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Indonesia Presidential Election

Man of the People Wins Indonesia’s Presidential Election



When I visited Jakarta two years ago, a popular local mayor named Joko Widodo had just been elected the city’s governor. This week, he won Indonesia’s presidential election by an estimated eight million-vote margin. Edelman Indonesia CEO Stephen Lock looks at what this historic vote means and what’s next for the world’s third largest democracy.

– Matthew Harrington

After an extremely close, tense and dramatic election, Joko Widodo, Jakarta’s current governor, was declared the winner of Indonesia’s presidential election by the Indonesian Election Commission (KPU) on Tuesday evening. Joko Widodo, or “Jokowi” as he is popularly known in Indonesia, won 53 percent of the vote to his rival presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto’s 47 percent. President-elect Jokowi, a former furniture businessman from Solo, central Java, has risen through the ranks of Indonesia’s decentralized local politics from Mayor of Solo, to Governor of Jakarta to now President-elect of the world’s third largest democracy, most populous Muslim country and largest economy in Southeast Asia.

This is a huge achievement for such a young democracy born after the riots and mass protests which unseated Suharto’s New Order regime in 1998, after 32 years of authoritarian rule. It is also a sign that democracy is now fully entrenched in the Indonesian psyche and a rejection of the past. Jokowi’s presidential rival, Prabowo, previously served as a top General to Suharto and was previously married to his daughter Titiek Suharto. This election has broken with past traditions that have favored old political elites and military generals and suggests that Indonesia’s local leaders can now rise to the very top.

The election has not been without controversy. A few hours before Jokowi was officially declared the election winner, candidate Prabowo gave a televised press conference denouncing the Election Commission and alleging widespread voting electoral fraud. Although not presenting evidence of this on a scale that would likely make a significant impact, Prabowo’s camp now will launch an appeal to Indonesia’s Constitutional Court, which will rule on the evidence and make a final verdict – which cannot be overturned – by August 20. Orthodox opinion is that a ruling that overturns the KPU’s decision is unlikely given President-elect Jokowi’s eight million-vote margin, however, Indonesian politics is no stranger to surprise. The old parliament (DPR) staggers on until September 30 and is dominated by Jokowi’s political enemies; they still may plan to cause all manner of issues that could disrupt the current process.

President-elect Jokowi is due to be sworn in on October 20, a few days after Indonesia’s new legislators take their seats in the Indonesian parliament on October 1. The new government will then have to work with the new parliament to get legislation through and this is where the new challenges will truly lie. Indonesian parliamentary politics is multi-party and based on loose coalitions and compromise. This is a democratic system that was constructed to provide checks and balances on presidential power and prevent a return to centralized and authoritarian presidential rule. Jokowi will have to work with the new parliament to govern in a truly effective way. Between today and October 20, political alliances will rise and fall and it is yet possible that we may see a completely different parliamentary coalition supporting the new President.

On Jokowi’s desk, when he walks into the State Palace, will be a number of policy challenges, among them regulatory uncertainty in both the mining and oil-and-gas sectors, continued widespread corruption, bureaucratic inefficiency and infrastructure bottlenecks and an economy that has slowed over the last year. Jokowi was also elected on a mandate that he would provide better basic services in education and health for Indonesia’s poor and tackle grinding poverty, which still affects millions across the archipelago, especially in rural areas. We expect healthcare to be the centerpiece of his first 100 days but equally he must also tackle the level of fuel subsidy, which is about to break its statutory limits (as a percentage of GDP). It has been a dramatic election season, but the political drama is only just beginning.

Learn more in the presentation below:

Stephen Lock is CEO Edelman Indonesia & head of Public Affairs, Southeast Asia. 

Image by Global Panorama.
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