Indonesia former big favorite in the presidential election

Indonesia: former big favorite in the presidential election

Almost 205 million Indonesians were called on Wednesday to nominate their next president. The big favorite is a former general and current defense minister with a controversial past who polls suggest could be elected in the first round.

The vast archipelago must elect its future president as well as 580 representatives and 20,000 regional and local elected officials in a single day. If none of the three presidential candidates achieve a majority, there will be a second round of voting in June.

Prabowo Subianto, 72, was defeated in 2014 and 2019 by Joko Widodo, who can no longer run, and is leading the polls, particularly thanks to the presence at his side for the position of vice president of Gibran Rakabuming Raka, 36, eldest son of the outgoing president with the nickname Jokowi.

“We will fight to bring prosperity to all Indonesians,” Prabowo pledged to tens of thousands of supporters during a final rally in Jakarta on Saturday.

“With my father and my mother, we have always supported Prabowo since 2014,” said Novita Agustina, 24, on the sidelines of this meeting, for whom criticism of her favorite’s past is just “attacks by his opponents.”

The oldest candidate could take command of the world's third-largest democracy despite a controversial military career. NGOs accuse him of ordering the kidnapping of democracy activists in the final days of dictator Suharto's regime in the late 1990s.

A poll released Friday showed 51.8% voting intentions, a trend confirmed by two other polls. Prabowo Subianto could be elected as early as Wednesday. He is well ahead of the other two candidates, former Jakarta governor Anies Baswedan, who received around 24% of the voting intentions, ahead of former Central Java governor Ganjar Pranowo, who is almost five points behind.

The 800,000 polling stations will open on Wednesday at 7:00 a.m. local time (10:00 p.m. GMT Tuesday), initially in Papua, the country's easternmost province, and close again at 1:00 p.m.

Jokowi's estate

Prabowo Subianto, who is pitching himself as Jokowi's successor, largely benefited from the election as vice president of Gibran, 36, the president's eldest son who remains very popular among the population.

In order to be able to run despite his young age, the mayor of Surakarta took advantage of a controversial decision by the Constitutional Court, whose president was none other than Jokowi's brother-in-law.

Long left behind, Anies Baswedan is now a likely finalist in the event of a second round thanks to his opponent's attitude. He therefore announced that if he won, he would refuse to move the capital to Nusantara on the island of Borneo.

For analysts, this election amounts to a referendum on the continuity of Jokowi's record.

“[C’est] The question of whether Jokowi's policies should continue or not is as simple as that,” said Yoes Kenawas, a researcher at Atma Jaya Catholic University in Jakarta.

The current Defense Minister has therefore committed to continuing the infrastructure development and construction program that has enabled Indonesia to emerge relatively unscathed from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The country is experiencing constant growth, reaching 5.05% in 2023, which is certainly a slight decrease compared to 5.3% in 2022.

To make Indonesia a “progressive and prosperous” country, Prabowo wants to continue Widodo's policy of resource nationalism and seek to turn the world's largest nickel producer into a major player in the electric car supply chain.

Diplomatically, he should remain loyal to the “non-aligned” strategy, a movement whose origins are in Indonesia, and must strike a delicate balance amid regional rivalries between China and the United States.

“He sees China as a strategic partner, but he has a Western education. I think it will trend more towards the west,” Mr Kenawas said.

Even if part of the population is sensitive to his nationalist discourse, the growing likelihood of his assuming the presidency raises concerns about a possible setback in democratic gains.

If he is elected, the world will have “another right-wing populist leader with a troubled past,” said Andreas Harsono, Indonesia researcher at Human Rights Watch.