Will Indonesian President-elect Prabowo stay true to Jokowi’s policies?

Prabowo Subianto will balance campaign promises and budgetary constraints with his predecessor’s programs, analysts say.
Pizaro Gozali Idrus
Will Indonesian President-elect Prabowo stay true to Jokowi’s policies? Current Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto, center, adjusts his tie as Indonesian President Joko Widodo, left, and his deputy Ma’ruf Amin, right, take their position for a group photo with other new cabinet ministers after a swearing-in ceremony on Oct. 23, 2019.
AP Photo/Dita Alangkara

Indonesian President-elect Prabowo Subianto has vowed to uphold the legacy of his predecessor Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, but he will be “no mere puppet” in office and is likely to quickly assert his independence, analysts say.

The 72-year-old defense minister swept to victory in Indonesia’s Feb. 14 election on the coattails of the extraordinarily popular Jokowi, whose tacit support for his former rival proved decisive in his win.

For many observers, the question now is will Prabowo stay true to Jokowi’s policies after assuming power in October?

Muradi, a political analyst at Padjadjaran University in Bandung, said that Prabowo was likely to break from Jokowi’s influence within months as he seeks to establish his own presidential legacy. 

“Prabowo has long dreamed of becoming president,” Muradi, who goes by one name, told BenarNews.  “He wants to be seen as his own man. I predict their alliance won’t last long after he takes office, 100 days tops.”

Prabowo, a fiery ex-general born into Indonesia’s political elite, is cut from a very different political mold than Jokowi, a former furniture salesman from central Java who improbably reached the country’s highest office. 

“Fundamentally, these two individuals have distinct characters – different perspectives, visions and obsessions,” said Siti Zuhro, a political analyst at the National Research and Innovation Agency.

“It wouldn’t be Prabowo if he didn’t assert his unique approach, especially now that he holds the highest office. He will undoubtedly be more assertive and decisive,” she said, adding he would probably maintain some of Jokowi’s programs to bolster his legitimacy as president.

Indonesia's President-elect Prabowo Subianto, left, and his running mate Gibran Rakabuming Raka at the General Elections Commission office after the results of the 2024 presidential race were announced in Jakarta on April 24, 2024. [Yasuyoshi Chiba/AFP]

Prabowo, who was married to the daughter of longtime dictator Suharto, lost to Jokowi in the 2014 and 2019 presidential elections, before accepting an invitation to join his rival’s cabinet as defense minister.

During this year’s election, Prabowo chose Jokowi’s eldest son Gibran Rakabuming Raka as his vice-presidential nominee – a move that was perceived as an attempt by the outgoing president to maintain power after leaving office. 

Though Jokowi, who is barred from a third term, did not explicitly endorse a candidate, his numerous public appearances alongside Prabowo during the campaign period and refusal to back the candidate from his own Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), sent a clear signal to the electorate. 

Jokowi’s ambitious infrastructure initiatives, including the relocation of Indonesia’s capital from Jakarta to a new city on Borneo island named “Nusantara,” are the most visible aspects of his political legacy.

Prabowo has vowed to maintain many of these, but the president-elect has staked his name on numerous policies of his own.

Chief among them is a pledge to provide free lunches to all 82 million Indonesian school children, a project with a price tag that dwarfs Prabowo’s proposed annual budget for the construction of the new national capital.

Prabowo’s team estimates the program will require an initial investment ranging from $6.2 billion to $7.4 billion in the first year.

In contrast, Prabowo said in early May that his government planned to allocate $1 billion annually for the construction of Nusantara. 

Basic infrastructure, including roads, dams, bridges and government buildings, are expected to be completed by year-end. But the entire project is not expected to be finished until 2045.

This undated handout shows computer-generated imagery of Indonesia’s future presidential palace in East Kalimantan in the new capital named “Nusantara.” [Nyoman Nuarta/AFP]

Nusantara has been dogged by challenges since its inception. Slow construction progress, delays in land acquisition, limited investment interest and concerns about environmental impact have plagued the endeavor. 

The site of the new city on Borneo island, rich in biodiversity, has raised fears that construction will irreparably harm its delicate ecosystem.

Zuhro said Prabowo might restructure the Nusantara project. 

“This move would ensure that the Nusantara capital project remains non-controversial under his leadership,” she said. 

Trubus Rahadiansyah, a public policy observer from Trisakti University in Jakarta, said Prabowo’s decision to allocate approximately about $1 billion annually for the new capital project falls significantly short of Jokowi’s administration, which disbursed $1.8 billion in 2023 and set a budget ceiling of $2.8 billion for 2024. 

Prabowo is expected to evaluate other high-cost policies from Jokowi’s government, including the plan to extend the China-funded Jakarta-Bandung high-speed train to Surabaya, Trubus said.

“Prabowo is likely to take an instrumental approach to policy. If a policy demonstrates effectiveness, it will be maintained; otherwise, it will be reevaluated,” he told BenarNews.

Ambang Priyonggo, a political observer at Multimedia Nusantara University, said Prabowo was not someone who was easily swayed.

“Prabowo won’t settle for being a mere puppet leader,” he said.

However, economic interests, particularly land concessions and project contracts related to the Nusantara capital project, could significantly shape Prabowo’s policy decisions, Ambang said. 

“Behind the scenes, those who secure land concessions and projects [related to the national capital construction] align themselves with Prabowo’s camp,” he said.

Prabowo Subianto greets supporters during his campaign rally in Lubuk Pakam, North Sumatra, Indonesia on Feb. 7, 2024. [AP Photo/Binsar Bakkara]

Muradi, of Padjadjaran University, said that Prabowo might even seek support from the PDI-P, which has strained relations with Jokowi. 

PDI-P secretary general Hasto Kristiyanto has indicated the party’s willingness to engage with Prabowo, stating that chair and former president Megawati Sukarnoputri is open to a meeting. 

Prabowo's spokesman, Dahnil Anzar Simanjuntak, did not respond to a request for comment on the speculation from BenarNews.

Dahnil told CNN Indonesia on Monday that certain factions were sowing discord between Prabowo, Jokowi and Megawati, without providing details.

Ultimately, Prabowo faces a delicate task of balancing policy ambitions with fiscal realities, according to Ali Sahab, a political lecturer at Airlangga University in Surabaya.

He will have to navigate between fulfilling his own promises and proceeding with Jokowi’s programs, Ali said. 

“The challenge is not merely about Prabowo imprinting his own style on the government, but rather ensuring there’s enough money,” Ali told BenarNews. 

Nazarudin Latif in Jakarta contributed to the article. 


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