Indonesia votes on the night of Tuesday to Wednesday for presidential and legislative elections, following a campaign largely carried out on Tiktok and which saw the emergence of a figure from the past, that of Prabowo Subianto. This ex-general and close to the dictator Suharto is given as favorite.
In this South-East Asian country with a Muslim majority of more than 270 million inhabitants, voters are called to the polls, on the night of Tuesday February 13 to Wednesday February 14, to choose the successor to the current president , Joko Widodo, who can no longer run again after two terms. During this election, they must also elect their 580 deputies, as well as 20,000 local councilors.
This country of 17,000 islands has been planning this voting day for months. It is indeed one of the largest elections in the world, organized over a single day. A feat that requires transporting electoral materials by boat, plane, on horseback or buffalo throughout Indonesia. Thousands of volunteers have been preparing the necessary equipment for months and more than five million volunteers will take turns to man some 800,000 polling stations. During this time, 205 million voters are called to the polls.
In a territory spanning 5,000 kilometers and three time zones, polling stations will open at 7 a.m. in the west of the archipelago (10 p.m. GMT Tuesday February 13) and will only remain open for six hours .
“We expect a participation rate of more than 80%. Indonesians take voting and democracy very seriously. Especially since it is a young democracy, which emerged after the fall of the dictatorship of General Suharto in 1998”, explains David Camroux, associate researcher at Ceri (Sciences-Po International Research Center) and specialist in Southeast Asia.
Among the elements to take into account, the weather may influence the organization of the vote. “The distribution of materials and voting will take place in the middle of the rainy season,” noted the president of the electoral commission, Hasyim Asyari, a few months ago, hoping that “the worst would not happen” in a country where neighborhoods entire areas are regularly flooded during the monsoon.
A former close friend of dictator Suharto given favorite
Widely favored with more than 50% of voting intentions, according to the latest polls, the current Minister of Defense, Prabowo Subianto, 72, could be elected to the presidency in the first round. His main rival, Anies Baswedan, only received around 25% of the voting intentions.
“This ex-general remains popular despite a troubled past,” says David Camroux. Prabowo Subianto is notably accused by NGOs of having ordered the kidnapping of pro-democracy activists at the end of the 1990s, in the last days of the Suharto regime, of which he was the son-in-law.
Among the reasons for the new popularity of the oldest candidate, Prabowo Subianto’s choice to make Gibran Rakabuming Raka, who is none other than Joko Widodo’s eldest son, his running mate, underlines David Camroux.
For the former soldier turned businessman, a victory would end decades of failed attempts to gain power. He was thus beaten twice by Joko Widodo in the race to access the supreme office in 2014 and 2019. But the increasing probability of his accession to the presidency raises concerns about a possible shift towards a more authoritarian regime.
Another reason for concern for analysts is that this election is akin to a referendum on continuity in relation to Joko Widodo’s record. The current head of state, who cannot run again after having served two terms, is accused by NGOs and lawyers of having manipulated the eligibility conditions to install his son, Gibran Rakabuming Raka, 36, as vice-presidential candidate of Prabowo Subianto.
Despite his young age – running mates must be at least 40 years old – Gibran was able to run under a controversial decision by the Constitutional Court, adopted thanks to the decisive vote of the president of the court, Anwar Usman, who is not other than his uncle. A dynastic attitude which, for some, endangers Indonesian democracy.
The country’s laws do not overtly prohibit a president from supporting a candidate, but Joko Widodo’s alleged support for Prabowo Subianto is controversial, as it is rare in Indonesia for a sitting president to actively support a candidate. successor.
As for Prabowo Subianto, his program remains faithful to the policies of the current president: he plans to continue the development and construction of infrastructure projects, the policy of nationalism of resources, notably nickel, and the strategy of “no -aligned” on the diplomatic level.
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A massive campaign on social networks
Social networks weighed heavily on this campaign, particularly TikTok, with the risk of fake news circulating. With its 125 million users, Indonesia represents, after the United States, the largest market in the world for the Chinese application, and the first in Southeast Asia.
The main beneficiary of this online campaign, Prabowo Subianto, knew how to use it to soften his image. “In 2014, he still presented himself in military uniform. Now he dances on TikTok to show himself as a friendly and plump grandfather. And it works!”, comments David Camroux. His choreography, which flooded the mobile application, is one of the most popular videos of this electoral campaign.
To follow suit, supporters have even organized online dancing competitions, offering hundreds of millions of rupees (thousands of euros) to the best imitations.
Subianto is not the only one, the other candidates have also largely invested in social networks to attract generation Z (born between 1997 and 2010), some of whom will vote for the very first time. The youth vote weighs heavily in the balance, since those under 40 represent half of Indonesian voters. However, part of this youth often ignores the accusations made against Prabowo Subianto during his military career and appreciates his promise to continue Joko Widodo’s policies, analysts believe.
Even today, corruption remains widespread in Indonesia. Parliament is considered one of the most affected institutions. According to the NGO Indonesia Corruption Watch (ICW), at least 56 candidates previously convicted of corruption are still running in this year’s legislative elections.
Voters, candidates and volunteers assured AFP that they had seen gifts and envelopes of money being exchanged. To moralize political life, the election supervision agency, Bawaslu, called on citizens to denounce any purchase or attempt to buy votes.
But these practices persist despite warnings from the authorities. And some candidates are careful not to explicitly condemn them. While explaining to voters that they could accept gifts, Prabowo Subianto asked them to vote according to their convictions. “If someone promises you money, accept it, it’s your money, the people’s money. But please, vote according to your heart,” he recently told his colleagues. supporters.
David Camroux sees this as a responsibility of Joko Widodo who “weakened the anti-corruption commission created after 1998”. Transparency International estimates in its 2023 report that this body has been “seriously deprived of its powers”.
However, the researcher puts it into perspective, the fraudulent distribution of gifts and envelopes of cash does not weigh so heavily on the vote. “Most of the corrupt candidates in the previous legislative election were defeated,” he said.