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  • Indonesia in 2018:The Calm before the Election Storm
  • Natalie Sambhi (bio)

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[End Page 122]

The year 2018 marked twenty years since the resignation of Soeharto and the onset of democratic reform in Indonesia. In 1998, Indonesia's leaders faced an ailing economy rife with corruption, domestic instability and student protests, with predictions of "Balkanization" amidst threats of separatism. Today, it is worth reflecting on the state of the country as a relatively consolidated democratic system with a separate police force and vibrant press, particularly when compared to other Southeast Asian states. It is inevitable that today's achievements are weighed against Indonesia's previously dire circumstances, having emerged from the East Asian financial crisis and domestic political turmoil. At the same time, Indonesia's progress is also measured by the hopes and expectations of Indonesians (for those not too cynical) that their new leaders will transcend some of the most odious features of the Soeharto regime. Seen in that light, the country's democratic shine is tarnished by the seemingly never-ending high-profile corruption cases and entrenched money politics.1 The year saw the jailing of former speaker of the House of Representatives and former Golkar chair Setya Novanto for stealing US$170 million (2.3 trillion rupiah) of public monies.

The year was also a last push for the incumbent president to prove that his programme of national development had made significant gains. In 2018 the key task of President Joko Widodo (Jokowi) was to keep the country on an even keel leading up to the 2019 presidential election. He faced a number of domestic [End Page 123] challenges, from the Surabaya terrorist attacks, which saw children being used in suicide bombings for the first time, to the slew of major natural disasters in the second half of the year. The economy was rocked by volatile oil prices and the fallout from a trade war between the world's largest economies, the United States and China, which led to the precipitous fall of the nation's currency. What follows is an overview of the key trends and major developments that shaped the largest state in Southeast Asia in 2018. The first section discusses the significance of Ma'ruf Amin as Jokowi's running mate and what it reveals about the prevailing political environment. It assesses Jokowi's ability to navigate hosting the Asian Games while providing humanitarian relief to Indonesians affected by severe disasters. The second highlights the impact of the global environment on the economy as well as the Jokowi administration's efforts to shore up trade and investment. The third section covers Indonesia's attempts to promote its vision of the Indo-Pacific region as well as its steps towards leadership in diplomacy. The fourth outlines the major security issues, including the Surabaya terrorist attacks and the legislative changes they spurred, violent incidents such as the events in December 2018 in Nduga Regency, and maritime diplomacy. The final section traces the backsliding of Indonesia's social and religious pluralism, particularly in terms of the impact of the changing demographic of conservative Muslims from lower to higher socioeconomic backgrounds.

Political Developments: Keeping Calm before the Storm

Poignantly, 2018 was also the year immediately before the presidential and legislative elections to be held on 17 April 2019: the calm before the storm. With Prabowo's confirmation as a candidate, 2019 will be a rematch of the 2014 presidential race.

That said, there was significant change, with the announcement of Ma'ruf Amin as Jokowi's vice presidential candidate. Ma'ruf is a well-respected Islamic scholar and a significant figure in Indonesia's religious sphere. Since 2015 he has been the spiritual leader of Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), the nation's largest Muslim organization, as well as head of the Indonesian Ulama Council, the top state-endorsed body that issues rulings on Islamic matters. He is also well known for issuing a "religious opinion" in November 2016 that then Jakarta governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama (better known as Ahok) had blasphemed against Islam. There is a stark juxtaposition between a president who has gathered significant grass-roots support through young Indonesians and...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1793-9135
Print ISSN
0377-5437
Pages
pp. 122-143
Launched on MUSE
2019-04-29
Open Access
No
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