Blog of the International Journal of Constitutional Law

After the Indonesian 2024 General Election: What Went Wrong With Indonesian Democracy?

–Stefanus Hendrianto, Pontifical Gregorian University

On March 20th, 2024, the Indonesian Election Commission officially declared that the Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto won the Presidential Election, which took place on February 14, 2024. The result might not be shocking because Prabowo had maintained a lead in the pre-election survey. Nevertheless, it is still surprising that he secured nearly 60% of the votes. So, the main issue to be addressed is how most Indonesian voters turned their support to a former commander of Special Forces under the military dictatorship, who has a history of alleged involvement in human rights abuses. Some suggest that the main factor is that Subianto managed to secure the endorsement of the incumbent president, Joko Widodo (Jokowi), whose son ran as Subianto’s vice president.[1] Moreover, some groups have accused the outgoing Jokowi administration of meddling in the General Election by orchestrating political maneuvers that allegedly influenced voters in the months leading up to the election, including the massive distribution of social assistance in key electoral regions.[2]

This essay, however, argues that there is something more disconcerting beneath the surface. While it is hard to deny that Jokowi’s showing favoritism toward the ticket that featured his son and his administration unfairly boosting Subianto’s campaign, in the end, Subianto’s strong performance is attributed primarily to voters who prioritize security, stability, and prosperity over concerns about the rule of law, human rights, and constitutionalism.

The Promise of Material Prosperity Versus Upholding the Rule of Law

In Jokowi’s decade in power, Indonesia has seen GDP grow by a cumulative 43%, with an average of 5 percent annual growth anchored by huge investment and consumption combined with massive infrastructure and social welfare spending.[3]  Most voters are happy with Jokowi’s economic performance and want to see Jokowi’s successor do the same. Unfortunately, Prabowo Subianto is the candidate most people believe will maintain Jokowi’s policy, especially after he picked Jokowi’s son as his running mate in the Presidential election.

What happened in Indonesia is not an anomaly in a democratic society. In Democracy in America, Alexis de Tocqueville compellingly explains how modern democratic people lose their natural attributes and embrace self-interest.[4] The pursuit of self-interest is closely related to people who seek material prosperity in the democratic era. This pursuit manifests in the longing for petty materialism, in which people spend so much energy wanting and working for material objects. For Tocqueville, materialism is the most significant threat to democracy because it “combines marvelously” with the “most familiar vice of the heart” of the people: the desire for material gratification.[5] When the “taste for material gratification” is already excessive, materialism will eventually deprive citizens of their belief in the possibility of self-government.[6] As people spend so much energy wanting and working for material objects, they focus on mediocre material goods instead of grand ideas such as the rule of law, constitutionalism, and human rights.  

Over the past decade, Jokowi has bolstered the Indonesian economy to a Gross Domestic Product approaching $5,000, eventually benefiting the middle class and triggering a wave of consumer goods spending.[7] As the primary beneficiary of Jokowi’s economic performance, these groups of citizens merely focused on material gratification and cared less about the subversion of democracy under Jokowi’s reign of power. They closed their eyes to the fact that Prabowo’s candidacy was organized with substantial manipulation from Jokowi and his supporters. Jokowi’s son, Gibran Rakabuming Raka, was eligible to stand as a vice-presidential candidate only after the Constitutional Court, led by Jokowi’s brother-in-law Anwar Usman, overturned the statutory requirement that the candidates must be at least 40 so that 36-year-old Gibran could run as the running mate of Prabowo Subianto.[8]  These voters also shut their ears to Prabowo’s terrible human rights record, let alone that he is a member of the old ruling elite under military dictatorship.

The average citizen might not be aware that Indonesian democracy is in serious trouble under Jokowi’s presidency. They supported the Prabowo-Gibran ticket because they believed that it was most likely to continue Jokowi’s economic agenda and guarantee material prosperity. For instance, one of Prabowo’s key campaign promises is a free school lunch and milk to over 78 million students and 4.4 million expectant mothers nationwide.[9] While the plan, estimated to cost 460 trillion rupiah ($28.79 billion), has drawn criticism from the opposition, who question how it would be funded, this did not stop voters from trusting Prabowo’s flagship program and eventually supporting the former General.  

Weak Citizens and Strong State

In the 2024 Presidential Election, Prabowo defeated other candidates – former Governor of Jakarta Anies Baswedan, who was backed by a coalition of the National Democratic Party (Nasdem) and the National Awakening Party (PKB), and former Governor of Central Java Ganjar Pranowo, who was supported by the ruling Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDIP). Baswedan and Pranowo are from the same generation and share the same experience; they both are in their early 50s and have a proven track record as Governors of the two most important Provinces in the country. Why did voters instead support a 72-year-old retired General with troubling human rights records? One plausible explanation is that Prabowo’s reputation as a strongman may have attracted many people to support him.

This phenomenon can be understood from the perspective of relations between weak citizens who always seek protection from a strong state. Tocqueville, in Democracy in America, saw that democracy would “isolate men from one another and bring each of them to be occupied with himself alone.”[10] Human beings will choose to retire into the private realm as the manifestation of individualism. As democracy creates isolation and separation among human beings, the isolated democratic people will eventually look up to a higher power for protection. Tocqueville explained that these weak and isolated democratic men will search for a higher power that would resemble “paternal power,” which provides for their “security,” secures “their needs,” and facilitates their “pleasures.” Consequently, people will turn to the strong state to fill the void and depend more on the government to care for everything.

In the Indonesian presidential election, voters found that neither Baswedan nor Pranowo were trusted figures who could provide security and facilitate their needs and pleasures. Anies Baswedan is an American-educated academic who turned into a politician. He was the Minister of Education and Culture under President Jokowi (2014 -2016) and then served as Governor of Jakarta from 2017 to 2022. Baswedan appears to be the most eloquent and intellectually robust of the three presidential candidates; nevertheless, average citizens might consider him too elitist. Baswedan attracted votes from the upper class (30.4 %) and voters with higher education (34.3 %).[11]  But he failed to garner support from the lower class (19.7%), as well as from voters with a primary (18.8%) or secondary education (20.7%). Similarly, Baswedan gained more support from the modern Islamic group Muhammadiyah (41.9%) than the traditional-rural-based Nahdatul Ulama (21.8%).

Ganjar Pranowo began his political career as an MP representing the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDIP). Then, he rose to become the Governor of Central Java, one of the most populous provinces in the country. Pranowo has long been considered a protégé of President Jokowi. Like Jokowi, Pranowo has been perceived as a leader with a humble background who came from outside the military and political establishment. Jokowi and Pranowo are known for their down-to-earth approach but are both intellectually weak. Some people believe that Pranowo’s political fortune was starting to crumble after Jokowi betrayed his own party, PDIP, and started to endorse the tickets of Prabowo Subianto and Gibran Rakabuming Raka. While there is some truth to the effect of Jokowi’s endorsement, the main reason that Pranowo finished in third place is that his folksy charm failed to convince voters that he is a strong leader who can provide prosperity and security for them. Despite his populist appeal, Pranowo failed to garner support from lower-class voters (16%), nor was he successful in attracting support from voters with primary (17.4%) and secondary education backgrounds (12.6%).

In the end, Prabowo Subianto successfully convinced voters that he was a trusted figure who could provide the material prosperity, security, and stability that many voters longed for. He did well among lower-class voters (55.9%) and voters with a primary (55.6%) and secondary education background (57.4%). Moreover, the majority of the voters from the traditionalist Nahdatul Ulama (55.8%) voted for Prabowo, and the independent Muslim group (49.5 %) also extended support for Prabowo. While the Christian population is small, their voting behavior showed that as a minority group, they feel more secure under Prabowo. The fact that almost 65% of the Catholic vote went to Prabowo signifies that minority groups are feeling weak and, therefore, they are seeking protection from a strong leader.

How Will Prabowo Lead Indonesia?

As the president-elect, Prabowo will not take office until October. By the time this essay was written, Anies Baswedan and Ganjar Pranowo had challenged the election results in the Constitutional Court. So, we must still wait a little while to see Prabowo’s governing style. Many Indonesian voters see the next administration as a de facto third term for Jokowi, or at least as representing the continuity of Jokowi’s agenda. But Prabowo is not Jokowi, and after he takes office, Prabowo no longer needs to rely on Jokowi to govern. While Jokowi may rely on his son as his proxy in the government, Gibran is still inexperienced, and he is less likely to be able to control Prabowo.  Whether Prabowo will curtail constitutional rights and freedoms remains an open question. Interestingly, Prabowo was the only one of the three candidates who did not respond to a list of questions from Human Rights Watch about what they would do as Indonesia’s next president to safeguard human rights.[12] As a President, Prabowo may run the country in the mold of his former father-in-law, Soeharto, who ruled Indonesia for 32 years, but at the same time, he might also craft a populist appeal to maintain support from the citizens. But at the end of the day, Prabowo’s administration is not interested in building a healthy republication form of democracy where there is an active participation of citizens and respect for the rule of law and constitutional rights. Prabowo is only interested in a thin form of democracy with an election that gives him an advantage, so he can manipulate people’s sentiment to support him as the savior of the nation. 

Suggested citation: Stefanus Hendrianto, After the Indonesian 2024 General Election: What Went Wrong With Indonesian Democracy? Int’l J. Const. L. Blog, Mar. 26, 2024, at:

[1] Shinta Saragih, “Prabowo’s likely victory: Jokowi’s effect and a test for Indonesia’s democracy,” The Conversation Indonesia, February 14, 2024,

[2] Natalie Sambhi, “Indonesia’s eras: Reflections on Jokowi’s legacy and Prabowo’s presidency,” The Brookings Institution, February 28, 2024,

[3] James Guild, “The 2024 Indonesian Election is All About the Economy,” The Diplomat, February 13, 2004.

[4] See Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, translated, edited, and with an introduction by Harvey C. Mansfield and Delba Winthrop (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2000).

[5] Tocqueville, Democracy in America, 2.2.15. p. 519.

[6] See Harvey C. Mansfield. “Tocqueville on Religion and Liberty.” American Political Thought 5, No. 2 (2016): 250-276, 265.

[7] A. Anantha Lakshmi & Andy Lin, “In Charts: How the Joko Widodo Era Remade Modern Indonesia’s Economy,” Financial Times, February 10, 2024, at

[8] Stefanus Hendrianto, The Indonesian Constitutional Court and the Subversion of Democracy: The Court Removes Minimum Age Requirements for the President’s Son, Int’l J. Const. L. Blog, Nov. 9, 2023, at:

[9] Erwida Maulia and Ismi Damayanti, “Free lunch, free internet: Indonesia candidates defend election pledges,” NikeiAsia,  February 5th, 2024,

[10] Tocqueville, Democracy in America, 2.1.5., p. 419.

[11] All of the data in this essay is based on the Exit Poll conducted by the research and development department of the Indonesian newspaper Kompas (Litbang Kompas).

[12] Human Rights Watch, “Indonesia: Candidates Speak Out on Human Rights,” February 8, 2024,


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