Country Spotlight: Indonesia

Indonesia, the world’s third largest democracy, is setting up for its third direct presidential election, following a legislative election on April 9, ...

Apr 19, 2014

Indonesia, the world’s third largest democracy, is setting up for its third direct presidential election, following a legislative election on April 9, the results of which are to be released on May 9. In spite of the array of ethnic and linguistic groups that inhabit it, Indonesia has managed to build a distinct national identity based on inclusion and a common history of colonialism. This is embodied in its motto: Many, yet one.
Indonesia is comprised of 13,466 islands, 33 provinces and one special administrative region. The fourth most populous country in the world and the 16th largest economy, Indonesia is often dubbed as one of the Asian tiger cubs, a group of Southeast Asian countries who have seen dramatic economic growth in the last few decades. Despite this positive outlook, over 50 percent of Indonesia’s exports are natural resources, of which a large percentage are petroleum based, meaning it is victim to the constant fluctuations of markets and crises. Moreover, 12 percent of its population lives below the poverty line .
The upcoming presidential elections will prove pivotal to the democratic future of the young democracy. Although no Islamic party is at the forefront of any campaign, the fact that larger parties require coalitions with smaller parties presents moderate and more radical religious parties with the opportunity to push their agenda to the national stage.
Election rules prohibit from presenting candidates those parties that hold less than 20 percent of the House of Representatives seats or that have not won at least 25 percent of the votes in this year’s parliamentary elections. Because none of the major parties has met the requirements, all candidates have had to create coalitions with smaller parties. Leading the polls are Joko “Jokowi” Widodo and former general Prabowo Subianto. Widodo is being backed by a coalition between the Democratic Party-Struggle, one of the archipelago’s most popular parties, and the National Democrat party, a small nationalist party with a moderate Muslim agenda owned by media tycoon Surya Paloh. Subianto, who has been criticized for human rights abuses during the unrest that followed the ousting of Suharto, is nonetheless relying on his military credentials in his bid for presidency. Although he has not yet gathered the necessary support to be able to run, the recent support from Indonesia’s oldest Islamic party has him at inches from having his name on the ballot.
Indonesia’s democratic past resembles the general trend of many developing countries. After three centuries as a Dutch colony and a brief period of Japanese invasion, the country achieved independence in 1945. Despite this, it wouldn’t be until 1998, following the Asian economic crisis that Sukarno, a ruthless autocratic leader, resigned and opened a window of opportunity for democratic reform. Because of the diversity in the archipelago, electoral results tend to produce a very divided legislative body that has caused slow reforms as well as an increase in the subsidy of fuel, which could balloon the country’s fiscal deficit.
Andres Rodriguez is editor-in-chief. Email him at
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