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On April 17th 2019, Indonesia held general elections for the country’s presidency and legislature. The election pitted the incumbent Joko Widodo, better known as Jokowi against Prabowo Subianto. Jokowi, often compared to Barrack Obama, is the first democratically elected president of Indonesia from a non-elite background. His opponent, Prabowo Subianto, is a former senior official in the regime of Indonesia’s dictator for 30 years, General Suharto and accused of serious human rights abuses in the aftermath of Suharto’s fall.

The 2019 presidential election is in part a referendum on Jokowi’s management of the economy. Indonesia’s economy has grown at around 5% a year since 2014, fueled by massive $350 billion infrastructure investment plan. Indonesia has dedicated close to a fifth of it’s budget to building roads, ports and dams. Indonesia’s infrastructure programs range from the construction of a new Mass Rapid Transport system for the capital Jakarta, to 191,000 km of roads in rural Indonesia. This infrastructure plan has been financed by slashing fuel subsidies, and borrowing heavily from abroad, especially China. However, these measures have proved to be politically costly, and Jokowi has been forced to temporarily backtrack on his subsidy cuts for the 2019 elections. His opponent, Prabowo Subianto, has promised a more nationalist economic vision for the economy, taking a much more skeptical stance towards foreign trade and investment.

The second big question of the 2019 election is the role of Islam in the politics of Indonesia. Indonesia is home to over 230 million Muslims, and Muslims make up 87% of Indonesia’s population. Indonesia has long maintained a tolerant and pluralist attitude towards religion. However, in recent years there have been worrying signs of rising extremism. For example, Ahok, governor of Jakarta, was sentenced to two years in prison for blasphemy and inciting violence in a deeply flawed trial. Prabowo Subianto has cast himself as conservative defender of Islam. In theory, Jokowi has taken a more liberal stance on religion. However, his choice of a hardline cleric as his vice president, and his refusal to support Ahok when he was under attack.

Although final results will not be in for the elections until May 22nd, preliminary counts suggest that Jokowi will win approximately 55% of the vote in the presidential election, a margin similar to his 2014 victory. Jokowi’s political party, the PDI-P has won approximately 20% of the vote. Indonesia’s electoral rules incentives political fragmentation, and as a result Jokowi will rely upon an ideologically diverse coalition of pass bills in the legislature. The elections suggest that Indonesia will have political continuity for the next five years. Just as important as the specific results of the 2019 elections is the fact they mark the fifth consecutive democratic elections in Indonesia. While there is a lot of uncertainty in Indonesia’s future, the strengthening of Indonesia’s political institutions provide a firm foundation to build upon.

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