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The biggest threat to Indonesian democracy? It's not Prabowo, it's the oligarchy

The biggest threat to Indonesian democracy?  It's not Prabowo, it's the oligarchy


The day before the Indonesian general elections on February 14, former Indonesian journalist and political observer Ben Bland argued Front-runner former army general Prabowo Subianto would not turn Indonesia into an autocracy if elected to succeed President Joko Jokowi Widodo.

Read more: Prabowos likely victory: Jokowis effect and test for Indonesian democracy

Indeed, according to Bland, Indonesia has established democratic norms that will ultimately limit Prabowo's authoritarian tendencies.

As a civil society researcher and political journalist, I find his argument problematic. Bland gives the wrong answer to a wrong question about Indonesian politics today.

This is not the start of a battle between Indonesian democracy and Prabowo. This is the final nail in the coffin of all that remains of Indonesia. reform eraa period of democratic consolidation after the fall of Soharto in 1998.

He is under strong pressure from the oligarchic powers around Jokowi.

Civil power loses to the oligarchs

Prabowos' electoral victory is, in fact, only the latest example in a series of painful situations. defeats suffered by supporters of democracy.

Oligarchy East defined like a

system of power relations that allows the concentration of wealth and authority and its collective defense.

In Indonesia, the modern oligarchy was formed during the expansion of market capitalism under the authoritarian regime of Suharto (1966-1998), which paved the way for powerful bureaucrats and big business to combine to amass wealth and power.

Prabowo Subianto, Indonesian Minister of Defense, presidential candidate in the 2024 elections.
Hafidz Mubarak A/Antara Photo

Pro-democracy activists and academics have repeatedly expressed the alarm bell on the oligarchic subversion of Indonesian democracy.

But things deteriorated under Jokowi, the so-called democratic candidate and reformer who defeated Prabowo in the parliamentary elections. 2014 And 2019 national elections.

Jokowi has presided over various attempts by the oligarchy to undermine, and even dismantle, Indonesia's democratic institutions.

Read more: A requiem for Reformasi as Joko Widodo unveils Indonesia's democratic legacy

In 2019, Indonesia's parliament passed a law that rendered its anti-corruption body useless. Considering the body as a threat to their interests, the oligarchs sponsored the enactment of the controversial law.

In 2020, he approved an omnibus law on job creation that canceled the legal achievements made by the supporters of the reform movement after the fall of Suharto.

Mining oligarchs, some of whom members of the Jokowis cabinet supported the law because it meets their interests.

These setbacks have prompted local and international scholars to argue that Indonesia is suffering from a a democratic regression and face an illiberal turn.

What's more worrying is not Prabowos authoritarian tendency or aversion to democracy but the predatory interests of oligarchs who have strained Indonesia's democratic institutions to strengthen their political and economic powers.

Democratic decline under Jokowi

Jokowi's political shenanigans ahead of February's elections showed how fragile Indonesia's democratic institutions are under oligarchic pressures.

The president was accused of interfering in the elections to ensure Prabowo, who ran with Jokowi's eldest son Gibran Rakabuming Raka, can win the race in a single lap.

For example, the Constitutional Court made a controversial decision last year to allow Gibran to be Prabowos' running mate despite the fact that he had not reached the required age to run for president or vice president. The court was headed by Jokowi's brother-in-law, Anwar Usman. He was later found guilty of ethics violation for not recusing himself from the case despite an obvious conflict of interest.

The widely criticized court decision sparked public protests over the apparent conflict of interest.

Jokowis' government has also been accused of distribution of food aid and cash distribution to the public, as well as mobilize police, army and government officials will tip the scales for the Prabowo-Gibran ticket by pressuring village leaders to support the two men.

Read more: 7 crucial questions casting a shadow over Prabowo-Gibran's likely election victory in Indonesia

This does not necessarily mean that Prabowo would do much worse than Jokowi when it comes to overthrowing democracy. Prabowo will also be constrained by the same architecture of power relations that shaped the political choices of his predecessor. The extent to which he can govern as an autocrat depends on the struggle for power between elites.

Jokowi is widely considered by many to be a cunning politician. But he nevertheless cannot escape the system of oligarchic power which constrains his choices. He failed to obtain a third term, not because his idea was unconstitutional, but because the constitutional amendment proposal was blocked by Megawati Sukarnoputrithe leader of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDIP), the country's largest political party.

It was therefore in fact an intra-elite struggle and not institutional democratic guarantees that scrapped the proposal.

The hands of the oligarchs

Jokowi's acrobatic political maneuvers to help Prabowo win the election were also only made possible by the fact that the oligarchs, mainly those in the mining industryconsidered it as a political force capable of best responding to their interests.

Garibaldi Thohir, a coal businessman and the brother of Minister of Public Enterprises Erick Thohir (member of the Prabowo campaign team), boasted a group of businessmen would help the Prabowo-Gibran list win the elections in a single round. One of them thanks to the support of the campaign fund.

Indonesian President Joko
Adwit Pramono/Antara Photo

These businessmen, according to Garibaldi, are among Indonesia's richest families, including the owners of the country's largest cigarette companies, such as the Djarum group(owned by the Hartono family). Businesses denied Garibaldi's controversial claims that they supported Prabowos' campaign.

This is not to say that no element of the oligarchy supported the other two electoral lists.

One of Prabowo's rivals in the presidential race, Anies Baswedan, who is also a former governor of Jakarta, was mainly supported by media mogul Surya Palohthe leader of the NasDem party, who also owns companies in the mining and real estate sectors.

Several big names in the mining industry, such as Sandiaga Uno, co-founder of Saratoga Investama Sedaya And Arsjad Rasjid, President of the Indonesian Chamber of Commerce and Industrymeanwhile, were support another presidential candidate, Ganjar Pranowo.

But the Jokowi-Prabowo alliance had the greatest support from members of the oligarchy. The Prabowo campaign's initial campaign fund of 31.4 billion rupiah (US$2 million) was 31 times higher than its main competitor Anies. It is suspected that the oligarchs one of the main sources of political financing in Indonesia.

It is only natural that foreign observers are concerned about the fate of Indonesia under Prabowo. However, the real question is what the oligarchs do now that Prabowo is in charge.

Currently, Indonesian democracy is already in tatters.




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