The Latest on Southeast Asia: January 4, 2024

Indonesian president Joko “Jokowi” Widodo completes his final five-year term in October 2024. The race to succeed him, which officially kicked off in November 2023, has high stakes—Indonesia is the world’s third-largest democracy and plays an influential role in the region. Jokowi’s legacy and the next 5 to 10 years of Indonesian foreign policy are on the ballot. Election day is on February 14, and if the leading candidate fails to capture 50 percent of the vote, a runoff election will be held on June 26. Indonesians will choose between three candidates—Prabowo Subianto, Ganjar Pranowo, and Anies Baswedan.

Defense Minister Prabowo and his running mate Gibran Rakabuming Raka, outgoing president Jokowi’s son, enjoy a significant lead. A December 23-24 poll conducted by Indikator Politik suggested that the ticket would win 46.7 percent of the national vote. Controversial at home and abroad for his brusque statements and his alleged culpability in the abuses of the Suharto regime, Prabowo has successfully reworked himself as the protector of Jokowi’s legacy after two consecutive, unsuccessful attempts at the presidency. Gibran’s candidacy has also come under fire—as Jokowi’s son, critics suggest that his candidacy signals the start of a new political dynasty. Gibran’s uncle, the former chief justice of the constitutional court, relaxed the age requirement for the vice presidency to allow his nephew to run and was dismissed from the court shortly after. Despite the controversy, Prabowo and Gibran won the endorsement of Jokowi’s volunteer network and have the strong support from Jokowi’s voting base.

In second place behind Prabowo and Gibran are Ganjar and his running mate, Mahfud MD. Ganjar and Mahfud are projected by Indikator to win 24.5 percent of the vote. Ganjar is the former governor of Central Java and Mahfud MD is the incumbent coordinating minister for politics, legal, and security affairs. Ganjar is aligned with the largest political party in Indonesia, the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), of which Jokowi is also a member. Like Prabowo, Ganjar appeals to voters seeking a continuation of Jokowi’s policies. But while Ganjar is close to Jokowi, he ultimately depends on the support of PDI-P chair and former president Megawati Sukarnoputri who has a fractious relationship with Jokowi.

Former governor of Jakarta Anies Baswedan and his running mate Muhaimin Iskandar are in third place, polling at 21 percent. While Prabowo and Ganjar represent two paths to continuity with Jokowi, Anies is a genuine opposition candidate. He is endorsed by three politically incongruent parties: the secular nationalist NasDem, the traditionalist Islamic National Awakening Party (PKB), and the conservative Islamist Prosperous Justice Party (PKS). Unlike the other two candidates, who tend not to criticize Jokowi or his initiatives, Anies has loudly critiqued Jokowi’s Nusantara capital project, arguing that it would not solve the problem of inequality between Indonesia’s regions.

With an 80 percent approval rating, Jokowi’s perceived endorsement and influence will play a large role in swaying voters. With Jokowi’s legacy firmly imprinted on Indonesia’s domestic politics, the winning candidate will likely carry on his vision throughout their term. Indonesian foreign policy is not likely to change significantly. All three candidates have offered similar visions of Indonesia’s role in world diplomacy, emphasizing its nonalignment and need to balance between China and the United States.

Japhet Quitzon is a research associate for the Southeast Asia Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, D.C.

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