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What a Prabowo presidency means for Indonesia

What a Prabowo presidency means for Indonesia


The final results of Indonesia's elections are not yet known, but it is clear that the next president of this country of 270 million people will be Prabowo Subianto.

Prabowo, as he is known, is a man with a checkered past. A key military officer in the Suharto dictatorial regime, he has been involved in massacres of civilians since the 1980s. The ex-general has long aspired to the presidency, but this role has eluded him until now.

Prabowo's success is due to a number of factors, including his rebranding on TikTok as a cuddly grandpa. But most decisive was “the Jokowi factor,” says Jacqui Baker of Australia's Murdoch University in the latest episode of our flagship podcast The Pivot.

Listen to this episode of The Pivot on Amazon Music, Apple Podcasts, Audacity, Google Podcasts, iHeart Radio,Pocket castings,RadioPublic,Spotify, Tune the radio, Or Youtube Music.

Jokowi and Game of Thrones in Indonesia

Jokowi, the nickname by which outgoing Indonesian President Joko Widodo is known, cannot run again due to term limits. With his approval rating near 80 percent, Jokowi could easily win another term. Instead, he has had to play the role of kingmaker, a status that was unlikely when he came to power in 2014.

When he became president in 2014, he was seen as an outsider lacking the tools to thrive on his own domestically in Indonesia's oligarchic and dynastic political system.

Megawati Sukarnoputri, daughter of Indonesia's first president and leader of Jokowi's Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), Baker said, considered him “nothing more than a simple party member.” The plan was for Jokowi to govern in name, while Megawati would take charge behind the scenes, like India's Sonia Gandhi.

But Jokowi eventually gathered popular support, which remained very high throughout his term. And he has mastered the art of intra-elite political wrangling. A “classic” Jokowi tactic, according to Baker, is to appease his rivals by making them “participate in his agenda by sharing the spoils of power.”

Joko Widodo and MegawatiJoko Widodo and Megawati
Indonesian President Joko Widodo (center) hosts a dinner with his coalition party leaders, including Megawati Sukarnoputri and Muhaimin Iskandar. (Image credit: Office of President Joko Widodo)

That's exactly what he did with Prabowo, an aristocrat and former son-in-law of Suharto who lost two elections to Jokowi, bringing him into his cabinet in 2019 to serve as defense minister. Jokowi excelled so much in this strategy that his era was marked by the effective absence of political opposition.

In his final months in office, Jokowi aspires to join the ranks of Indonesia's political dynasts. He hedged his bets: a son, Gibran Rakabuming Raka, was Prabowo's running mate in this month's election and will serve as vice president; another son, Kaesang Pangarep, leads a small youth-focused political party.

Murdoch University's Baker is optimistic about neither. And although Jokowi's magic touch pushed Prabowo above the 50 percent mark in the first round of elections, thereby avoiding a runoff, it is unclear whether Jokowi's influence will endure after the presidency. Prabowo is a cunning political operator and has his family's wealth to finance his machine.

Jokowi has not accumulated wealth comparable to that of other Indonesian dynastic leaders, Baker notes. After the presidency, it is a disadvantage in the power game in Indonesia, one of the most unequal societies in Southeast Asia. Politics in Indonesia is about the connection between money and political power, oligarchs, dynasties and oligarchic dynasties. Of this system, Baker says, “it really feels like some sort of cartel is effectively running the country.”

How resilient is Indonesian democracy?

Prabowo will assume the presidency later this year. He clearly has no love for democracy. Writing for The Intercept, journalist Allan Nairn remember Prabowo told him in a 2001 interview that “Indonesia is not ready for democracy” and instead needs a benevolent authoritarian regime.

So, is Prabowo a changed man? It's hard to say. Baker says the nuances of old Prabowo the Prabowo before the hug (Gemoy) TikTok's rebranding occasionally came up during the election campaign. When provoked, the 72-year-old politician would indulge in “angry rumors” about Indonesia losing sovereignty and the country's land being taken over by foreigners. She suspects there could be “an internal Prabowo who might strive to get out of it” once in power, “a deeply authoritarian Prabowo.”

Prabowo SubiantoPrabowo Subianto
Prabowo Subianto plays polo at Nusantara Polo Club. (Image credit: Prabowo Subianto Office)

Prabowo, Baker said, “does not believe that democracy is appropriate in a country like Indonesia.” But even if Prabowo is a wolf that of Gémoy clothing, Baker believes the Indonesian system is resilient enough to withstand a direct attack. Indeed, public opinion surveys conducted by the Lowy Institute over the past two decades show that a consistent majority of around 60 percent of Indonesians view democracy as the best system for their country.

Prabowo is more likely to collude with other elites to roll back the democratic reforms of the late 1990s. reform movement, such as regional autonomy and potentially even direct election of the president, restoring major elements of the old regime, Suharto's New Order.

Indonesia and the middle income trap

Economically, Prabowo will likely continue Jokowi's developmental agenda, focused on infrastructure, and the domestic nickel processing policy, known as swallowing. Indonesia aspires to go beyond just being a supplier of raw materials for electric vehicle batteries and emerge as a manufacturer of electric vehicles and electric vehicle batteries.

With a nickel boom and large-scale infrastructure spending like the Jakarta-Bandung high-speed railway, built and financed by China under its Belt and Road initiative, annual economic growth of Indonesia has hovered around 5%, with the exception of the early years of the COVID pandemic. .

But there are problems beneath the surface. And it's a story that plays out well beyond Indonesia, but the level of inequality in Indonesia is quite stark. Baker says: “Indonesia’s economic growth is very unevenly distributed. » Indeed, the 1% of the country controls almost half of the economy. And, Baker adds, “a very large group of Indonesians” – about 40 percent – live[s] with a constant feeling of precariousness.

All is not gloomy in Indonesia. According to Baker, the country is a “success story” in reducing poverty and virtually eradicating extreme poverty. But the country could be facing a middle-income trap, as what Baker calls the “precarious middle class” struggles for job stability due to poor quality education and unfulfilled aspirations.

Baker warns that “there is nothing in politics more dangerous than a disappointed aspiration, than a promise of something better that never, ever appears.” With the rise of disruptive forces like artificial intelligence, this is a danger that should be on the minds of elites in Indonesia and the developing world.

Episode description

Jacqui Baker (@indobaker) from Murdoch University joins host Arif Rafik to discuss Prabowo Subiantos' victory in Indonesia's presidential elections, the legacy and political future of popular incumbent President Joko Widodo, and the sustainability of the economic and political status quo in this rising South Asian power -East.

Guest bios

Jacqui Baker is a lecturer at the Indo-Pacific Research Center at Murdoch University and co-host of the event Talking Indonesia Podcast. She is also an editor at the Journal for Southeast Asian Studies.

Dr Baker is a researcher, international development practitioner and academic who has studied Indonesia for over 20 years, focusing on issues of democratization, security and policing, human rights man, corruption and law reform.

She has also worked and consulted for numerous international, Australian and Indonesian institutions, including the Asia Foundation, Amnesty International, UNODC, the Australia-Indonesia Justice Partnership and the U4 Anti-Corruption Resource Centre.

Arif Rafiq is the editor-in-chief of Globely News. Rafiq has contributed commentary and analysis on global issues to publications including Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy, The New Republic, the New York Times, and POLITICO Magazine.

He has appeared on numerous broadcast channels including Al Jazeera English, BBC World Service, CNN International and National Public Radio.




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