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Indonesian presidential election 2024: Shifts in foreign policy

Hindustan Times - January 26, 2024

Ananya Raj Kakoti and Gunwant Singh – As Indonesia approaches the upcoming elections, a critical decision hangs in the balance as the nation seeks a successor to the highly popular President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo.

Having served two terms spanning a decade, Jokowi's imminent departure underscores the significance of selecting the next leader, who will play a pivotal role in shaping the foreign policy of this archipelagic nation with a population exceeding 270 million.

Since assuming office in 2014, Jokowi has championed a domestically focused, economy-driven foreign policy, aiming to elevate Indonesia to one of the top five global economies by 2045. Currently, Indonesia consistently maintains a robust position in the top 20, frequently securing the 16th spot, with a reported nominal gross domestic product (GDP) of $1.3 trillion in 2022, as per the World Bank.

The 2024 election features a competitive three-way contest involving Prabowo Subianto, a former special forces commander and two-time opponent of Jokowi who now serves as defence minister; Ganjar Pranowo, the former governor of Central Java, and Anies Baswedan, the former governor of Jakarta. With the election just a month away, surveys consistently position 72-year-old Prabowo as the leading candidate in the initial round of voting.

His ascent, alongside running mate Surakarta Mayor Gibran Rakabuming Raka, the eldest son of the outgoing President Widodo, has raised alarms among millions of Indonesians. Many still vividly recall the oppressive and corrupt rule of Suharto, former Indonesian dictator and Prabowo's father-in-law. For years, the notion of a Prabowo presidency seemed remote in Indonesia, a vibrant democracy in Southeast Asia. Prabowo's association with the 32-year Suharto era has made him a symbol of that period for many Indonesians. His military discharge in 1998, following his involvement in the abduction and torture of pro-democracy activists, further tarnished his image. Over a dozen activists remain missing and are feared dead.

To secure victory on February 14, Prabowo must secure a minimum of 51% of the votes. The latest Indikator Politik poll reveals Prabowo commanding 45.8% support, with Anies Baswedan at 25.5% and Ganjar Pranowo at 23%. To avoid a runoff, candidates must secure at least 50% of the vote on February 14; otherwise, a second-round runoff is scheduled for June 26. Reports from local news outlet Tempo, citing unnamed politicians, suggest Widodo's efforts to consolidate support for the Prabowo-Gibran ticket amid concerns about securing an outright victory in the polls.

Despite Widodo's claims of impartiality and no official endorsement of any candidate, his tacit support for Prabowo is evident, given that his son is the running mate. Questions surrounding Widodo's neutrality surfaced again after photos of a private dinner with Prabowo circulated online earlier this month.

These developments have sparked curiosity among scholars and officials from other countries regarding potential significant shifts in Indonesia's foreign policy trajectory. Before delving into the perspectives of the three candidates, it is essential to first examine Widodo's existing foreign policy to better analyse possible changes.

In the pursuit of ambitious objectives, Widodo strategically strengthened Indonesia's economic diplomacy, emphasising the relocation of production to domestic shores and initiating transformative infrastructure initiatives. One notable undertaking is the ambitious Nusantara plan, which involves establishing a new capital city. Despite his measured focus on geopolitics, his administration prioritised the management of maritime boundaries, bolstering engagement in the Indo-Pacific region, and consolidating Indonesia's international standing. This commitment is evident through leadership roles in the G20 in 2022 and the Association of South East Asian Nations (Asean) in 2023.

While Jokowi's foreign policy achievements enjoyed popular support, challenges emerged. Large-scale projects faced scrutiny, with environmental concerns linked to Chinese nickel plants and insufficient foreign investment for the new capital city surfacing. The tide turned with geopolitical challenges like the impact of Covid-19, escalating United States (US)-China competition, and the Russia-Ukraine conflict. These hurdles made it harder for Indonesia to achieve the high growth rates envisioned by Jokowi, resulting in a perceived shift in its traditional leadership role within Asean compared to its predecessor.

The pivotal question isn't whether there will be a radical departure from Jokowi's approach but rather the extent of anticipated changes under the next administration.

Now, let's delve into the viewpoints of the three candidates by examining the extensive period during which they have articulated their visions and promises on the campaign trail.

Pranowo leans towards an inward-looking foreign policy orientation. In a recent presidential debate, he emphasised viewing foreign policy as a means to attract foreign investment, fostering Indonesia's economic development, and generating employment. This perspective aligns with the current president's stance.

Ganjar's noteworthy foreign policy suggestion involved advocating for Asean to remove the requirement for unanimous decision-making. He argued that this adjustment would streamline Asean's approach to addressing the South China Sea dispute. Given the impasse in the negotiations for the South China Sea Code of Conduct, Ganjar proposed an "interim agreement" among concerned Asean member States as they await the finalisation of the Code of Conduct. However, he did not elaborate on the specifics of such an arrangement.

Prabowo vows to continue the current president's foreign policy, focusing on resource nationalism and industrial down-streaming. His "good neighbour policy" emphasises strong ties with neighbours, avoiding blocs led by China, Russia, or the US. Despite this, Prabowo signals a more assertive foreign policy, advocating for Global South interests, notably UN Security Council reform, aligning with Indonesia's historical role. While critical of western political interference, Prabowo's actions as defence minister involve outreach to western nations for military modernisation, especially with Australia and the AUKUS grouping. This dual stance warrants scrutiny, suggesting a nuanced perspective beyond campaign rhetoric, possibly reflecting a strategic political portrayal during the campaign.

Anies Baswedan holds a more internationally oriented "value-based foreign policy." Grounded in principles such as human life, territorial integrity, justice, and environmental stewardship, Anies aims to bolster Indonesia's global credibility. Unlike his counterparts, he critiques Joko Widodo's "transactionist" approach and advocates for Indonesia to be an "agenda-setter" in international initiatives. Anies' strategy aligns with Indonesia's existing "free and active" foreign policy, emphasising consistent values in dealings with all nations. His manifesto includes the "balancing" of Indonesia's involvement in organisations led by rival powers, presenting the "value-based foreign policy" as an extension of the current doctrine.

The pressing question remains whether a significant departure from the current trajectory is on the horizon. A comprehensive examination of the candidates' programmes and campaign statements reveals a shared commitment to maintaining Indonesia's foundational "free and active" foreign policy. This approach, centred on avoiding geopolitical blocs and actively engaging in global issue resolution, appears to be a constant among the contenders.

[This article is authored by Ananya Raj Kakoti and Gunwant Singh, scholars, international relations, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.]

Source: https://www.hindustantimes.com/ht-insight/international-affairs/indonesian-presidential-election-2024-shifts-in-foreign-policy-101706255849791.htm