21.02.2024 Author: Vladimir Terehov

General elections have been held in Indonesia

General elections have been held in Indonesia

The series of general elections launched at the beginning of this year, which are very significant at the current stage of the “Big World Game”, extended to Indonesia on 14 February. That is, the country, which 3-4 decades ago was treated with a considerable degree of condescension to the vast, so-called “third world”. But today it has turned out to be the object of very close attention from the leading world players. This, incidentally, was manifested during the electoral process under discussion.

For example, the authors of the Associated Press commentary article published on the eve of the election consider its possible outcome primarily from the perspective of “high stakes in the rivalry between the United States and China”. We should add that other important regional players, such as Japan, India and Australia, have also shown increased interest in Indonesia since some time ago.

Meanwhile, back in the mid-2000s, Indonesia was included in the so-called “Next Eleven”, i.e. those countries that were predicted to become the driving force of the global economy over time. It should be noted that the author of this concept, James O’Neill (who at the time worked as an advisor at Goldman Sachs Group), is also the author of the BRIC acronym proposed earlier. After the Republic of South Africa joined the four countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China) it turned into the BRICS international configuration, which is widely known today. Its authority on the international arena is constantly growing, and Indonesia is also among the candidates for accession.

It should be noted at once that the latter did not deceive the expectations of the above-mentioned expert. And not only in the economic sphere, in which it ranks 16th in the world in terms of GDP in “Nominal” terms and 7th in terms of “Purchasing Power Parity”. Indonesia’s presence in the international political space is also becoming very noticeable.

Its importance in this context is also conditioned by the extremely important strategic position of the country’s territory in the Southeast Asian sub-region, where the struggle for influence between the leading regional and world powers is unfolding with particular acuteness. This is by no means a peculiarity of the current political processes in South-East Asia. Even during the Second World War, fierce battles were fought for control over the straits between the islands of the Malay Archipelago, where Indonesia is located. These islands provide access from the South China Sea to the Indian and Pacific Oceans, as well as to Australia.

Today Indonesia is the tacit leader of the regional association (ASEAN), which includes all (except Papua New Guinea) countries of South-East Asia. Despite its organisational and institutional fragility, this configuration enjoys considerable authority in the international arena, and the struggle for influence on it between the same leading players has been quite clear in recent years.

With a population of about 280 million people, Indonesia is the largest country in the Muslim world, where the process of radical reformatting of the world order is particularly visible. Its significance among other Muslim countries is also determined by its relatively stable domestic political situation. This has been restored after a period of turbulence (of both social and ethno-religious nature) in the second half of the 1990s and the beginning of the noughties, which erupted against the background of the severe consequences of the financial and economic crisis that broke out in Southeast Asia.

Indonesia was also affected by the spread of particularly radical Islamist movements in the Muslim world at that time. But today they are under the control of the central authorities, and the country’s long-standing reputation as a “moderately clerical” country generally corresponds to the current domestic political realities.

The fact that Joko Widodo has been at the head of state for the last two (five-year) terms has played a particularly positive role in the process of stabilising the domestic political situation, economic growth and strengthening Indonesia’s position in the foreign policy arena. It should be noted that under the “hard-presidential” format of Indonesia’s internal political system (the president directly leads the government), the “personalist” factor in the country’s governance system is of particular importance.

Therefore, the attention of external observers was focused on the personal composition of the pool of candidates for the highest state office formed before the elections under discussion. At the same time, a new composition of the specifically organised central parliament and local self-government bodies in all 38 provinces was also elected.

There were three candidates for the presidency and Joko Widodo could no longer be among them (due to constitutional restrictions). The candidates were Defence Minister in the last government Prabowo Subianto, Central Java Governor Ganjar Pranowo and Culture Minister Anis Baswedan. According to preliminary data, P. Subianto won a convincing victory with 59 per cent. The fact that he was paired with Widodo’s 36-year-old son Jebran Raka (vice-presidential candidate) probably contributed to this.

It should be noted that the counting process in this highly complex country is labour intensive and takes about a month. Thus, the winner will be officially announced, apparently, not earlier than in the middle of March. Nevertheless, the first comments on the results of the elections held in Indonesia do not express any doubts as to who will lead this very important, let us repeat, country for the next five years.

It is also quite confidently predicted that the country’s already more or less established foreign policy course will continue, which is reduced to balancing in the field of forces formed in Southeast Asia by the main regional and world players. The balancing strategy was quite successfully implemented by Joko Widodo, who tried not to traumatise the delicate “souls” of the above-mentioned players.

On the one hand, “steps” were made towards Washington in the form of expanding cooperation in the field of defence. In particular, joint military exercises involving the closest regional allies of the United States, such as Japan and Australia, are becoming a common practice.

At the same time, trade and economic ties with China, which in recent years has confidently taken the first place among Indonesia’s trading partners, are expanding. A kind of symbol of its interest in maintaining a favourable situation in relations with Beijing was the actual transfer in 2015 to a Chinese company (under a formally held tender with the participation of a Japanese competitor) of the order for the construction of the Jakarta-Bandung high-speed railway with a length of 140 km. Thhttps://journal-neo.su/en/2015/10/28/kitaj-vy-igral-u-yaponii-zheleznodorozhny-j-tender-v-indonezii/e total cost of the entire project was in the region of $7bn, with a loan to pay for it from a Chinese bank. The road was commissioned in the second half of last year in the presence of Chinese Prime Minister Li Qiang.

In Japan, where they were almost sure of receiving this order, they were, to put it mildly, surprised by the outcome of the tender. And in the course of a number of subsequent bilateral contacts from Jakarta, there were clear signals to Tokyo about readiness to “compensate for the damage incurred”. We can confidently state that something similar to “compensation” in the form of subsequent development of various aspects of Japan-Indonesia relations (including defence) has taken place. While throughout this period, Joko Widodo continued to balance between Beijing and Tokyo.

As for relations with Russia, there is every reason to believe that under the new president they will develop according to a quite positive scenario. Incidentally, Indonesia’s well-known initiative to resolve the conflict in Ukraine is attributed to the country’s recent defence minister and future president.

Finally, it should be noted that, apparently, at the end of this year, the newly elected leadership of Indonesia will move to the new capital, which will be the city of Nusantara, located on the east coast of the island of Kalimantan. The main stated reason for changing the location of the capital is the extreme overcrowding of the current Jakarta.

Let’s hope that the said change will not contain any symbolism in terms of innovations in the foreign policy of the leading country of Southeast Asia. If it is difficult to expect any positives in the current situation here, let everything at least remain as it is.


Vladimir TEREKHOV, an expert on the problems of the Asia-Pacific region, especially for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook

Related articles: