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2024 Election Watch: Indonesia, Pakistan, Belarus, and Senegal

12 Feb 2024
By Colin Chapman FAIIA
Senegal President, Macky Sall, addressed the EP plenary. Source: European Union 2013 - European Parliament /

In the second of this series on the global election scene, Colin Chapman looks at controversial elections taking place in February. The one likely to have the biggest impact globally, and in Australia, is the Indonesian presidential and legislative elections.

By the time the evening news bulletins go to air on St Valentine’s Day, we should know who will be Indonesia’s next president. Joko “Jokowi’” Wododo, who has successfully held together the world’s largest Muslim country for ten years, is barred from seeking a third term. Three “tickets” are vying to step into Jokowi’s shoes, in what is the biggest single one-day election the world has ever seen.

Opinion polls point to Prabowo Subianto, 72, Defence Minister and a former general with the army’s special command, as the most likely to win the 50 percent of the vote needed to beat off his two main contenders, Ganjar Pranowo and Anies Baswedan.  Pranowo, 55, is a former governor of Central Java and a senior politician with the ruling Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P). Baswedan, 54, was a governor of Jakarta, and is a political scientist and university rector. If none of the presidential contenders achieve the 50 percent of the vote required, there will be a run-off election between the top two candidates in June.

Whatever the result on February 14, there is a question about the degree to which Jokowi’s influence will be diminished before he steps down in October. If Subianto wins, he may retain some influence, not least because his elder son, Gibran Rakabuming Raka, 36, is his running mate. Last October Indonesia’s Constitutional Court ordered a judicial review of the 2017 elections law that requires presidential and vice-presidential candidates to be 40 years of age, and enabled Rakabuming to stand for the vice-presidency on Subianto’s ticket. The move prompted widespread concern and heated debate across the country amid fears that Jokowi is seeking to establish a ruling political dynasty.

The future of Jokowi’s brainchild, a bold and expensive plan to relocate the country’s capital from overcrowded Jakarta to Nusantara on the island of Borneo, has been thrown into doubt by the election. The project is a long-held ambition of the president, despite the anticipated US$32 billion price tag by completion in 2045. Anies Baswedan, the presidential candidate most likely to break with Jokowi’s policies, has been critical saying Indonesia has more “urgent needs” than providing a new home for the president.

In the end the election is likely to be decided by the younger generation. More than half of the 205 million eligible voters are aged between 17 and 40, and about one third are under 30, making the youth democratic key to the outcome. Creating jobs and reducing unemployment was the second-most cited problem in a 2023 survey by Indikator Politik Indonesia, with younger voters especially concerned about job security. The country’s unemployment rate fell to 5.3 percent last August from a peak in 2020, but was 17 percent among those aged 20 to 24 in 2022.

In international affairs, though there are differences in approach, all three presidential candidates maintain the long-held neutrality of Indonesia, seeking good relations with both the United States and China, while also locking in its critical influence within the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). However, social and economic development will be the central issue for voters. Boasting the world’s largest nickel reserves, a key input in electric vehicle batteries, Indonesia under Jokowi has pursued a policy of processing nickel domestically, rather than exporting nickel ore. Prabowo and Ganjar are likely to continue down this path if elected, but Anies will probably re-evaluate it. Indonesia aspires to become one of the world’s top five economies by the 100th anniversary of its independence in 2045. To reach that goal, the economy will need to grow 6-7 percent annually, compared with the current rate of around 5 percent, making the economic policies of the next president very significant.

Australia has worked hard in recent years to improve relations with Indonesia and would like to see the two countries work even more closely. However, some people have long memories of General Subianto, whose record is troubling. He was barred from entry to both Australia and the United States following allegations of atrocities in East Timor during his time as head of the army’s special forces. He is alleged to have ordered the kidnapping of pro-democracy activists in 1998, some of whom remain missing, though he has always denied wrongdoing. Were he to be re-elected, it is likely that Canberra’s relations with Jakarta will enter a new and more unpredictable chapter.


I would hope that the elections this week in Indonesia will pass much more peacefully than the rowdy and bloody campaign in Pakistan, where Imran Khan, former prime minister and Pakistan’s most popular leader in a generation, has been forced to watch the election unfold from a jail cell, sentenced to 10 years on charges of corruption and leaking state secrets.  However, many candidates loyal to his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party have stood as independents and Khan’s popularity is undimmed, with a 57 percent approval rating, according to pollster Gallup Pakistan. Barred from holding rallies, PTI resorted to broadcasting speeches using an AI-generated clone of Khan’s voice and hosted events on TikTok.

The election brought a surprise lead for Khan and his followers with 97 of the 265 seats in the National Assembly, ahead of their main rivals, Pakistan Muslim League-N of veteran leader Nawaz Sharif and the Pakistan People’s party of Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, son the assassinated former prime minister Benazir Bhutto. However, with no party winning a majority, and numerous contenders claiming vote tampering, Pakistan’s political future is very uncertain. Whoever takes the reins faces daunting challenges including bankruptcy and austerity measures in the face of high inflation, and an economy in crisis, resurgence of extremist violence and Islamic militancy, and civil unrest following widespread use of law to punish popular opposition leaders.


At least democracy seems to have been alive and well in two of Asia’s biggest nations. The same cannot be said for the small but significant central European state of Belarus which shares borders with Russia, Poland, and Ukraine, as well as the Baltic states of Latvia and Lithuania, and is due to go to the polls in local and parliamentary elections on 25 February. The authorities have dissolved all true opposition parties and taken control of the streets, the media, and the vote count. According to the Carnegie Foundation for International Peace’s Politika, “There is no chance the elections will be honest. Elections in Belarus are increasingly nothing more than an administrative ritual for the regime rather than a stress test or a forum for competing ideas. All the candidates will support Lukashenko to varying degrees.” “Armed pacifism” is a pillar of Lukashenko’s election campaign, which begs the question, “Which way are the guns facing?”  We know that it is not towards Moscow.


Meanwhile, in Senegal, considered to be one of the most stable democracies in Africa and the only coup-free one, the 25 February presidential election was unilaterally postponed by President Macky Sall. The National Assembly descended into chaos as opposition parties sought to block the legislative change and protestors outside were dispersed with tear gas. The Senegalese must now wait at least several months to cast their votes, with the only explanation provided by Sall as “a dispute over the list of candidates.” Unbelievable?

As I write this, my friends within the Washington beltway tell me that Donald Trump is now more than 11 points ahead of Biden when it comes to the best candidate to run the US economy, and that there are rumors of him already making plans with Vladimir Putin in the event of his re-election in November. God help us. Whatever changes this year’s elections may bring to the world, we have the prospect of these two men leading their respective countries in 2025, ushering in another momentous change in global geo-politics.

Colin Chapman is a Fellow of the Australian Institute of International Affairs and a former president of AIIA NSW.

This article is published under a Creative Commons License and may be republished with attribution.