Indonesian Presidential Election 101

Tomorrow, voters in the third largest democracy in the world will get the opportunity to make their voice heard. Read below for what you need to know, courtesy of Compass World.

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Joko Widodo (“Jokowi”)

  • Party: Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P)

  • Age: 57

  • Experience: Mayor of Surakarta (2005–2012), Governor of Jakarta (2012–2014), President (2014–present)

Widodo is the incumbent president of Indonesia, currently campaigning for re-election with his new running mate, Ma’ruf Amin, who is the 75-year-old leader of the Indonesian Ulema Council, the highest Islamic clerical group in Muslim-majority Indonesia.

In the 2014 presidential election, Widodo’s “everyman” charm and story of growing up in a low-income household and achieving self-made success as the founder of a multinational furniture manufacturing company set him apart from Indonesia’s former presidents, a series of elite political “insiders” and military generals.

As a city mayor, Widodo initiated his now-“trademark” tradition of blusukan, or impromptu visits, traveling to outdoor markets, malls, and streets to talk directly to the people. 

Prabowo Subianto

  • Party: Great Indonesia Movement Party (Gerindra)

  • Age: 67

  • Experience: Commander of Indonesian Army Special Forces (1995–1998), Commander of Indonesian Army Strategic Command (1998–1998), Party Leader of Gerindra (2014–present)

A former army general with close links to business and political elite, Prabowo previously ran against—and lost to—Widodo in the 2014 presidential election. In August 2018, Prabowo chose Sandiaga Uno, 49-year-old deputy governor of Jakarta, as his new running mate. Prabowo presents himself as a “strongman” and protector of the people. He is also known for being a fiery orator, energizing crowds of tens of thousands at his campaign rallies with his fierce nationalistic rhetoric.


Economy and Infrastructure
In a presidential election that echoes their 2014 showdown, both Joko Widodo and Prabowo Subianto have made economic improvement a major objective of their platforms.

Indonesia has struggled with rising prices and an increasing trade deficit caused by due its imports outweighing its exports. Widodo also failed to reach his inaugural goal of 7 percent economic growth, but he boasts a strong record of job creation and infrastructure development, building airports, roads, and industrial zones to attract tourists and foreign investors.

In contrast, Prabowo is pushing to cut tax rates and invest in domestic agricultural production, to increase Indonesia’s self-sufficiency and reduce its reliance on food imports.

Religious Pluralism and Conservatism
The candidates have also had to balance their appeals to religious conservatism and pluralism. In the past, the moderate Widodo has faced accusations of being anti-Muslim or promoting Western liberal secularism. Likely to underscore his devout faith, Widodo made a pilgrimage to Mecca on April 14. He also chose Ma’ruf Amin, an influential Islamic cleric, as his running mate.

Also a moderate Muslim, Prabowo has several practicing Christian family members, who assert Prabowo’s respect for religious pluralism. However, he has the backing of the “hardline” Islamic groups such as the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), and both moderate Muslim commentators and international observers are concerned that Prabowo’s victory could bolster these factions’ political power.


Minority Rights and Human Rights
Despite both candidates’ professed commitment to preserving and celebrating diversity, religious minority groups and the LGBTQ+ community have called their sincerity into question.

Activists criticize Widodo for his inaction as police conduct raids of suspected LGBTQ+-friendly establishments, local governments consider enacting laws that criminalize homosexuality, and Ahmadi Muslims experience sustained persecution and intolerance, including the forced closure of a mosque in 2017.

Some of the hardline groups that support Prabowo have persecuted religious minorities and opposed LGBTQ+ legal protections themselves, discouraging these marginalized groups from looking to Prabowo. Prabowo has also been accused of violating human rights himself and "disappearing" thirteen pro-democracy activists in 1998, a charge which he denies.


Election Interference
In early April, the public began to challenge the integrity of the election process—and that of the candidates—after Indonesian election officials discovered 40,000 to 50,000 fake ballots, all pre-marked in favor of Widodo and one of his legislative allies, in two Malaysian warehouses.

As worries about vote stuffing and electoral fraud circulate, Prabowo’s supporters recommend that an investigation be launched and expatriate voting be postponed. Meanwhile, Widodo’s supporters claim that the ballots are part of a smear tactic to discredit Widodo and undermine the elections.

In next week’s Compass World, we will bring you the results of Indonesia’s election. For live updates, follow our social media platforms.