Photo by Ho Muchlis Jr for Antara.

Even before the official outcome of Indonesia’s general elections, held on 14 February, had been declared, a shadow was cast over the world’s biggest single-day electoral process. What was supposed to be a celebration of democracy has, ironically, been depicted as a dismal setback for it.

Concerns were raised in the lead-up to the election itself. Commentators suggested Indonesia’s Reformasi era reforms were reversing, the country’s democratic institutions weakening and the sun might be setting on Indonesia’s democratic era. Ian Wilson even suggested Indonesia’s 2024 election might be the election to end all elections.

Now that the dust has settled on the elections, does this analysis still stand?

Jokowi expanding his political influence

According to Andi Widjajanto, formerly one of Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s closest aides, the president privately had three ambitions for the 2024 elections: that the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) suffer a decrease in votes, that Prabowo Subianto win the presidential election, and that the Indonesia Solidarity Party (PSI) make it to the House of Representatives. Only the last of these remains unfulfilled.

The PSI previously made national headlines due to unusual increases in the number of votes it received on the General Elections Commission’s online recapitulation portal. The spike occurred when the real count was already 60% complete. However, as has been predicted by numerous quick counts from credible institutions, the party has only received 2.8% of the voting share according to the 2024 Legislative Election official recapitulation, failing to meet the 4% threshold to win seats in the House of Representatives (the DPR).

Furthermore, PSI has been a critical vehicle for Jokowi’s effort to bring his second son, Kaesang Pangarep, appointed the party’s Chairman last year, into the national spotlight. Getting PSI into the DPR would give Jokowi more leverage under the next presidency. Although this gambit now looks to have failed, there are rumours Jokowi has a Plan B, and is also trying to gain control of the Golkar Party leadership by reportedly endorsing Bahlil Lahadalia, the current Minister of Investment, in the top post.

Retaining control of the regions

The ongoing discussion in the DPR on the revision of Law No. 1 of 2015 on the Election of Governors, District Heads, and Mayors looks like another attempt by the current leadership to retain power under the incoming administration.

There was a proposal to conduct simultaneous regional elections earlier than previously scheduled, bringing the date forward from November to September 2024, that is, before the next president, Prabowo Subianto, is sworn in on 20 October. However, the Constitutional Court has determined these elections must still be held in November. Nonetheless, the DPR has not decided to pull discussions on the planned revision.

This development is crucial. The simultaneous regional elections in 2024 would involve 37 of the 38 provinces, 415 of the 416 regencies, and 93 of the 98 cities in Indonesia. Moving the regional elections to September would allow Jokowi to exert influence during the last month of his presidency to support his preferred candidates. This is a real possibility, given the president has already been accused of trying to sway the result of the national election, as argued in the controversial documentary Dirty Vote.

Another important development is the bill on the Jakarta special region. This bill, introduced after the decision to make Nusantara the new capital, would put Jakarta and its surrounding regions under the administration of a new agglomeration council – although the city and district governments inside the agglomeration area would still retain their existing authority. This special region would have a gigantic population of 54 million – around 20% of Indonesia’s total population.

In a recent meeting, the DPR and the government agreed the president would be given the authority to appoint the head of Jakarta’s agglomeration council. This alleviated prior concerns about designating the vice president as the council’s head. The original proposal would have placed Gibran Rakabuming Raka, the elected vice president who is also President Jokowi’s eldest son, in the prestigious position.

Although Gibran will not lead the agglomeration council, Tito Karnavian, the current Minister for Home Affairs, confirmed the new vice president will still be heavily involved as the head of a body within Jakarta’s agglomeration structure tasked to ‘harmonise synchronise and evaluate policies’. This will still leave Gibran some authority over this hugely important and densely populated region.

What’s the prognosis for Indonesian democracy?

Some will argue the 2024 election—and the controversy surrounding it—serves as a litmus test for Indonesia’s democracy.

Certainly, post-election developments raise questions about democracy’s survival and the coopting of Indonesia’s democratic institutions.  The democratic ideal revolves around the idea of limitation through the separation of government powers. However, recent developments in Indonesia show a continued inclination toward power consolidation and centralisation of the institution of the presidency – or perhaps even the consolidation of power in the hands of the figure currently wielding that institution’s power.

The conduct of the election last month did nothing to end this trend. Democracy is about a lot more than just voting. If Indonesians want to ensure democracy remains the only game in town, they must establish limits on power to prevent a slide into autocratic governance.

From a regulatory standpoint, proposals are already emerging in Indonesia to better define the appropriate role of the presidential institution. One of these is a bill on the presidential institution, which lays out explicit regulatory guidelines and expectations for the presidential office. Whether this bill passes, and what its content says, may provide a vitally important arrangement for Indonesia’s future.

The people have spoken through the recently held elections, but democracy in Indonesia will also be shaped by how its citizens react to political developments after the elections.

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