Prabowo emerges victorious in Indonesia's election: What it means for our close Malaysia-Indonesia ties?

16 Feb 2024 08:40am
Prabowo Subianto
Prabowo Subianto

SHAH ALAM - In the lead-up to Indonesia's general election, all eyes are on the presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto and his running mate Gibran Rakabuming Raka.

The unofficial vote counts revealed that the former defence minister Prabowo won about 58 per cent of the vote in the first round of the presidential election, marking the world's largest single-day election with over 270 million voters.

This marks a huge victory for him who has lost two presidential bids previously.

Aside from Prabowo, rivals Anies Baswedan and Ganjar Pranowo trailed with about 25 per cent and 17 per cent, respectively, according to the independent pollsters conducting the counts. The pollster, one of the most trusted, have provided an accurate picture of results from the previous presidential elections held in the country since it began direct voting for the president in 2004.

It had been a well-known fact that Prabowo would top the list as he was endorsed by Indonesia’s current president Joko Widodo, commonly known as Jokowi as well as the fact as the latter’s son, Gibran, was the man’s running-mate.

Who is Prabowo?

Prabowo Subianto, a prominent figure in Indonesian politics, brings with him a legacy linked with military commander during the rule of his then father-in-law, the late former president Suharto, who ruled from 1967 to 1998.

Under Suharto's regime, Prabowo was known as one of the leaders involved in the abduction and alleged torture of dissident activists. He later clarified that it was merely part of his duty as a soldier to follow orders and “were legal at the time”.

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As a former top general and defence minister, Prabowo's tenure has been marked by both accolades and controversies.

While praised for his strategic acumen and dedication to national security, Prabowo has faced scrutiny for alleged human rights violations, leading to his ban from entering the United States at one point of time.

Nonetheless, his candidacy signals a shift towards a more security-focused leadership, with implications not only for Indonesia but also for neighbouring countries like Malaysia and Singapore.

What can we expect for Malaysia-Indonesia relations?

Political analysts have weighed in on the significance of Prabowo's interactions with Malaysian counterparts, shedding light on potential outcomes for economic, social, and security cooperation between the two nations.

Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman International Relations senior lecturer and political analyst Afi Roshezry Abu Bakar highlighted the recent meeting between Prabowo and Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim as indicative of the importance attached to Malaysia-Indonesia ties in the general election.

"Prabowo came and met Anwar last year so it shows how important Malaysia and Indonesia are in the general election. That shows a very good signal for Malaysia because all the candidates especially Prabowo came to Malaysia just to meet Anwar to discuss a lot of things.

"We can expect a good gesture in terms of economic and social. They had almost 200 million registered voters in Indonesia which is one of the biggest in Southeast Asia and also in the world, we can see how important (bilateral relations for) both countries in the next coming years," he told Sinar Daily.

However, he also cautioned about potential security tensions, given Prabowo's military background, urging vigilance and diplomatic dialogue to address border disputes.

Afi Roshezry described Prabowo’s leadership and experience being “good for them” but more risqué for us, as “we have to be ready at all times and see what is going to happen next”.

Although it was still in early days to predict Prabowo’s next move, he said among key points would be border issues and trespassing.

Chiming Singapore in, he said the country should also be on high alert as Singapore’s Air Force would sometimes trespass into the Indonesian airspace.

“We have to be alert all the time and have proper discussions," he added.

Meanwhile, Universiti Sultan Zainal Abidin’s International Relations Department Head Dr Hussain Yusri Zawawi focused the conversation on the strengthening of Malaysia-Indonesia relations and anticipated continuity in economic and social cooperation from Jokowi's leadership.

He said Indonesia and Malaysia relations would mainly focus on trade, investments and cooperation in economic development projects.

"I believe that the relationship between Malaysia and Indonesia is stronger and better based on the continuity of Jokowi's leadership. The foreign policies between Malaysia and Indonesia will continue to be strengthened, especially in the economic and social contexts.

"As we know, Indonesia and Malaysia are the leading countries in the Asean region, particularly in the economic aspect. Any leadership in Indonesia will utilise economic opportunities for the benefit of the country.

"Trade relations, investments, and cooperation in economic development projects are likely to be the main focus," he told Sinar Daily.

He noted that Prabowo's military experience as potentially bolstering Indonesia's stance on national security, particularly concerning sovereignty issues vis-à-vis foreign powers like China.

He said Prabowo had strengths due to his military background, which indirectly had a significant impact on Indonesia and also Malaysia, especially in terms of national security.

"I believe that his experience in the military makes Indonesia more proactive in safeguarding its sovereignty, particularly from the interference of foreign powers such as China.

"As we know, China's claims in the South China Sea are not to be taken lightly, but Prabowo's military experience is seen as bringing a new perspective to the security and sovereignty landscape of Indonesia and strategically positioned Malaysia," he said.

Zawawi also acknowledged varying opinions on Jakarta's capital relocation to Kalimantan, citing potential economic and environmental implications that could shape Prabowo's stance on the matter.

"This project was introduced as an effort to address traffic congestion, floods and land subsidence in Jakarta, as well as to reduce development disparities between Java and other islands.

"Prabowo as a government official, may have a supportive stance toward this policy, especially if it is seen as a strategic step for national development and environmental sustainability.

"However, individual opinions on this plan can be influenced by various factors, including political views, economic considerations and environmental concerns," he said.

Contrarily, political expert Dr Oh Ei Sun adopted a more cautious outlook, anticipating fluctuations in bilateral relations and downplayed expectations of significant security enhancements under Prabowo's presidency.

He said bilateral relations will see its ups and downs as usual but Prabowo has long since retired as a military man thus security was unlikely to be particularly beefed up.

He suggested that the pace of capital relocation initiatives might not accelerate significantly, despite Vice President Gibran's potential influence, while expressing relief over the avoidance of a potential religiously charged leadership scenario.

"As Gibran is Vice President, there will still be lip service on relocating the capital, but the pace is unlikely to be as proactive as now," he said.

In the end, results not much of a surprise?

Many had expected the presidential poll to be decided in two rounds but. showed the result, based on the quick count method conducted by a number of pollsters has proven otherwise.

With almost all of the quick count results putting Prabowo nearly with 60 per cent ahead, Wednesday's win was a decisive one for the 72-year former military general, where the third time was truly a charm.

It, however, was not a surprise at all to those who kept a close eye during the election process. The victory, admittedly, came to the Prabowo-Gibran duo despite the massive outcry particularly by activists, academics, university students and a large group of the middle class, who raised the alarm over alleged improper conduct by Jokowi’s administration.

All eyes are on Prabowo now as they will monitor every step he takes to ensure democracy and rights of the people are upheld and protected, as well as what he brings to the international table.