What’s Next for Indonesia under Prabowo

Prabowo’s win is expected , especially since he named Gibran Rakabuming, Jokowi’s eldest son, as his running mate. Prabowo lost to Jokowi in the previous two bitterly fought presidential elections.The Jokowi effect is firmly driving the upward momentum of support.

Jokowi’s own popularity helps to strengthen the Prabowo-Gibran pair, despite mounting backlash for Jokowi in his efforts to mobilise support for Prabowo.

However, realities from now on will bite hard, for Prabowo to cement his own legacy and credentials and in disassociating from Jokowi’s historical and dominating legacies and traits. There might be less intent moving forward in reinforcing Gibran’s presence and influence, despite Prabowo’s pledge to retain most of Jokowi’s policies including the Nusantara plan.

The pledges remain economic and welfare centric, and with the strategic intent to win over the electorate on the pertinent issues that matter and resonate.

He has pledged to push biofuels for energy self-sufficiency, to build a hospital in every municipality, to open new lands for agriculture and to create 19million new jobs on top of an 8% annual growth, among others.

Prabowo’s top priority is his 460 trillion rupiah ($29 billion) free lunch and milk plan for schools and expecting mothers, and increasing the nation’s defense spending. This alone will add to the additional burden of Jokowi’s agenda, including the cost for the new capital, which is also expected to cost 466 trillion rupiah.

Concerns on fiscal discipline and risks are high, as observers are waiting for any potential loopholes or financial risks to the country in the bigger exposure to the financial debt and the case of China once again being the strategic player that is quick to provide short term support in seeing this development.

 

Prabowo’s victory is sure to invite similar internal outcry over his human rights records and procurements of defence assets under his purview, but the larger interests of the nation’s overall security and future interests remain the bigger focus of the electorate.

Anti China rhetoric has largely been muted throughout the campaigning, and Prabowo is seen as the right choice for Beijing for being able to balance interests and power equation in the region without outright calling out openly against China and maintaining the regional model of dealing with China, backdoor and quiet diplomacy.

Pranowo and Baswedan both have a more vocal approach with China, calling for a lesser dependence with the Asian giant but fell short of outright condemnation and a total review of ties.

China is Indonesia’s biggest trade partner and its main source of foreign investment, especially in nickel smelters, which figure prominently in the country’s push to industrialize.

This ingrained economic dependence is not Indonesia’s problem alone to solve, and it reflects the ever more embedded regional dilemma with Beijing, in economy and security domains.

For Prabowo to secure domestic support and to salvage the future of economic survival of Indonesia, he has no choice but to prioritise the bigger and more urgent segment of national economic certainties and preventing any immediate fallout from a potential economic, trade and investment backlash from China which will lessen the bargaining power of Indonesia.

The other two candidates have tried to raise the urgency of economic and security diversification for Indonesia, but the reluctance to criticize the role of Chinese companies in a string of environmental problems, highlights the reality that whoever becomes Indonesia’s next president will still rely heavily on China economically.

Indonesia’s non-alignment policy never really took a huge blow in the aftermath of the results, as Prabowo remains pragmatic in his stance and strategic statecraft in ensuring both China and the West channel their resources and strategic interests in the country, without the need to tilt to one side far enough to create a looming economic retaliation.

The electorate is now made up of more than 52% of Gen Z and the millennials, and economic and bread and butter  issues remain the prevailing sentiment. All three candidates have steered towards this segment, and economic security remains the most pivotal factor.

Prabowo would not disrupt the status quo of regional peace and stability, and he will thus need to engage more equally with both Beijing and Washington.

For Anies, he would advocate for a more values-based diplomatic outreach for Jakarta, criticising the current transactional diplomacy that is being practised. For Indonesia to return to the grand global stage, specific and targeted issues and affairs that directly correlate with Indonesia’s future survival and resilience must be the priorities.

The son-in-law of late strongman President Suharto, Prabowo was dismissed from the military amid allegations of rights abuses and was once banned from the United States for about two decades.

Under Jokowi, he has also transformed into an appealing personality in alluring to the younger electorate. He also has his own persona and strong leadership and character appeal, having been in the fray in the past two presidential elections.

How the West will decisively deal with Prabowo in shaping Indonesia’s domestic economic and critical sector transformation that will remain vital for the West’s containment of China especially in supply chain, energy, maritime and geostrategic security will depend on how the West and Washington balance their values-based card with Prabowo. For any increased overtures, the need to court his increased buy-in for a greater realignment of West friendly hard power accommodation must not be at the expense of democratic ideals and human rights protection.

Being the world’s third largest economy, Indonesia remains the de factor democratic bulwark of the West’s global arch of freedom and democracy, serving as the connecting point in linking up with the larger domain of democratic bastion that started from Japan to Australia and India, creating its own version of the Great Wall of Democracy in the Indo Pacific.

For this, regional power and security domains in Southeast Asia and Indo Pacific remain a critical cornerstone for Prabowo. Soft power confluence and image building has yielded little returns throughout the helm of Jokowi, which has produced less than expected direct and realistic returns to Indonesia’s critical short term needs.

While the electorate has indicated that Indonesia’s future foreign policy is rooted on similarity of Jokowi’s approach, growing changes in the regional security architecture will threaten this model of Indonesia’s vision of being the regional kingmaker in its own autonomous rights of dictating the impact of the big power rivalry in the region.

 

The ex-general is widely expected to bolster his country’s armed forces  while continuing to avoid being trapped under the Beijing-Washington rivalry.In his quest to modernise the hard power capacity of Indonesia, any sustained efforts whether in financial resources or geostrategic capacities to reap greater power returns will not be complete without a real and credible presence and support of Washington and its allies, especially the rest of the Quad members.

This creates a new dilemma for Prabowo, as he delicately tries to avoid upsetting Beijing and its importance in ensuring Indonesia’s Global South role.

His quest will also include bringing back the legitimate power of Indonesia at the global fray, beyond the traditional domain and boundary of the region alone. For this however, the right courting of both Beijing and Washington remains tricky.

ASEAN as an entity to manouvre through the rivalry will be reclaimed as Indonesia’s primary tool under Prabowo, but that will require a toned down approach vis a vis Beijing and regional members that are pivoting away from the traditional reliance on ASEAN.

For Indonesia to make ASEAN as both the needed buffer and propeller of Indonesia’s global quest, it will need to escape its current approach with both Beijing and the West in providing enough credentials and pulling factor for both external powers in gauging the long term trust and sincerity of Prabowo in serving the interests of both countries in the region, beyond the traditional realm of Beijing economic factor and Washington’s security partner tag.

Prabowo’s intent to beef up Jakarta’s defensive, deterrent and offensive capacities will inevitably involve Washington’s direct presence and support, and although Beijing has ramped up its defence diplomacy and friendshoring efforts to woo Jakarta and the region, it realizes that there are limits to economic interests and interdependence. Especially when nationalistic sentiments are a much more potent and useful tool for both Jakarta and Prabowo in dealing with maritime security, national sovereignty and hard power readiness especially in conflict areas including North Natuna Sea.

 

As Prabowo also tries to have elements of uncertainties to reduce the predictability factor in gauging his priorities and interests for the country and for his regime’s security, existing allies and future allies will play an even more prominent role.

One such player is Vietnam, apart from the existing Quad members. Hanoi shares similar policy dilemmas and traps especially in the domains of security symbiosis with Beijing, and both have similar degrees of economic dependence and options to use future leverage to lessen that tone and depth of the economic card for a greater security assurance.

Prabowo will deepen and expand on the overtures and strategic moves by Jokowi to bolster economic and security ties with Hanoi, and to seek steps to capitalize on the EEZ agreement and other confidence building measures to build greater trust based models of cooperation in security and economic domains.

Other measures include food and energy security and a new economic corridor of partnership based on smart cultivation and in harnessing the new energy transition and a digital and green economy advancement. Both will leverage on one another’s future assets and, especially in facing the new realities of a declining Chinese economic prospect and the eventual rising tendency of Beijing to focus on a more bellicose action plan in the region to make up for the looming socio-economic crisis.

The future is increasingly tilted towards the limit of Prabowo’s flexibility and agility in his policy overtures and changes, but realities on the ground will prove to be tougher for him to overcome than mere pledges of words and strategic political mind game for the world’s third largest democracy.

[Photo by U.S. Secretary of Defense, via Wikimedia Commons]

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.

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