Explainer: What you need to know about Indonesia's elections

Interns' Corner

Indonesia goes to the polls on February 14, find out why it matters.

Big Democracy in action

Indonesia is the third largest democracy in the world, behind India and the United States. Two-hundred-and-five million registered voters (from a population of 274 million), spread across an archipelago of more than 18,000 islands and three time zones, will be eligible to vote on February 14, 2024, for a new president and parliamentary representatives.

Seven million election workers and officials will oversee the vote. A quick count, based on sampling, should be available at the end of the day but the final certified tally of the hand-counted votes could take up to 35 days to be confirmed.

Voting is not compulsory, however, the day is marked as a national holiday to encourage a high turn-out at the polls. Voter turnout at the 2019 election was 81 per cent of eligible voters.

Presidential terms are five years long and a president can serve no more than two terms in power. (President Joko Widodo will finish his second term in October this year.)

To win, a candidate must secure more than 50 per cent of the national vote. If there is no clear winner, the candidate with the lowest number of votes is eliminated and a run-off election will be scheduled on June 26 between the two top candidates. The new president will be inaugurated in October.

Candidates for president and vice-president must be aged 40 to be eligible to run. However, in October 2023, the Constitutional Court added a controversial caveat, seen to favour the president’s son, that candidates who had already been elected to lower public office had the right to run despite being younger than 40.

Meet the presidential candidates

PRABOWO SUBIANTO, 72, Gerindra Party

A former army general and Indonesia’s Minister of Defence since 2019, Prabowo is in the lead with polls predicting he will win the presidential election. This will be his third attempt after losing to the current president, Joko Widodo, also known as Jokowi, in 2014 and 2019.

Prabowo has cultivated an election persona of a friendly grandfather in an attempt to appeal to Indonesia’s young voting majority. He can be seen dancing at election campaigns and interacting with supporters on social media platforms such as Instagram and TikTok.

However the former military strongman has a controversial past, with allegations of involvement in humanitarian violations during his time in the military. He was given a dishonourable discharge from the military in 1998 for “misinterpreting orders” in the abduction of democracy activists.

Prabowo’s vice-presidential running mate is Jokowi’s eldest son, 36-year-old Gibran Rakabuming Raka. The law on the age limit for presidential candidates was controversially reinterpreted to allow Gibran to run.

ANIES BASWEDAN, 54, Nasdem Party

The former governor of Jakarta (2017-22) was an activist and scholar before entering politics. He was the rector of Paramadina University, known for its strong ties with Indonesia’s largest Islamic organisation, Nahdlatul Ulama, which boasts over 45 million members.

In 2016, he galvanised hundreds of thousands to take to the streets against the Christian governor of Jakarta, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, who was later imprisoned on blasphemy charges for quoting the Koran in a speech. Baswedan used the controversy to successfully run for governor a year later.

He claims that Indonesia is experiencing a decline in the quality of its democracy and civil society. He has also promised to improve cheap public transport and access to education. He has raised concerns about President Widodo's signature plan to move Indonesia’s capital from Jakarta, on Java, to Nuasantro on the island of Borneo.

GANJAR PRANOWO, 55, Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle

Ganjar is the former governor of Central Java and has appealed to the voters as the “people’s president”, promising to provide greater access to basic services across Indonesia. He has promised to create 17 million new jobs, improve higher education and expand social welfare programs for the socio-economically disadvantaged.

Ganjar, who has a background in student activism, had humble beginnings with his parents owning a small grocery store. Those humble beginnings initially made him the most popular candidate, however his popularity took a hit a year ago when Jokowi’s eldest son became Prabowo’s vice-presidential running mate. He is nowtrailing Prabowo in the polls by more than 30 points.

Big shoes to fill

Joko Widodo, 62, popularly known as Jokowi, president of the Republic of Indonesia, is stepping down in October after two five-year terms. He cannot run for a third term. He leaves office with a remarkable 81 per cent approval rating.

His tenure has been marked by a period of growth, making Indonesia the biggest economic success story in South-east Asia. During his tenure, he implemented health care, infrastructure and education programs.

His biggest controversy was linked to allegations of nepotism and creating a political dynasty when theConstitutional Court ruled that while the age limit for running for president remained 40, an exception was allowed for already elected public officials to seek presidential office. This benefitted his son Gibran Rakabuming Raka, who is running for Vice-President alongside Prabowo.

How age and technology will impact this election

Of Indonesia’s 274 million citizens, 205 million are registered to vote. Voter turnout is expected to be around 75 per cent. Younger voters will be pivotal because they now make up more than half the voting public. The minimum voting age in Indonesia is 17, with married people under 17 also allowed to vote.

Voters under 40 — Millennials (1981 - 1996) and Gen Z (1997 – 2012) — together account for 56.5 % of registered voters making them the target age demographic for candidates to cater to. The generational breakdown is Gen Z (22.9), Millennial (33.6 %), Generation X (1965 – 1980) 28.1 % and Baby Boomers (1946 – 1979) 13.7%.

The issues that matter most to young voters are unemployment, education, economic stability and environmental sustainability.

With close to 80 per cent of people aged 16 to 64 connected to the internet, social media has played a major role in the campaign. Prabowo Subianto, with 9.9 millionfollowers on Instagram, has used it to his advantage to promote a cuddlier image.

Rising regional powerhouse next door

Australia maintains important defence, cultural and trade ties with Indonesia. The political and economic stability of our biggest near neighbour improves Australia’s own stability.

Last year 1.2 million Australian tourists visited Bali while 119, 250 Indonesians travelled to Australia. The steep contrast is a result of heavy costs and a lengthy visa process required to come to Australia.

In 2021-22, the two-way trade of goods and services between Indonesia and Australia was worth A$18.35 billion, making Indonesia Australia’s 14th largest trading partner. Indonesia is a member of the G20 intergovernmental forum that addresses major issues relating to the world’s economy and it is estimated by 2030, Indonesia will become the world’s fifth-largest economy.

In February last year, Australia upgraded a defence co-operation agreement with Indonesia that aims to promote strategic security and military co-operation throughout the region. The Indonesian archipelago’s 18,000 islands, stretched across 1.9 million square kms form an island chain barrier between the Chinese and Australian mainlands.

“Our most important potential ally is going to be Indonesia," Professor Hugh White, one of Australia’s most respected strategic defence minds, told Newsworthy last year. “We're very used to think of Indonesia as big and close, but poor and weak. But now and increasingly in future it is going to be big and close and rich and strong.”

Nailed it

The Indonesian Bahasa word for voting is "coblos” which means to punch. Rather than using a pen or pencil, voters punch a hole in the ballot paper with a nail. The logic behind this voting method is that the vote becomes harder to manipulate.After voting, each voter dips their finger into ink to confirm they have voted.

Votes are counted in public at each polling station soon after the voting closes, by holding the ballot paper to the light to confirm which candidate has been chosen.

While the use of nail-punched ballot papers may be the principal way to vote, in some parts of Papua villagers choose candidates using the "noken", a communal voting system. Each villager puts their choice for president into a traditional noken bag which has been woven by women and held by the village head. In practice, whatever the votes in the noken, the village head has the power to decide to which candidate all the village's votes will go.


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