Indonesia Elections 2019: What’s the future either way?

The two contenders, Mr Joko Widodo (left) and Mr Prabowo Subianto (right) Photo credit: Kosaku Mimura and Shotaro Tani

The polling to decide Indonesia’s leader for the next 4 years has come and gone. What comes next, a long and arduous process of counting the results, where Joko Widodo and Prabowo Subianto, both repeat contenders for the top spot have declared victory, showing that history does sometimes repeat itself. Both candidates have equally strong support amongst the populace, but with very different beliefs and visions.
Mr Widodo is looking to secure a second term, but has made some sacrifices along the way. After his dramatic win in the 2014 presidential elections, in which he won by a 6% margin, he focused mainly on infrastructure, dedicating billions of dollars to building desperately needed roads, airports and railways. However, the economy as a whole suffered. His promises of reaching 7% economic growth have fallen flat, and the rupiah has continued to depreciate in value. This means that rising costs of living will soon become a major problem, especially for farmers, as this is compounded with a fall in palm oil prices. He has already promised to buff up a “stimulus program” for villages by $28 billion over the next 5 years, and there is speculation of more social security programs and packages. But with the budget already in a precarious position, overspending government funds may cause the budget deficit to tip even further, which may force Mr Widodo to raise taxes to fund these programs, causing costs of living to further shoot up. Obviously, great care must be taken not to upset the balance.

Mr Subianto, though, has had enough of the current government. He has taken to criticising its policies, including the aforementioned infrastructure drive, gaining a following among conservatives along the way. Not only that, he is promising to cut food imports, decrease food and commodity costs, and to take more action on graft in an attempt to sway farmers to his side. He would also look to take more action against China, claiming that Indonesia’s many deals with China leave Indonesia vulnerable to foreign intervention in local affairs. He has also been working with hardline Islamists, pledging to protect religious institutions and promote Islam through such policies as building more religious schools. This is seen as an attempt to woo the Muslim voter base, as a large percentage of the population is Muslim. But if these and more policies are introduced, this may embolden Islamic hardliners to push for more action by the government such as the introduction of Islamic law in the justice system. Mr Subianto has been riding the wave of identity politics that has defined Indonesian politics since 2017, but riding it too far could cause further religious divisions in the largest Muslim country in the world Although, Mr Widodo himself has upset some with his choice of running mate, Islamic cleric Ma’ruf Amin, which has been seen as an attempt to pull some of the Muslim voter base over to his side. It seems that both sides are not immune to religion’s influence in politics after all.

Ma’ruf Amin, Joko Widodo’s running mate and Islamic cleric. Photo credit: EPA

So, what are the likely outcomes of this Presidential election? Mr Widodo would probably continue his infrastructure drive, which while costly, should prove to be a worthy investment in the long run, as supply chains and transport and trade becomes more profitable. The aforementioned welfare programs will be subject to the whims of the economy, as changing deficits and surpluses sway the desire to implement them, not even mentioning the risks involved with time lag. However, he may instead choose to implement bold yet unpopular policies. After all, it would be his final term in office. Mr Subianto arguably has a clearer vision for the country, desiring more self sufficiency for Indonesia and dedicating himself to farmers and graft-busting, which proves popular among voters. However, this may prove harder than it sounds, especially given Indonesia’s size, he would have a tough job ahead of him if elected. He would have a balancing act of his own, placating the hardline Muslims while not emboldening them to push it to far, and to balance the desire to give farmers a better life and to spur economic growth.
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