Sunday, July 13, 2014

Indonesia's likely presidential win good for democracy...for now.

Ross B. Taylor 

The Indonesian Electoral Commission will, within the next few weeks, confirm that the Jakarta Governor and former small-scale businessman, Joko Widodo will be Indonesia’s next president. He will then be sworn in on 20th October.

In choosing Joko Widodo, or ‘Jokowi’ as he is known, with a probable result of 52%-48%, Indonesians will have chosen a continuance of true democracy for their country of 240 million people, and resisted the temptation to revert to a more authoritarian rule under former Suharto General, Probowo Subianto.

Whilst the result will be a good outcome not only for Indonesia but also the region, including Australia, it must be remembered that almost half of Indonesian voters actually voted for Prabowo to lead their nation. This is of deep concern and will place enormous pressure on the new president with half the nation wanting a more authoritarian style of leadership - with what Melbourne University’s Professor Tim Lindsey calls, “patrimonialism and cronyism” - and the other half (who voted for Jokowi) with very high and immediate expectations, including stamping out corruption and improved standrds of living.

Jokowi’s running mate and incoming vice-president, Jusuf Kalla will be critical in developing a successful Jokowi presidency. Kalla has held the national vice-presidency before, and has wide experience in international affairs and business so they should complement each other well as our northern neighbour seeks to address a number of major social and economic issues including education, communication, health, food, energy and importantly, infrastructure.

With 100 million people still living in poverty and some 20 million Indonesians classified as malnourished, the challenges are large. Australia can help, whilst opening opportunities for our own country through the development of partnerships with Indonesian companies, agencies and NGO’s.

The appointment of Indonesia’s new foreign minister will watched by the Abbott government closely. Jokowi may be tempted to keep the incumbent, Dr. Marty Natalegawa, in the job although this is not a sure bet. The new president may wish to cut all links with the outgoing president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, in which case we will find ourselves dealing with a new foreign minister on issues such as boat turn-backs, terrorism and the rise of China in the region.

Meanwhile, a defeated candidate, Prabowo Subianto would, we hope, leave the stage quietly, although his ‘friends’ will be less than happy with such a result, and will have considerable leverage within the national parliament and with almost half the nation backing them.

For Indonesia, the presidential election will be seen as a major win for democracy. Creating a democracy is one thing; keeping it alive and vibrant is quite another. Whilst Indonesians look at the disintegration of the democratic dream in the ‘Arab Spring’ countries, they can take considerable pride in pointing out that this sprawling archipelago, with so many ethnic and religious groups, has quietly held onto its democratic principles and structure.

But only just.

Ross B. Taylor AM is the president of the Indonesia Institute (Inc)

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