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On the road to Indonesia’s 2014 Presidential Election

By Kevin Evans - posted Tuesday, 3 April 2012

What to Indonesian voters want from the 2012 Presidential election? Let us consider what Indonesian voters might want. The first and obvious point is that it will be a different person. President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (referred to as SBY) is not an option as he concludes his second and final term. Indeed this should be the first hint at what the voters are likely to seek. After 10 years of President SBY, the voters will look for someone who is very different to him.

In particular we should expect voters to warm to a candidate who does not have the perceived weaknesses of President SBY. Most notable among perceived weaknesses are indecision, willingness to compromise to maintain consensus, not face down opponents, and a tendency to be seen as following, not leading, public opinion.

The obvious counter position to such a leadership style would therefore be someone who is perceived to be decisive and aggressively assertive.


The use of the term perceived is quite deliberate and important. Individual voters do not “know” their national leaders. They rely on indirect means to decide their views, notably through the media and circumstantial evidence such as the perceived impact of their leaders’ decisions on their lives.

At the same time the electorate is likely to want to see the retention of some of the good things they perceive President SBY to have delivered. Notable among these would be an improvement in the country’s global standing on corruption. At the time he took office Indonesia was 11thlowest in the world with a rating of two. At the end of 2011, Indonesia for the first time has achieved a rating of three. It now stands above almost half the countries of the world and is level with Mexico and Argentina, two countries with much higher standards of living on average than Indonesia.

At another level Indonesia’s steady emergence into international commercial respectability will also be seen as a plus during this era. Fading glories such as bringing peace to Aceh will retain positive consideration in certain areas of the electorate, as well as the fact that Indonesia remains the Southeast Asia leading democracy.

However, the subconscious of the electorate is likely to see many of these achievements as “factored into” the Indonesian system. This means they will see these as problems solved, while the weaknesses are likely to be seen as problems needing to be tackled.

Beyond these issues there are also other problems that can be elevated as useful platforms for a serious candidate. This includes issues of poverty, especially the long-standing problems of institutional poverty in the rural areas, as well as the economic exclusion and discrimination faced by the migrant poor in the cities. The recent surge in industrial action reflects a renewed assertiveness by labour demanding that the recent gains in economic growth need to be enjoyed by all. Such industrial action has not been seen since the early 1990s during the Soeharto era.

The candidates


At this stage there are only two serious candidates for president in 2014. The first is Lt Gen (ret) Prabowo Subianto and the second is Ir Aburizal Bakrie. Both are long-term figures in the public domain. Both lead their own political parties. Both were failed candidates for Golkar’s historic presidential congress in 2004. In many other ways, however, both are also very different characters.

Lt Gen (ret) Prabowo Subianto has in many ways energised the political process particularly since his performance as Megawati’s running mate in 2009. From most accounts he was a solid and exciting candidate on the hustings. This performance followed significant pre-election investment work, notably through his gaining chairmanship of the National Farmers’ Union in 2005, as well as establishing his own party, Gerindra.

While an offshoot of Golkar, Gerindra has positioned itself somewhat to the left of Golkar both in terms of appealing to poorer constituents as well as promoting a more muscular and secular nationalism. He has also build, at this stage, a solid working relationship with former President Megawati, critical for ensuring he can pass whatever parliamentary threshold is required for presidential eligibility in 2014. His recent re-election to head of the National Famer Union offers another legitimate platform from which to advocate publicly the interests of the rural poor.

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About the Author

Kevin Evans is a 30 veteran of Asian Studies and a long term Australian resident in Indonesia commencing work with the Australian Embassy in Jakarta. After this position he left to work for the ANZ Investment Bank in Jakarta. When Indonesia's political reform started in 1998 he began working with various Indonesian government agencies to promote political reform in the areas of electoral and constitutional reform. Following the Boxing Day tsunami he supported the establishment of the Indonesian reconstruction agency, BRR, and continues to work it to counter corruption and to promote integrity and wider civil service reform.

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