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  • Post-Election Politics in Indonesia:Between Economic Growth and Increased Islamic Conservatism
  • Amalinda Savirani (bio)

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[End Page 136]

The year 2019 was publicly labelled an election year in Indonesia, as mammoth elections were conducted, accompanied by a media and social media frenzy that absorbed the attention of the country's citizens. The year was also a milestone from which to look back on and reflect upon the first term of President Joko Widodo (popularly known as Jokowi), as well as to look forward to his second five-year term. In April 2019 more than 140 million citizens went to the ballot box to elect their president and vice-president, 575 members of the House of Representatives, 2,000 provincial representatives for 33 provinces, and 17,610 district and city representatives in more than 500 city and district councils. The total number of candidates running for legislative election was 245,000. The presidential election in 2019 was the fourth election after the New Order era, while the parliamentary election was the twelfth in Indonesian history. With an expenditure of more than 25 trillion rupiah (US$1.78 million), this year's elections also led to the death of 144 election ad-hoc committee members due to overwork, fatigue and stress.1 More than 7,385,500 personnel were distributed across 809,500 polling stations. These figures demonstrate how electoral democracy has become institutionalized in the country.

Yet, democracy in Indonesia is not perfect. A successful electoral process does not directly result in "substantial democracy", which emphasizes the guarantee of civil liberties, freedom of expression, protection for minority groups, as well as social and economic rights. It is with respect to the substantive aspects of [End Page 137] democracy that many observers and pundits on Indonesian politics have expressed worries about the "stagnation",2 "regression",3 "illiberal turn",4 and "decline"5 of democracy in the country, with reasons that will be explored in the sections that follow. Such observers are concerned that after two decades Indonesia has entered another version of the New Order regime, one marked by ignorance of basic human rights and which neglects the political rights of minority groups, all for the ambition of economic development. A more empathetic view though suggests that Indonesia is a young democratic country and that it will need time to nurture a vibrant democracy beyond formal elections.6

As an election year, Indonesia in 2019 was coloured by sharp social polarization between the groups following the two presidential candidates: the supporters of Jokowi and Ma'ruf Amin on the one hand, and those of Prabowo Subianto and his running mate Sandiaga Uno on the other. The majority of Islamic conservative groups supported Prabowo-Sandi, whilst nationalist, liberal and pluralist groups supported Jokowi-Amin. This political contestation in the elections is an expression of ideological divisions that "echo deep historical patterns and point toward underlying social cleavages",7 similar to the ideological divisions in the 1955 election. The divisions in the 1955 election though were centred on control of the legislature, while in 2019 the focus was on the presidential race. Also, in 1955 there were five major competing ideologies, consisting of traditional Islam, socialism, communism, nationalism, and modern Islam. In 2019 it was between conservative Islam and nationalism, which was backed by the forces of moderate Islam in the form of the Nahdlatul Ulama (NU). Another difference is that in 2019 the social division appeared more tense because of the role of social media such as Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp, which were able to greatly amplify the political differences between citizens.

This chapter discusses Indonesian politics in 2019. It addresses the elections, Indonesia's economic and foreign policies, and the security issues the country faced. Each of these topics will be explored in the sections that follow. Since it was an election year, the chapter will give particular focus to what happened in 2019, evaluate Jokowi's policies between 2014 and 2019, and his plans for his second tenure. I will also explore two significant emerging political trends: the rise of conservative Islam in politics and the apparent democratic "decline". The economic section will highlight...


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