The results of the Indonesian presidential elections in July could impact the relationship between Australia and Indonesia with a win for Prabowo posing the greatest difficulty.
Prabowo Subianto, a former army general and leader of Great Indonesia Movement Party (Gerindra), might create difficulty in Australian and Indonesian government relations based on his track record. Prabowo, son-in-law to Suharto, was suspected of killing several activists and students prior to the 1997 election and has been denied entry into the United States over the issue.
Tim Lindsey, director of the Centre for the Indonesian Law, Islam and Society at the University of Melbourne, said: “It’s going to be very difficult for the Australian government to deal with a person who has such a serious human rights record.”
Lindsey also said Prabowo’s aggressive economic nationalism and his policy to make Indonesia economically independent of other countries would be hard to implement. Indonesia is a net importer of rice and though Australia has not being effective in engaging commercially with Indonesia the future policy would create a problem for Indonesia’s trading path.
“The tension that has already reduced between Indonesia and Australia would be increased by aggressive nationalism,” he said.
“He will be a difficult person for Australia to deal with. Jokowi would be much easier for Australia to deal with because he doesn’t have a terrible human rights record of torturing people and he has a very good record as an effective administrator, first in Solo and then Jakarta.”
Joko Widodo, commonly known as Jokowi, the Governor of Jakarta and presidential candidate from the largest opposition party, The Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), is Prabowo’s strongest rival presidential candidate.
Erick De Haas, president of the Australia-Indonesia Association, a non-profit organisation engaging social and cultural understanding between Australia and Indonesia, said Jokowi’s humble quality led to him being seen as a “common man” without interest in power and luxury.
“The other candidates tend to be from the previous generation. People are looking for someone younger, [someone] clean in the sense of corruption,” De Haas said.
There is still tension in the relationship between Australia and Indonesia after the wiretapping issue last year and the controversy over the asylum seeker policy. Natalie Sambhie, analyst from Australian Strategic Policy Institute, said that during the election cooperation between the two countries was slowly being restored in the background although it was not yet at the same level it was at before October last year.
“It would be beneficial for both sides if full cooperation could be restored as soon as possible, although this is not expected to happen until after the President is inaugurated in October and selects the Cabinet,” Sambhi said.
The presidential elections will be held on July 9. This will be the fourth democratic election since the downfall of the autocratic Soeharto government in 1998.