Abstract: In 2014, Indonesian democracy came close to experiencing significant regression when Prabowo Subianto missed winning the presidential election by 6.5 percentage points. Prabowo, a leading hardline general during the final years of the Suharto regime, aimed to wind back important elements of Indonesia’s democratic reforms. This article analyzes the ideological and material foundations of Prabowo’s challenge, and its implications for Indonesian democracy. It argues that Prabowo presented a classically populist challenger, advancing an economic nationalist platform and depicting himself as embodying the popular will and as a strong leader who would smash through the corruption gripping the political elite. Prabowo mounted this challenge using economic and political resources that he derived from his position as a leading oligarch. A member of a prominent Suharto-era elite family, his campaign underlined the fusion of informal political and economic power that continues to characterize Indonesia’s oligarchy. His campaign, moreover, was supported by a wide array of established parties and entrenched economic interests, pointing not so much to the vulnerability of Indonesian democracy to outsider challenge as to the fragility of many of its core participants’ commitment to democratic values and procedures.
Indonesia – Southeast Asia Program [Cornell University]
Published: May 29, 2015
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