Berenschot writes, “are turning into contests between interconnected elites who have similar visions for the country’s future.”
That’s brazenly clear when examining the alignments in Indonesia’s presidential elections, slated for this February. Legislative elections will also take place.
Jokowi’s New Dynasty
The popular President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo is barred by term limits from running again. But his son and apparent successor, Gibran Rakabuming Raka, is the vice presidential running mate of Prabowo Subianto, currently the defense minister.
Until October, the 36-year-old Gibran was ineligible to run for president — an office that is constitutionally limited to those 40 and above.
But, controversially, the constitutional court — led by Jokowi’s brother-in-law — decided to allow Gibran to run in the February elections. The move, Edward Aspinall argues, “was a blatant exercise in political favoritism” and sets up “a dynastic succession of sorts.”
Widodo, once an outsider, realized he could only govern by working with established dynastic political elites, as scholar Sana Jaffrey explains. Now he looks to establish his own dynasty through Gibran and another son, Kaesang Pangarep.
On paper, Jokowi is a member of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P). But he doesn’t appear to be backing its presidential candidate, Ganjar Pranowo. He’s become increasingly at odds with the PDI-P’s leader, former president Megawati Soekarnoputri — the daughter of Indonesia’s first president Sukarno.
The 76-year-old Megawati has been grooming her daughter, Puan Maharani, to succeed her. That hasn’t worked out as planned. For now, Ganjar is her proxy.
Bet on Continuity
As things stand, Prabowo, the ex-son-in-law of former President Suharto, a longtime dictator, is the favorite to win in February. An authoritarian rightist turned centrist, he’ll likely continue with Jokowi’s independent foreign policy, abjuring hard alignments with China or the United States.
Jokowi’s headline economic policies, including the domestic processing of nickel and courting of Chinese financing and investment, are likely to stay under either Prabowo or Ganjar. Indonesia is the world’s largest producer of nickel — a critical metal for electric vehicle batteries. And it’s a key country for China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). A Chinese-built high-speed railway from the capital Jakarta to Bandung — a signature BRI project — opened in October.
Not all presidential candidates say that will pursue the status quo with Beijing. A senior official with the campaign of Anies Baswedan, currently polling third in the presidential race, has criticized Jokowi’s nickel downstreaming policy, arguing that it disproportionately benefits China.
But for now, the Basewdan camp’s statements may not matter much. Prabowo’s lead in the polls has widened in recent weeks, with more than a 20-point advantage over his two opponents.
However the race turns out, it is almost certain to be a win for Indonesia’s oligarchs. But as corruption and inequality continue to haunt Indonesia, it remains to be seen how long the status quo will endure.
Arif Rafiq is the editor of Globely News. Rafiq has contributed commentary and analysis on global issues for publications such as Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy, the New Republic, the New York Times, and POLITICO Magazine.
He has appeared on numerous broadcast outlets, including Al Jazeera English, the BBC World Service, CNN International, and National Public Radio.