The 2014 elections marked a crucial turning point for Indonesia’s democracy. Following successful parliamentary elections in April, nearly 135 million Indonesians went to the polls in July to directly elect their next president. The competitive race between Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, governor of Jakarta, and Prabowo Subianto, a former special-forces general, resulted in the most closely contested presidential election in the nation’s history. Despite the incentive for increased electoral manipulation, vote buying and fraud, the election was deemed credible and inclusive by most national analysts. On July 22, 2014, the General Elections Commission (KPU) announced that Jokowi had won in 23 provinces securing 53 percent of the vote. A month later, Indonesia’s Constitutional Court upheld the results, rejecting an appeal by Prabowo that claimed widespread electoral fraud. During Jokowi’s inauguration in October 2014, the world’s third largest democracy witnessed its first transfer of power from one directly elected president to another.
Though Indonesia has emerged as a model for democracy in the region, its transition has not been without setbacks. Since the fall of the Suharto regime in 1998, Indonesia’s ambitious programs of institutional reform and democratization have been marred by violent protests, ethnic and sectarian strife and secessionist movements. The country continues to confront ongoing issues of corruption and a rise in fundamentalism and sectarian violence. Despite these challenges, however, Indonesia has succeeded in its efforts to create a credible constitutional court and elections commission, as well as an active and powerful anti-corruption commission.
The 2014 elections were an important step forward for Indonesia, but Jokowi’s administration faces challenges to sustaining the country’s achievements in democracy and development. The incoming parliament, controlled by the opposition Koalisi Merah Putih (Red and White Coalition) that represents much of the old political and military establishment, recently passed a bill abolishing the direct election of mayors, district heads and governors, transferring power from Indonesian citizens to the regional legislatures. Many Indonesians have protested highlighting ongoing tensions as the country struggles to consolidate its democratic systems and institutions. As Indonesian civil society is increasingly called upon to promote public confidence in elections and democratic institutions, citizen activists will need to further develop their capacity to educate the public and effectively monitor political processes.