Joko Widodo and Prabowo Subianto speak to the media at the National Defence Central Hospital (RSPPN) in Jakarta on Monday, 19 February. Photo by Genta Tenri for Antara.

Indonesia is at a turning point as the dust settles on the 2024 presidential and legislative election. The unofficial results from Kompas and other research institutions reveal the Prabowo Subianto-Gibran Rakabuming Raka ticket has won an estimated 58-60 percent of the vote.

Prabowo was widely predicted to win the election but the convincing result exceeded all expectations. Outgoing President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s support for Prabowo was critical.

His ability to pass the baton to Prabowo is testament to his popularity and his understanding of power dynamics in Indonesia. By consolidating traditional power bases – shoring up support from political parties, government institutions, civil society and the business community  – Jokowi was able tilt the levers of power in Prabowo’s (and his own) favour and neutralise the opposition.

Prabowo’s victory guarantees Jokowi’s legacy, allowing him to continue implementing his Golden Indonesia 2045 vision. But the way he conducted himself throughout the campaign will also ensure he is remembered for the dark shadow he has cast over Indonesian democracy.

The Jokowi effect

It was a case of third time’s a charm for Prabowo, who also contested the presidential election in 2014 and 2019. The significant surge in support in 2024 – a stark increase from Prabowo’s 44.50 percent of the vote in 2019 – can undeniably be attributed to the influence and support of Jokowi who has emerged as a kingmaker in Indonesian politics.

Jokowi’s skill in building alliances across different sectors was pivotal. He garnered support from all levels of society – from big business tycoons to volunteers and community organisations. This allowed him to secure financial backing and mobilise popular support for Prabowo’s candidacy in the presidential election.

However, Jokowi’s endorsement of Prabowo represented a profound betrayal of his old party, the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDIP), which supported the Ganjar Pranowo-Mahfud MD ticket. The Ganjar-Mahfud pair only secured 16-18 percent of the vote, indicating that a portion of PDIP’s base defected to Prabowo.

But the Jokowi effect failed to translate into the legislative election. Despite the weak support for Ganjar, PDIP remained dominant in the legislative elections, maintaining its 19-20 percent vote share from 2019. The resilience of PDI-P underscores the party’s discipline and solidarity, even in the face of Jokowi’s manoeuvres.

On the other hand, the Indonesian Solidarity Party (PSI), led by Jokowi’s youngest son, Kaesang Pangarep, appears to have failed to cross the parliamentary 5 percent threshold, garnering only around 3 percent of the vote. This failure highlights the limits of Jokowi’s influence and the voting public’s aversion to political dynasties. This could prove very consequential.

Playing dirty

While the tactics deployed by Prabowo and Jokowi proved effective – the pair have faced criticism for their methods.

In particular, the film Dirty Vote was released on YouTube on 11 February that alleges widespread and systematic electoral fraud carried out by the Jokowi administration. Supporters of the Prabowo-Gibran coalition have lodged complaints against the filmmakers and participants. Additionally, former Vice President Jusuf Kalla has been reported for his remarks on the film, highlighting the tense opposition to political dissent and expression in Indonesia.

Opponents have also accused Jokowi of using social assistance programs as a tool for political gain, blurring the lines between governance and campaigning. His approach raises ethical questions about manipulating public resources for political objectives – and in doing so he undermines the legitimacy and effectiveness of social assistance spending by allowing it to be entangled in political agendas.

However, Jokowi’s most audacious move was  to intervene in the operations of the Constitutional Court  to amend the age requirement for presidential and vice presidential candidates. This intervention paved the way for his son, Gibran, to enter the presidential race. This ultimately resulted in the demotion of Anwar Usman, the Chief Justice of the Constitutional Court and Gibran’s uncle, for severe ethical violations. This move undermined the independence and integrity of the Constitutional Court and set a dangerous precedent for the rule of law in Indonesia.

These events raise serious concerns about the separation of powers in Indonesia and the potential for abuse of power at the highest levels of government.

Looking forward

Jokowi’s legacy is a paradox. While he enjoyed the fruits of democracy brought about by the Reformasi era, his actions have undermined the foundations of the very democracy that brought him to power from relative obscurity. His manipulation of the judiciary and the political system has set a dangerous precedent, eroding public trust in democratic institutions.

Jokowi’s manoeuvering to secure a successor, while sidelining his party, has exposed a critical vulnerability in the Indonesian political system –  the susceptibility of the system to manipulation by those already in power.

This vulnerability is not unique to Indonesia. Around the world, democracies are grappling with similar challenges, where populist leaders, entrenched political dynasties and the erosion of institutional integrity threaten the democratic fabric. However, Indonesia’s experience in this election cycle serves as a powerful reminder of the need for vigilance and resilience in the face of such threats.

As Indonesia looks to the future, measures must be taken to strengthen democratic institutions and safeguard them from political interference. This includes ensuring the independence of the judiciary, enhancing the transparency and accountability of political processes and protecting the integrity of social assistance programs.

Moreover, the role of opposition parties in a democracy cannot be overstated. They are essential for providing checks and balances, holding the government accountable and offering alternative policies and perspectives. The likely return of PDI-P to opposition is an opportunity to reinvigorate the democratic process and restore a healthy balance of power. It is crucial that they – along with other opposition parties – rise to the occasion and perform this vital function rather than making deals with the victors to claim a share of the spoils.


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