The 2014 Indonesian Presidential Election

Publication Date: 
19 Jun 2014

News Type:

On July 9, the 189 million Indonesians currently on the voter list are eligible to choose their next President. The frontrunner, according to polls, is Jakarta Governor Joko Widodo, known popularly as Jokowi, who only entered politics in 2005 when he became the mayor of Surakarta in Central Java. Prior to that, he manufactured and sold furniture. The second contender is Prabowo Subianto, a former general whose last public post was in 1998 as the head of the Army Strategic Reserves Command. Following the turmoil that ended the three-decade-old Suharto regime and ushered the world’s fourth most populous country into democracy, Prabowo left the army and Indonesia. Both candidates’ running mates are veteran politicians. Jokowi, 52, selected 71-year old Jusuf Kalla, the country’s Vice President from 2004-2009. Prabowo selected Hatta Rajasa, the chief of the National Mandate Party (Partai Amanat Nasional, PAN).

The general public/elite narrative strongly figures in Indonesian politics. Most politicians come from groups considered elite, such as familial dynasties, the military or the intelligentsia. Without a link to any of these elite groups, Jokowi defies that narrative. He grew up in a slum and started his business from scratch. He built his political career away from Jakarta, making use of Indonesia’s decentralization drive that now allows direct election of governors and mayors. A few good performers from this new class of regional leaders have become rising stars. His rival is rather different. A son of the nation’s leading economist, Prabowo became a general and married the daughter of President Suharto. After he left the army, he lived abroad for several years before returning to Indonesia to go into business like his younger brother. While Jokowi says he is the leader from the people, Prabowo argues he is the strong leader the people need.

The President of Indonesia is the head of the executive branch and can be elected for a maximum of two five-year terms. The President and the Vice President are elected as a pair directly by the people. The current President (and the first to be directly elected), Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, was elected for his second and last term in the first round of the 2009 election with 60.8 percent of the vote. A political party or coalition of political parties that wins at least 25 percent of the vote or 20 percent of the seats in the House of Representatives (Dewan Perwakilan Rakyat, DPR) can nominate candidates for President and Vice President (running as a pair). The presidential election is therefore held shortly after legislative elections in order to establish which political parties or coalitions are eligible to nominate a presidential candidate. No single political party reached the threshold after the April 9 legislative polls, forcing the formation of coalitions based on mathematics rather than ideology.

Jokowi’s Indonesian Democratic Party – Struggle (PDI-P) rose above 11 other parties that ran in April, but with only 18.95 percent of the vote, it still had to form a coalition in order to nominate its presidential ticket. PDI-P, the most secular party in Indonesia, chose three nonreligious parties and one party with moderate Muslim followers as its partners. Prabowo’s Great Indonesia Movement Party (Gerindra), also secular, came in third, tripling its 2009 share of the vote. The number two party, Golkar, has decided to support Prabowo. His coalition also has three Islamist parties.

While Indonesia has the world's largest Muslim population, it is constitutionally a multi-religious state with significant minorities of Christians, Hindus, Buddhists ‎and others. Together, the minorities in Indonesia outnumber the entire population of Australia. The Muslim population itself, primarily Sunni, is extremely diverse and includes communities of self-avowed liberals and conservatives, many of whom belong to large organizations. These factors mean that religion is always an issue in any election and courting the various communities is important to both camps.

Presidential elections in Indonesia are primarily contests of personalities, rather than battles between political parties. Each camp is trying to build an image they believe that voters will trust. The upcoming July 9, 2014 elections promise will be a heated, interesting race. With only two candidates running, there will be no presidential run-off and the President-elect will be sworn into office on October 20, 2014.