Photograph by Arrizka Faida East West Center in Washington Young Professional

Indonesia’s Election Matters: Here’s What You Need to Know

Indonesia ASEAN Asia

The 2024 General Election in Indonesia marks a significant moment for the country, after its recent leadership roles for the G20 and ASEAN.

On February 14th, the fourth most populous country and third-largest democracy in the world held an election to choose a new leader. Around 205 million voters registered in the largest single-day election in the world.

The much anticipated contest between former Governor of Jakarta Anies Baswedan, Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto, and the former Governor of Central Java Ganjar Pranowo resulted in Prabowo receiving the most support, according to the quick count results.

A former general who served in the army's special command, Prabowo is also the former son-in-law of the Late Suharto, who was Indonesia's longest-serving president from 1968 to 1998. His running mate, Gibran Rakabuming Raka, is the son of current President Joko Widodo (affectionately referred to as Jokowi). Ganjar is a senior politician affiliated with the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) for nearly a decade and Anies served as the Minister of Education and Culture from 2014 to 2016.

The most pressing issue that Indonesian voters expected in this year’s election was price controls of basic necessities, such as food. Creating jobs and tackling unemployment was the second-most cited problem, with younger voters expressing concerns about job security. Reducing poverty ranked third, considering 9.5% of Indonesia's population lives below the national poverty line.

Indonesian Diaspora in the DMV Casts their Ballot

On February 10th, Indonesians living in the Washington DC, Maryland, and Virginia (DMV) region cast their ballots at the Indonesian ambassador’s residence. Andang Purnama, the head of the Overseas Election Committee (PPLN) in Washington DC, stated that the final voter list (DPT) totaled 1,700, consisting of 1,227 voters who went to the polling station and 473 voters who opted to vote by mail. The Chargé d’Affaires, Sade Bimantara, told the East-West Center in Washington that the Indonesian community in the US is relatively small, but active. The challenge for the overseas election process was informing potential voters about the early registration deadline, set for June 2023, well in advance of previous elections.

Why the Indonesian Election Matters to America

Indonesia possesses a combination of factors to make it one of the most important countries in Asia. With a population of over 279 million people, the demographic of young people aged 18-29 makes up 52% of the population. Indonesia ranks as the 16th largest economy in the world based on nominal GDP, seventh largest for purchasing power, and its GDP per capita surpasses that of India and Vietnam.

As the largest economy in Southeast Asia, Indonesia’s GDP grew approximately 5% in 2023. Commodities play a crucial role in Indonesia's economy, with the country being the leading global producer of coal, palm oil, and nickel. Nickel is highlighted as a significant resource for the US because it is a key component in electric vehicle batteries. US foreign direct investment (FDI) in Indonesia totaled $11.9 billion in 2022, the majority of which was in mining and manufacturing.

Indonesia's presence on the global stage is increasing following its chairmanship of the G20 in 2022 and ASEAN summit in 2023. President Jokowi visited the US four times since his presidency began in 2014. Kurt Campbell, the deputy secretary of state, said that "If you ranked the countries most important to the United States but least understood, Indonesia would be first." Among the foreign policy challenges facing the Biden administration, Indonesia appears to receive less attention than other countries.

Indonesia intensified bilateral military exercises with the US through the 2023 Exercise Super Garuda Shield. Approximately 2,100 US troops and 1,900 Indonesian troops formed the primary contingent, joined by forces from Australia, Japan, Singapore, France, and the United Kingdom. In November 2023, Jokowi's visit to the White House for a meeting with US President Joe Biden resulted in elevating the US-Indonesia relationship to a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership (CSP). This partnership includes various initiatives such as addressing the global semiconductor value chain, enhancing digital connectivity in rural Indonesia, and the defense cooperation agreement.

US State Department spokesperson, Matthew Miller, congratulated Indonesia for its election. He also highlighted key priority areas for cooperation between Indonesia and the United States, including “combating climate change, promoting prosperity and security in the Indo-Pacific region, and maintaining international stability”. Potential areas of partnership include strengthening mineral supply chains, improving Indonesia’s investment environment, and supporting Indonesia's full membership in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

This year also marks the celebration of 75 years of diplomatic relations between the United States and Indonesia. Indonesia warrants greater attention, not solely from US policymakers but also from the public. That’s why this election matters: whoever becomes the president of Indonesia will determine whether the country can fulfill its huge potential.

Arrizka Faida is a Young Professional at the East-West Center in Washington DC. She received her master’s degree from Cornell University, Brooks School of Public Policy, studying MPA in Science, Technology, and Infrastructure Policy.