Wednesday Briefing: Indonesia Is Voting Today

  • February 14, 2024

The world’s third-largest democracy is today selecting not only a new president, but also members of Parliament and local representatives.

The current president, Joko Widodo, appears to have made an alliance with Prabowo Subianto without explicitly endorsing him, and polls show Prabowo with a healthy lead. But for many, he is associated with Suharto, who ruled with an iron fist from the 1960s to the late 1990s. Prabowo was a general in Suharto’s army and was eventually discharged in 1998 for ordering the kidnappings of student activists.

Also running for president are Anies Baswedan, the former governor of Jakarta, and Ganjar Pranowo, who ran Central Java. Momentum has been building for Anies, who is running on a platform for change.

To get a clearer idea of what to watch for, I turned to Sui-Lee Wee, our Southeast Asia bureau chief, who is in Jakarta to cover the election.

What are the stakes of this election, both internationally and in Indonesia?

This election matters far beyond Indonesia’s borders. Indonesia is the world’s fourth most populous country and is often seen as a “swing state” in the contest for influence between the U.S. and China in Asia. Indonesia is also one of the world’s largest carbon emitters and a top global producer of coal, nickel and palm oil, so whoever wins the presidency could have a major influence on the supply chains of many international companies but, more important, the future of climate change.

Domestically, it marks the end of the 10-year term of the popular incumbent president Joko Widodo. He is leaving office with approval ratings of about 70 to 80 percent and this election is essentially a referendum on his legacy. He has transformed Indonesia into one of Southeast Asia’s biggest economic success stories but has also presided over democratic backsliding in the country. This time, voters will be casting a vote for continuity or change. Polls have suggested that they overwhelmingly want continuity.

Has anything changed what people should be looking for or expecting?

The question in Indonesia now is whether Prabowo Subianto, the country’s defense minister, will win in one round or whether he will face a runoff. It was very uncertain as of two weeks ago, but it now looks more likely that he could win in one round by clinching over 50 percent of the vote. If he doesn’t, the country will head into a runoff on June 26.

If Prabowo wins, how likely is the country to experience an authoritarian slide?

This is still uncertain. His supporters say he is now much more pragmatic and understands the appeal of Joko, so he is likely to focus his efforts on infrastructure development and economic growth. There’s also a belief that, because the political establishment has benefited so much from democracy, they would not allow Indonesia to regress into a dictatorship. But what people fear is the slow erosion of democratic norms, which have been started by Joko, but could accelerate under a leader who has once professed that Indonesia doesn’t need democracy nor elections.

The Senate passed a long-awaited foreign aid package for Ukraine and Israel yesterday in a 70-to-29 vote. But it faces opposition in the House, and Donald Trump has campaigned against it.

The $95 billion emergency aid legislation would provide an additional $60.1 billion for Kyiv, as well as $14.1 billion for Israel’s war against Hamas and almost $10 billion for humanitarian aid.

In a televised statement, President Biden said the package was imperative to help defeat Russia’s “vicious onslaught” against Ukraine. He also denounced Trump for encouraging Russia to attack some NATO allies, calling the comments “dumb,” “shameful,” “dangerous” and “un-American.”

What’s next: The speaker of the Republican-led House suggested that he would not act on the bill. The only path forward may be for a bipartisan coalition to use a discharge petition, which allows lawmakers to force legislation to the floor if they can gather the signatures of a majority of the House.

President Biden sent the C.I.A. director, William Burns, to join mediators in Cairo who were focused on a deal to halt the war for at least six weeks in exchange for a release of the remaining hostages. Here’s the latest.

The U.N., the U.S. and others have grown alarmed about the prospect of an Israeli incursion into Rafah, where about 1.4 million people are sheltering without adequate food, water and medicine. Egypt has said it will not let refugees cross the border into Sinai.

As Sophie Lund Rasmussen and Troels Pank Arboll, a married pair of researchers, discussed a new genetic study that included a brief history of kissing, they realized something was off. The study traced the origin of the custom to South Asia in 1500 B.C.

“I told Sophie that I knew of even older accounts written in both the Sumerian and Akkadian languages,” said Dr. Arboll, whose expertise is in ancient accounts of medical diagnoses, prescriptions and healing rituals.

Their investigation, which analyzed clay tablets from Mesopotamia (modern-day Iraq and Syria) and Egypt, upended the hypothesis that people from a specific region were the first to kiss and tell.

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