Presidential hopeful Baswedan says Indonesia's democracy is declining and pledges change

AP , Monday 15 Jan 2024

A former Jakarta governor seeking Indonesia's presidency said democracy is declining in the country and pledged to make changes to get it back on track.

Presidential candidate Anies Baswedan greets supporters during his campaign rally in Bandar Lampung,
Presidential candidate Anies Baswedan greets supporters during his campaign rally in Bandar Lampung, Indonesia. AP


Anies Baswedan said in an interview with The Associated Press on Sunday that concerns about neutrality in the current government and the institution arose when the frontrunner in the presidential race, Prabowo Subianto, picked the son of the current president as his running mate.

The issue of neutrality has not existed in Indonesia's elections since the fall of dictator Suharto in 1998, Baswedan said. “This means that there is a decline in trust, it means that our democracy is experiencing a decline in quality, it means that many legal rules are being bent,” he said.

Indonesia, with a diverse population of more than 270 million, is the world’s third-largest democracy after India and the U.S., and it has Southeast Asia’s largest economy.

The Feb. 14 election will determine who will succeed the popular President Joko Widodo, who is serving his second and final term.

The country's Constitutional Court made an exception to the age requirement of 40 for vice presidential candidates that allowed Gibran Rakabuming Raka, Widodo's son, to run at only 36. Later, the chief justice, who is Widodo's brother-in-law, was removed by an ethics panel for failing to recuse himself and making last-minute changes to election candidacy requirements.

The ruling has been a subject of heated debate in Indonesia, and Raka's candidacy is widely seen as implicit support from Widodo for Subianto's third bid for the presidency. Subianto has vowed to continue the president’s development plan, in what experts view as an attempt to draw on Widodo’s popularity.

However, the executive director of the Association for Elections and Democracy or Perludem, Titi Anggraini, believed that corruption, vote buying and lack of opposition representation in Indonesia’s parliament were also contributing to the decline of the country’s democracy.

“The problem was unlikely to be solved in the near future and would likely require reforms to the current electoral system, party regulations, public funding and strict law enforcement,” Anggraini said.

Baswedan and the third candidate, former Central Java Gov. Ganjar Pranowo, have stayed in the second and third positions in recent opinion polls, and he said he is staying focused on delivering his own flagship programs in a bid to ensure that February’s presidential election goes to a runoff.

“I’m serious about bringing changes to the economy to make Indonesia more equal in prosperity,” he said, “We want our democracy to be returned to a real democracy and there is no more fear of expressing opinion, no more self-censorship in the media, no more criminalization of people who criticize the government.”

Baswedan also said Indonesia should be more proactive globally and he planned to shift its foreign policy from a cost-benefit principle to a more value-based approach.

“So, when a country invades another country, we can say this is against our basic values, even though we are friends, but if it violated rights, we can reprimand them,” Baswedan said, “If we have no values, then there is a cost-benefit relationship where we will only support countries that are profitable for us.”

He alluded to Widodo’s approach being an economy-oriented foreign policy that courts trade and investment and who seeks to break into so-called nontraditional markets.

“Indonesia must return to being a decisive player in international diplomacy, no longer just a spectator, and we must actively determine direction,” Baswedan said. The "president should be the commander in chief of Indonesian diplomacy on the global stage.”

Baswedan, a progressive Muslim intellectual who has been considered as the “antithesis” to Widodo by many, is widely known for opposing Widodo's brainchild of moving Indonesia's capital from crowded Jakarta to a new capital, Nusantara.

“I want to show that infrastructure development must be broader,” Baswedan said when asked about people’s worry that his stance could affect investor mood for the project.

“We’ve planned to build 40 upgraded cities, not build a new city, across Indonesia so that micro-infrastructure is built,” Baswedan said, adding that micro-infrastructure such as clean water, gas, electricity improves households.

Baswedan was education and culture minister before Widodo removed him from the Cabinet in 2016. Religious identity politics in the 2017 election for Jakarta governor were seen as distancing him from moderate Muslims. His choice of Muhaimin Iskandar as his running mate is viewed as an attempt to rebuild that support.

Iskandar’s PKB party has strong ties with Indonesia’s largest Islamic organization, Nahdlatul Ulama, which boasts over 45 million members.

Baswedan and Pranowo were neck and neck for the second spot in recent public opinion polls after he was consistently in third place for months. His intellectual performance in two televised debates has encouraged voters to choose him and increased his votes, media reports said.

At campaign rallies on Sunday in Lampung province at the southern tip of Sumatra island, Baswedan was greeted by thousands of his supporters, including Islamic teachers, clerics, farmers and youth.

“I see an intelligent and energetic figure in him,” said Purwaningsih, a fruit farmer and mother of three who came to the campaign in Sidorejo village with other farmers after taking a car for two hours.

“His success as Jakarta governor is a reference for us to choose him to lead Indonesia," she said, “Hopefully he can bring about significant changes, both in the government structure and in the society, especially for farmers.”

Baswedan aims to lower Indonesia’s poverty rate to 4-5% by 2029 from the current rate of 9.38%, promising to make it easier for farmers to get fertilizers and pledging economic development in rural areas.

Asked about his confidence in winning the election, Baswedan said: “We are quite optimistic that the aspirations for change are very big... the people want change.”

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