Indonesia’s Presidential election: Likely Impact on the Country’s External Relations

Indonesia’s presidential election will be held on Feb. 14, 2024 — final campaign events by all three candidates were held on Feb. 10, 2024. The three candidates are current Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto, 72 – candidate of the ruling Indonesia Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), Ganjar Pranowo, 55 – a former governor of Central Java (2013-2023), and before that, a lawmaker (2004-2013) for the PDI-P, and former Jakarta governor Anies Baswedan, 54 (Badewan had also served as education minister under President Joko Widodo – referred to as Jokowi – from 2014-2016). According to a poll, Subianto is well ahead of the other two candidates.  Subianto’s  lead has been attributed to overwhelming support from Indonesia’s youth. His running mate is Jokowi’s son – Gibran Rakabuming Raka — currently mayor of the city of Surakarta in Central Java. 

Indonesia’s economy and Jokowi’s focus on infrastructure

The next Indonesian President clearly has his task cut out, Indonesia grew at a little over 5% (5.04%) in the last quarter of 2023. Indonesia’s GDP for the whole of 2023 was 5.05% a drop from the 2022 figure of 5.30%.

 While in 2023, Indonesia’s exports dropped over 11%, expenditure on infrastructural projects gave a boost to the economy. During the decade in office, Jokowi has invested heavily in the infrastructural sector and been able to deliver on several important infrastructure projects. He has even been referred to as Bapak Infrastruktur” (“Mr. Infrastructure”). 

Indonesia’s foreign policy under Jokowi

Indonesia’s economic progress is also linked to ties with the outside world. Jokowi had managed to follow  a “free and active” foreign policy and all the three candidates have emphatically stated, that there will be no major deviations from the same.

During his tenure, Jokowi managed to strike a fine balance between China and US. China has invested in infrastructure projects as part of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) – they include the Jakarta-Bandung High Speed Railway (HSR) (which was inaugurated in October 2023). The cost of the project is estimated to be over $6 billion. A loan from the China Development Bank covers 75% of the project cost. 

Chinese Premier, Li Qiang during his visit to Indonesia in September 2023 made investment commitments of over $20 billion.

While strengthening ties with China, Jokowi has also managed to keep robust ties with Japan and US. Indonesia is part of the Indo-Pacific Strategy. Indonesia has also signed up for the IPEF (Indo Pacific Economic framework) – with the key objective of seeking access to US markets for its minerals. Indonesia has also been seeking to sign an FTA with the US —  which will allow nickel and other important commodities used in electric vehicle (EV) production to benefit from U.S. tax credits in the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) for electric vehicles (EVs). 

During Jokowi’s visit to the US in November 2023, a “comprehensive strategic partnership” was signed between Indonesia and US. The Indonesian President also said:

“As a country that is rich with critical minerals and green energy potential, Indonesia can become an important partner for the US,”

 While seeking to build ties with the US, Jokowi has reiterated the fact that Jakarta would not take sides and chart an independent course as far as the Russia-Ukraine conflict is concerned.

Like other middle powers — such as India — Indonesia has taken a balanced stance on the Russia-Ukraine war. Jokowi visited both Russia and Ukraine in June 2022, and said that Indonesia was willing to act as an intermediary between both countries. Jokowi also invited Russian President Vladimir Putin to attend the G20 Summit at Bali (Indonesia) in November 2022 –much to the displeasure of the west (Indonesia held the Presidency of G20 in 2022). Putin did not attend the summit and Russia was represented by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

While speaking at the G20 summit, the Indonesian President said that the world needed to avoid a cold war. Said Jokowi: “We must not let the world fall into another cold war.”

Biden-Xi meeting 

It would be pertinent to point out, that US President Joe Biden and Chinese President, Xi Jinping had met on the sidelines of the G20 summit held at Bali. This was Biden’s first in person meeting with Xi after taking over as US President. While both sides put forward their concerns on economic and geopolitical issues, they agreed that there was need to cooperate on key issues such as climate change. 

Indonesia’s Presidential candidates and their foreign policy

While all the three Presidential candidates have so far suggested that there would be continuity in foreign policy, Baswedan has been critical of Jokowi’s transactional foreign policy and said that he would follow a “value-based foreign policy” if he becomes president. He has also said, that if he were to become President, he would ensure that Indonesia takes a lead on important global issues. While Baswedan has stated that he will pursue good ties with China, he has also underscored the need for Indonesia to play a more pro-active role in ensuring a peaceful and stable Indo-Pacific.

There is no doubt that Indonesia has managed to navigate the changing global geo-political landscape in recent years. Indonesia’s next president will have to not just follow a balanced foreign policy but also one which benefits the South-East Asian nation’s economy.

[Photo by General Elections Commission, Indonesia, via Wikimedia Commons]

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.

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