With Indonesia's presidential election to be held next Wednesday (9 July), we thought we'd depart from our normal weekend catch-up to highlight some of the first rate Indonesia election coverage we've featured on The Interpreter.
Back in September 2013 Stephen Grenville commented on the possibility of Joko Widodo running for president:
You can't read a paper or watch TV in Indonesia without coming to the conclusion that Joko Widodo ('Jokowi'), the mayor of Jakarta, is a shoe-in for the 2014 Indonesian presidential election.
Not only is he the front runner in most polls, he is ubiquitous, getting footpaths fixed, sorting out street vendor logistics, shoring up Jakarta's flood defences and restarting construction of the city's monorail.
How does someone who a year ago was just a small-town mayor become the likely leader of Southeast Asia's largest country? The US experience provides a clue. Presidential systems can elevate a peanut farmer to the POTUS role. And the other current candidates seem fatally flawed for one reason or another.
In January Catriona Croft-Cusworth joined The Interpreter as a regular contributor from Jakarta. Since then she has contributed an enormous amount of excellent material. A few of her best posts below.
On why Islamic parties generally don't do well in Indonesian elections:
Lost claims to moral superiority and a lack of ideological difference to secular parties has made it difficult for Islam-oriented parties to compete in Indonesian politics. Another lost selling point has come with the improved provision of social welfare by secular parties, undercutting the services provided in health and education by NU and Muhammadiyah. Though still far from perfect, government welfare services are improving and in some cases now cater better to poorer voters than those provided by the two big Muslim organisations.
With all three factors thrown into question, Islam-based parties have lost their major platforms for public support. Meanwhile, secular parties are free to court all religious groups and make promises on social welfare from a non-Islamic, but still religious, ideological background.
And why Islamic parties did a little better than expected in the 2014 parliamentary election:
Islamic parties actually saw a rise in support compared to previous legislative elections, taking a collective 32% of the vote compared to 29% in 2009. All Islamic parties took a bigger share of the vote than in the previous election, with the exception of the scandal-ridden Prosperous Justice Party (PKS), which was punished with only a 1% decline in voter support.
Rumours are now flying about plans for the Islamic parties to form a coalition and put forward a presidential candidate, though commentators have dismissed this as unlikely, if not impossible.
Journalists and analysts in Jakarta have been scratching their heads over the result, which put the Islamic National Awakening Party (PKB) in the top five, just below President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's Democratic Party. Some have pointed to corruption among secular nationalist parties as a reason voters looked to Islamic parties, deemed to be more morally sound. But this does not explain why parties such as the PKS were not punished more harshly.
Following legislative elections in April, Catriona reported on the first chinks appearing in Jokowi's armour:
Then came the legislative elections last month and the poorer than expected result for Jokowi's party, the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P). By quick-count results (official results are due to be announced in the coming days), the PDI-P secured about 19% of the vote, less than the 25% needed to independently nominate Jokowi for president. Suddenly, doubts began to arise about whether Jokowi could simply sail into the presidency, as many had come to believe.
In a thorough rundown of events on Inside Indonesia this week, Mietzner defends PDI-P's legislative result, arguing that it only looks disappointing because of unrealistic expectations raised by experimental* polls and local media. However, he concludes by saying that 'losing is no longer an impossibility' for Jokowi in the presidential race.
Lots of people talk about Indonesia's obsession with social media, and as Catriona wrote, it naturally permeates the election campaign:
On social media, campaigning is in full swing. This means YouTube clips, Facebook pages, Twitter hashtags and a whole lot of election-related apps.
Jokowi is a newcomer to national politics but no stranger to social media campaigning, which he used to great effect in his campaign for Jakarta governor. There are plenty of apps available under his name, most of which appear to be made on a budget by his supporters. One is called 'Flap Jokowi Man' — presumably a mash-up of 'Flappy Bird', Jokowi and Superman — by Shayort Games, which has the presidential frontrunner dressed in a green and purple superhero outfit. As in 'Flappy Bird', the aim of the game is to keep the character flying through a series of obstacles at the top and bottom of the screen, which in Jokowi Man's case come in the form of fistfuls of cash. And as in 'Flappy Bird', it's really difficult to avoid falling flat.
And here's Catriona's take on what the two presidential candidates might mean for relations with Australia:
On Sunday night, Indonesia's rival presidential candidates, Prabowo Subianto and Joko 'Jokowi' Widodo, held their third televised debate ahead of the 9 July election, this time with the theme 'International Politics and National Defence'. In a wide-ranging discussion of regional concerns and Indonesia's national interests, Australia received special mention.
Jokowi, a small-town politician who has only recently risen to national-level politics, gave a surprisingly confident performance against the former military commander Prabowo, who was expected to dominate the international-themed debate. During a question and answer session, Jokowi asked his opponent for his opinion on why Australia-Indonesia relations had tended to run hot and cold.
Prabowo's response gave the Australian media its sound bite for the evening: 'Honestly, I think that the problem is not in Indonesia. Perhaps Australia holds some kind of suspicion towards Indonesia. A kind of phobia,' Prabowo said.
Jokowi had his own comments prepared for the topic. He didn't go so far as to suggest that Australians had an irrational fear of Indonesia, but did identify the two main issues that he believed were affecting relations between the two countries: distrust and a lack of respect for Indonesia's integrity. 'There is a problem of trust, which is what led to the spying problem,' he said. 'We are regarded as a weak nation. It's a matter of national respect, a matter of integrity,' he added.
Back in February we featured an insightful four-part series on Indonesia's growing middle class. Authored by Joanne Sharpe, part 3 looked at voting habits of the the 'noisy' middle class:
Jakarta Govenor Joko Widodo (Jokowi) has risen to such prominence that it's hard to remember a time when he was the underdog for the 2012 gubernatorial race. A charismatic small town mayor with a track-record of reform, he and running mate Basuku Tjahaja Purnama (known as Ahok) were behind in the polls two months before the first of two electoral rounds.
As political consultant Yunarto Wijaya explains, 'all the surveys predicted that (the incumbent) Fauzi Bowo would be the next Governor. In my survey, two months before the election, I only had about 23% voting for Jokowi/Ahok'. Some polls predicted that the incumbent could win the first of two electoral rounds by as much as 49%.
But, Yunarto says, much of the middle class remained undecided. A survey by respected pollster Indonesia Survey Institute (LSI) confirmed that an unusually high 30% of respondents made their decision within the last week of the first round election. And on the day, says Yunarto, it was the middle class that turned out in force for Jokowi. Jokowi/Ahok won the first round with 43% of the vote to the incumbent's 34%. They went on to win decisively in the run-off.
LSI called the first round election result a 'middle class protest'. Does the growth of the middle class herald a sea change in Indonesian politics?
In March, Wawan Mas'udi from Gadjah Mada University in Yogyakarta looked at some of the reasons behind Jokow's popularity:
The second factor is Jokowi's commitment to participatory governance. In particular, he gained widespread acclaim both in Solo and more broadly for his consultative approach to relocating street vendors away from a park in central Solo, where they had built up a dirty semi-permanent squatter marketplace and were causing traffic chaos. Attempts to move street vendors in Indonesia often turn violent, as police and public-order personnel clash with traders determined to stay put. Jokowi avoided this by holding as many as 56 informal meetings with street vendors, often over lunch or dinner, to find a mutually acceptable solution. In the end, to convince the traders to move, he offered them a permanent marketplace in the southeast of the city, provided financial incentives including a six-month tax holiday and free of charge relocation, as well as establishing public transport links from the city centre to their new location.
Jokowi also made a habit of making local visits to talk to residents (a practice called 'mider projo'), as well as encouraging community participation in the city's planning process. This approach resonated with a local cultural idiom of 'nguwongke uwong' (treating a person as a person) and helped Jokowi cement the 'man of the people' image that has been one of his great electoral assets.
Turning to the economic ramifications of Indonesia's election, Stephen Grenville examined the economic policies of the two front runners:
Will Jokowi, if elected, turn the clock back and reinstate the failed policies of the 1950s? He comes from a practical business background and has shown himself to be an adept administrator. His vice presidential running mate, Jusuf Kalla, is deeply experienced in both business and politics. The bureaucracy, too, will exert some inertia to prevent policy slipping the wrong way too quickly.
In the meantime, Jokowi may learn a key lesson of politics: good economics sometimes requires pre-election promises to be broken or at least re-interpreted. Perhaps Australia should offer some bipartisan technical assistance on how it's done.
Finally, last week the Lowy Institute's Aaron Connelly broke the news that, despite all the hype over the last 10 or 11 months, Jokowi may not actually be the favourite in the upcoming presidential contest:
If the race is as close as it appears, that would favour Prabowo. Local party officials who have kept a foot in both camps as the race tightened are now likely to board the Prabowo bandwagon as it picks up momentum. Moreover, businessmen are now likely to place new bets on Prabowo's already well funded campaign. As The Economist notedlast week, those close to the Jokowi campaign say that a sense of panic has set in among his campaign staff.
Prabowo Subianto must now be considered the favourite to win the 9 July presidential election, a result that was unthinkable just a month ago.