On 14 February, about 205 million people will be eligible to vote in Indonesia, making it one of the world’s biggest election days.
Voters will be selecting the next president of the world’s third-largest democracy, as well as choosing executive and legislative representatives at all administrative levels. More than half of those eligible to vote are aged between 17 and 40, and about a third are under 30, making the youth demographic key to the outcome.
The incumbent president Joko Widodo, known as Jokowi, is constitutionally barred from seeking a third term.
Who is running?
Prabowo Subianto, 72, a former military general and incumbent defence minister, is now leading the polls. His supporters perceive him as a firm leader capable of bringing stability, and he has promised continuity of Jokowi’s development plans.
Prabowo’s critics, however, point to allegations he was involved in the kidnapping and torture of pro-democracy activists in the late 1990s, and of rights abuses in Papua and East Timor. Prabowo denies any wrongdoing and has not been charged in a criminal court.
During campaigning, Prabowo, who has long had a reputation for having a fierce temper, has tried to show a softer side, using humour and dancing on stage at rallies.
This is the third time Prabowo will run to be president. He lost against Jokowi in 2014 and 2019.
This time, Prabowo is running on a joint ticket with vice-presidential candidate Gibran Rakabuming Raka, Jokowi’s eldest son. This could allow him to benefit from the outgoing president’s political clout, but it has also raised concerns among some voters about dynasty building.
Anies Baswedan, 54, is former academic and was previously Jakarta governor. Anies has been viewed as the antithesis of Jokowi. He is the only candidate not to pledge to continue Jokowi’s project to move the capital city from overcrowded sinking Jakarta to Borneo, saying he believes there are other more urgent issues that require government attention, and that investment should be spread more equally between areas.
Anies previously served as Jakarta governor – a position he won in 2017 after a divisive campaign in which he was accused of courting hardline Islamic groups, fuelling identity politics. He is now running alongside Muhaimin Iskandar, leader of the biggest Islamic party, which has strong ties with Indonesia’s largest moderate Muslim organisation, Nahdlatul Ulama.
Ganjar Pranowo, 55, has had a long career in public service and is the former governor of Central Java. He is a member of the Indonesia Democratic party of Struggle (PDI-P) – the same party to which Jokowi has belonged as president. It had appeared Jokowi would support Ganjar’s bid to become prime minister – though Jokowi’s son Gibran was later announced as a running mate of Prabowo.
Ganjar has sought to portray himself as down-to-earth man of the people, as he tours the country to meet voters. He too has faced controversy in his role as provincial governor, including over a mine development in Central Java, which drew criticisms from villagers and activists.
He is running alongside coordinating security affairs minister Mahfud MD.
How is the winner decided?
Presidential candidates must secure more than 50% of the vote in order to win. If no one achieves this, then a run-off election will be held between the top two candidates in June.
What are the key issues?
The role of dynasties and the strength of the country’s democracy have been the subject of debate. There is unease among civil society groups, and others, that Jokowi is trying to retain influence even after leaving office. His son Gibran was only able to run as vice-president after a court, headed by Jokowi’s brother-in-law, tweaked eligibility criteria – a decision that provoked controversy.
More broadly, young voters make up more than half of the electorate this year, and candidates have been making a concerted effort to target them through social media campaigns. “All candidates are actively utilising social media platforms, notably TikTok and Instagram, which predominantly attract young voters. This scenario contrasts with past elections, where campaign strategies tended to be more conventional,” said Aisah Putri Budiatri, a political researcher at the National Research and Innovation Agency.
Young people are concerned about welfare and employment, she said, but added that while candidates’ policy platforms all mention these issues: “There’s a noticeable absence of discussions on programs tailored specifically for the youth demographic, with candidates often resorting to political gimmicks in their attempts to engage this demographic.”