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Indonesia: Jokowi Faces Fierce Battle as Presidential Election Looms

08 Jul 2014
Andrew Manners
Source: Flickr CC (Eduardo M. C.)

With the gap closing between Joko Widodo and Prabowo Subianto, the presidential election on 9 July will be fiercely contested. While Widodo is still expected to claim victory, it will not be by much, especially with outgoing President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono now throwing his support behind Prabowo.


Indonesiaʼs presidential election will be fiercely contested, with former military strongman Prabowo Subianto closing the gap on the frontrunner Joko Widodo. While Widodo is still tipped to win, the 9 July vote is likely to be much closer than many observers had originally anticipated, especially with outgoing President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono throwing his support behind Prabowo and the Golkar party. Yet, whoever claims victory next week, the incoming president of Indonesia will have his hands full, with the South-East Asian giant needing to address a range of important challenges in the near future.


The presidential race is still wide open, with most analysts suggesting the result will come down to the wire. Mr Widodo, universally known by his nickname Jokowi, had looked to be the clear favourite only three months ago; polling in March had given the former governor of Jakarta a 38 point lead over his nearest rival, Prabowo. But a poor showing for his party, the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), in Aprilʼs legislative elections, has seen him lose much of his lustre. Prabowo, meanwhile, has formed a large coalition with a number of parties, including Aburizal Bakrieʼs Golkar, as he looks to close the gap between himself and Jokowi.

Recent events indicate that Prabowo has been doing just that. A poll by Indonesian Survey circle earlier last month put Jokowiʼs lead at around six per cent, a far cry from a number of polls earlier in the year. Now, however, the number is thought to be closer to four per cent. While such polling is notoriously unreliable, with many polling organisations in Indonesia politically motivated, the momentum, clearly, is swinging Prabowoʼs way ahead of the election.

That sentiment was evident on 30 June, when the ruling Democratic Party decided to throw its support behind the 62-year old. The partyʼs executive chairman, Syarief Hasan, issued a statement claiming that, ʻthe Democratic Party has decided and instructed its members to fully support and vote for Prabowo.ʼ Until now, Yudoyonoʼs Democratic Party had been neutral and looked set to serve at least a term in opposition but, with the tide turning, the party seized an opportunity, betting that its support could see it become part of a coalition government, albeit with a much smaller share of power this time around.

Yet, it remains to be seen what effect this support may have. The party claimed around ten per cent of the total votes in Aprilʼs legislative election. Combined with those political parties already supporting Prabowo, this would have given his broad-based coalition around 57% of the votes in the April election. But such backing may not necessarily translate into more votes.

Around 20% of Indonesiaʼs 190 million eligible voters are thought to be undecided and will prove crucial in determining the outcome on 9 July. The Democratic Partyʼs image, meanwhile, has been tarnished by a series of corruption scandals. Its support between 2009 and 2014 dropped by over half largely as a result such scandals. Moreover, with the party siding with Prabowo, his coalition now resembles that of the current government, which has been roundly criticised for its inaction and ineptitude. So, while Hasan has insisted that the Democratic Partyʼs support of Prabowo ʻwill not be badʼ, it is unlikely to be a significant game changer, either.

As will be discussed in an upcoming FDI Strategic Analysis Paper, whoever comes out on top will face a range of pressing challenges. Indonesiaʼs economy has slowed in recent times, and investors are understandably wary of an incoming government; this is especially so given that both candidates have espoused nationalist rhetoric as a means of gaining prospective votes. Getting Indonesiaʼs once-booming economy back on track, therefore, will prove no easy task, especially if Prabowo, who has appeared fiercely protectionist in the lead up to the election, claims victory.

But the challenges do not end there: over 30 million Indonesians live on under US$1 per day, despite some recent improvements; the countryʼs infrastructure is frequently woeful, further deterring investors; the government remains hamstrung by costly subsidies, especially in fuel; there is a stubbornly high current account deficit; Indonesia’s education system is among the worst in the world; and corruption remains endemic at almost every level of society. The new president will have his work cut out for him.


Andrew Manners is a research analyst at the Indian Ocean Research Programme He can be reached at

This article was originally published by Future Directions International. It is republished with permission.