Podcast / American Prestige / Mar 26, 2024

Prabowo and the 2024 Indonesia General Election

On this episode of American Prestige, Michael G. Vann on Indonesia’s new president-elect.

The Nation Podcasts
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Here's where to find podcasts from The Nation. Political talk without the boring parts, featuring the writers, activists and artists who shape the news, from a progressive perspective.

Prabowo and the 2024 Indonesia General Election | American Prestige
byThe Nation Magazine

On this episode of American Prestige, Danny and Derek speak with Michael G. Vann, professor of history at California State University, Sacramento, about Indonesia, which recently held an election resulting in Prabowo Subianto as president-elect. They discuss the country’s era of reform (Reformasi) since the end of Suharto’s rule in 1998, the composition of its elite class, Prabowo’s controversial career long predating his 2024 campaign, the issues motivating voters in this election, and potential legal challenges to him ultimately taking power.

Check out Michael’s work in Jacobin, as well as his book The Great Hanoi Rat Hunt: Empire, Disease, and Modernity in French Colonial Vietnam.

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Todung Mulya Lubis, left, a prominent Indonesian lawyer representing losing presidential candidate Ganjar Pranowo registers a legal challenge alleging widespread irregularities and fraud in Feb. 14 presidential election, at the Constitutional Court in Jakarta, Indonesia, Saturday, March 23, 2024.

(Achmad Ibrahim / AP Photo)

On this episode of American Prestige, we speak with Michael G. Vann, professor of history at California State University, Sacramento, about Indonesia, which recently held an election resulting in Prabowo Subianto’s becoming president-elect. We discuss the country’s era of reform (Reformasi) that followed the end of Suharto’s rule in 1998, the composition of its elite class, Prabowo’s controversial career long predating his 2024 campaign, the issues motivating voters in this election, and potential legal challenges to his ultimately taking power.

Check out Vann’s work in Jacobin, as well as his book The Great Hanoi Rat Hunt: Empire, Disease, and Modernity in French Colonial Vietnam.

The Nation Podcasts
The Nation Podcasts

Here's where to find podcasts from The Nation. Political talk without the boring parts, featuring the writers, activists and artists who shape the news, from a progressive perspective.

Soviet Monumental Architecture with Katherine Zubovich | American Prestige
byThe Nation Magazine

On this episode of American Prestige, Danny and Derek speak with Katherine Zubovich, associate professor of history at SUNY Buffalo, about her book, Moscow Monumental: Soviet Skyscrapers and Urban Life in Stalin's Capital. The discussion broaches what distinguishes Soviet design in the history of monumental architecture, the ill-fated Palace of the Soviets project, postwar Soviet skyscrapers, how ideology is reflected in the architecture, the challenges of ambitious urban planning in Moscow, and more.

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This transcript is computer-generated and may contain errors.

SPEAKER 3: Danny

Hello Prestige Heads and welcome to American Prestige.

I’m Danny Bessner here as always with my friend and comrade Derek Davison and we’re very excited to welcome to the podcast, I almost said back but he will be back one day, Michael G. Vann.

Michael is a professor of history at Cal State Sacramento and also the author of The Great Hanoi Rat Hunt, Empire, Disease, and Modernity in French Colonial Vietnam.

But we are not

asking him to talk about Vietnam today kids no we’re asking him to talk about Indonesia but Michael thank you so much for joining us I’m delighted I’ve been a big fan of you guys for a while so this is fun oh thanks man appreciate that why don’t we just hop into it and tease everyone there’s breaking news Michael has informed us but we’ll get to that in a minute could you tell us I mean for people who might not know and I must admit I am I’m one of those people what has been going on in Indonesia in recent years preceding this recent election and then we’ll go from there

SPEAKER 2: Michael

What’s Been Going on in Indonesia?

You’re asking a historian how far you want to go back, right?

I mean, another podcast.

What’s the deal with Indonesia?

SPEAKER 3: Danny

What’s the deal?

The old joke is whenever you ask a historian a question, you know, well, it’s more complicated and you really have to go back further is the answer to every question.

SPEAKER 2: Michael

But to avoid all these cliches, I mean, Indonesia is a land of contrast.


What’s been going on is we’re 25 years into Indonesia’s restored democracy.

Indonesia was one of the first countries to gain independence at the end of the colonial era.

They declared independence in 45 and secured it in 49 and was, along with India, one of the biggest, right?

During the 1950s, Indonesia slid into

A Left-Wing Authoritarian Rule Under the Very Charismatic Nationalist Hero Sukarno.

Many Indonesians go by one name, another cliche that we need to address right there.

And Sukarno is a populist leftward drift, very friendly with the Indonesian Communist Party, but not a communist himself, even though he had this curious ideology of NASACOM, nationalism, communism, and religion, Islam.

Going to Square That Triangle Circle or whatever that is.

And then as he became more and more friendly with the Indonesian Communist Party and alienated the Indonesian army, there was a coup.

Vince Bevins, you know, did the fantastic book on this, The Jakarta Method, an attempted coup in 1965 that resulted in an army takeover led by Suharto.

Massacre of we don’t know half a million a million one of the Genocidaires bragged at one point three point something million but that might have been bravado and that instituted 32 year dictatorship of General Suharto until 1998 and then Suharto

American Prestige.

SPEAKER 3: Danny

has Michael let me interrupt for a second yeah yeah what does it mean democracy is restored could you give us a sense of the Indonesian political system because I I just don’t know and I would need to know to further understand what you’re going to say sure sure so there is a strong parliamentary democracy with a with a fairly

SPEAKER 2: Michael

the executive strongest.

The president is the strongest.

There’s a number of parties, a couple dozen parties, but really about two or three that matter.

And many of these parties form coalitions for for the presidency.


I was going to make a political tree for myself of the parties and the figures, but I realized that the tree was a banyan tree because many of these figures switch parties back and forth.

And it really is an oligarchy of elites, many of them tied to the old Suharto era.

Jokowi the current and outgoing president is probably one of the few that doesn’t come from fairly wealthy elite background but it’s a you know it’s a vibrant democracy with big rallies like really big rallies you know definitely sort of the carnival of the election atmosphere

and politics takes over during the election cycle, both for national elections and for regional elections and elections such as like the governorship of Jakarta, which is a big deal.

So just a quick question.

SPEAKER 3: Danny

How is this ruling elite formed?

What is the major economic thing that they’re doing?

How are they huge landowners?

Are they owners of export import firms?

What are they doing?

SPEAKER 2: Michael

extractive industries that’s one of the main extractive industries particularly mining but anything plantation wise you know previously sugar but then palm oil and coal mining rare earths are huge connections to the gold mines I mean the I think it’s still the largest gold mine in the world is in Indonesian occupied New Guinea

And so there’s a tremendous amount of wealth coming out of the country.

Oh, and also, lest we forget, oil and gas.

I mean, there’s a huge amount of petroleum and natural gas underneath Indonesian waters.

So all these extractive industries generate wealth for an elite in Jakarta that they’re like incredibly wealthy by any global measurement.

You know, if you look at the amount of money that Suharto

the president-cum-dictator who ruled for 32 years, pulled out of Indonesia.

He puts Mobutu Sese Seko and Ferdinand Marcos to shame.

I don’t have the numbers in front of me, but he fleeced about 10 times as much money out of the country.

So this is a potential, no, this is an extremely wealthy country with radical disparity in how the wealth is distributed.

SPEAKER 3: Danny

So let’s talk about the run up to the election.

Maybe you could just say, what are the major issues that people were voting for?

What has happened in Indonesia in recent years that made this election so important?

SPEAKER 2: Michael


Well, so there kind of weren’t really any major issues of difference.

the three main parties were extremely similar with some slight variation the three candidates were Prabowo Subianto who goes by Prabowo Anis Baswedan and who goes by Anis and Ganjar Pranowo we’ll call Ganjar and they’re they’re actually really really similar and they’ve been in each other’s parties multiple times they kind of switch back and forth if we want to sort of

Tease Them Apart.

Prabowo is directly tied to the old Suharto dictatorship, which I’d like to talk a little bit more about because his connections run really deep there.

And his nationalist authoritarian streak, to put it mildly.

Anis comes out of a more moderate sort of politics in regards to democracy, not as authoritarian, but has been flirting with Islamist politics.

and is very much tied to some recent Islamist demonstrations in Jakarta, which we shall mention.

And then Ganjar Pranowo was totally forgettable, like really sort of wallpaper.

And he came from the party

of the current president, Jokowi.

And he was just promising more of the same.

And a year ago, we all thought that Ganjar had this in the basket, like there was going to be no problem that Ganjar was going to win.

Maybe Anis, but then Prabowo did this incredible come from behind election campaign.

and that’s just what’s been blowing all the Indonesia watchers away for the past six months because Prabowo is so tied to some of the worst aspects of the Suharto-era dictatorship.

He was a child during the 1965-1966 violence.

He was actually, his family was in exile because his dad was a prominent economist who broke with Sukarno and so he was raised in

in various places elsewhere in the world very elite background and but he came back to Indonesia and joined the army right away as a as a 19 year old became an officer served in East Timor where by all accounts he has quite a heroic battlefield record however if you know anything about the Indonesian occupation of East Timor I think most would agree that it was a genocidal occupation that led to about

The Death of About a Third of the Population of East Timor.

And he was directly involved in that and running commando squads.

He had a famous team of ninjas who would go out at night with black ski masks and terrorize the population.

And he married into the Suharto family.

He married Suharto’s daughter.

So he was the dictator’s son-in-law.

And then in 1998, when the the wheels were coming off the Suharto regime, the so-called new order, he it’s a lot of I’m going to put a lot of alleged in here because I want to go back to Indonesia in a couple of months.

But he is allegedly responsible for the kidnapping, torture and disappearance of several dozen democracy activists.

and he the situation was so bad that after Suharto’s fall the Indonesian army discharged him dishonorably discharged him and he hasn’t worn a uniform until well just a couple weeks ago when he was actually had his rank reinstated so he was he was there’s a American ambassador who said this guy was so bad the Indonesian army couldn’t deal with his human rights record

So he’s got all these ties to the Suharto regime, and he ran previously for president several times, most notably in 2014 and 2019.

And in 2014, he had outright fascist campaign ads.

Google the ProBolo 2014 campaign ad, and there’s a guy, there’s a rock star in an SS uniform singing his name.

It’s Over the Top, right?

And then in 2019… Just a quick question.

SPEAKER 3: Danny

Where does that fascination with the Nazis come from?

Oh, boy.

SPEAKER 2: Michael

This runs deep, and it’s that strongman aesthetic.

And, you know, even Sukarno, who’s left of center and friendly with the communists, famously would say nice things about Hitler, making German people feel good about themselves.

There’s a…

there’s a vignette in one of Benedict Anderson’s books where he talks about translating for Sukarno at a cocktail party in Jakarta and the diplomats can’t believe that Sukarno’s praising Hitler in the early 1960s but it’s this strong man aesthetic and then you throw a couple decades of dictatorship on that and

and it runs deep.

I love telling the story about when I was a professor in Yogyakarta in central Java.

I was down in front of the Sultan’s Palace and there were a bunch of kiosks selling tourist stuff and one kiosk was selling posters and there was a poster of the Beatles and Manchester United and John Lennon and Hitler and then Sukarno.

wait wait there’s a poster of John Lennon next to Hitler and it’s totally totally disconnected from any historical knowledge most Indonesians don’t know much about the the history of the Shoah the Holocaust and that kind of fascist imagery is just just seems like a strong guy kind of thing

but so he ran with that in 2014 and then in 2019 he was sort of playing Islamist politics in the election and unleashed street violence he refused to accept the election he kind of he did a January 6 before January 6 was cool but he unleashed street violence and

One of the ways in which Jokowi, the president, tamed him is he led him into the government.

This guy had been such a thorn in his side that he did the Sopranos thing of keep your friends closer and your enemies closer, right?

And so he made a minister of defense in late 2019 or early 2020 and brought him into the government.

SPEAKER 4: Derek

and then these two have been really bitter enemies like force this alliance and that’s right let’s talk about that because not only did he bring bring his enemy into government they wound up he wound up basically supporting his candidacy for president this time around like how did that happen how did that come to be wound up supporting his candidacy by like literally giving him his son

SPEAKER 2: Michael

So, so just to, you know, keep the, everybody’s keeping score at home.

The current president since 2014 is Jokowi, right?

Jokowi and Prabowo ran against each other in 2014.

and then again in 2019.

After the 2019 election, Prabowo was brought into the government and then over the course of the administration, they’ve become steadily closer.

And this is wild because during the first Jukowi administration, there was talk in the administration about bringing Prabowo up on charges for past human rights abuses.

All that gets forgotten in the second administration.

And by the end of it, they become political allies.

And when Prabowo ran this year, he was running against Jukowi’s own party.

So he was running against Jukowi’s own party.

But Jukowi gave him his son, Gibran, as a running mate, as a vice president.


It’s even trickier because Jokowi was considering running for a third term, which you can’t do by the Indonesian constitution, but he floated the idea of that and actually got pushed back.

And that was a bit of relief, but he kept floating that idea.

So the way for him to extend his influence was forged this alliance with Prabowo and then his son runs as his VP.

And this is probably what tipped the scale for Prabowo.

because Jokowi is incredibly popular and Jokowi has been delivering the goods in terms of economic growth.

You asked what the differences were amongst the candidates in this election.

Not much because it was really a status quo election.

Most Indonesians wanted things to keep moving in a steadily better economic trajectory, which they have been.

The Problem with Jokowi giving him his son to run as his vice president is the kid is like the ultimate nepo baby.

He was 36 years old.

The Constitution says you have to be 40 years old to run for president or vice president, so there’s a crisis there, so it goes to the Constitutional Court, right?

The Constitutional Court rules that Jukowi’s son, because he had been elected to be governor of a city, it was actually the city that Jukowi had previously been governor of, so he got his dad’s old job, right?

The Constitutional Court says, well, he’s done administrative service, executive service, so that will count.

You know who was on that court?

Jokowi’s brother-in-law.

This kid’s uncle.

SPEAKER 4: Derek

Seems perfectly fine.

SPEAKER 2: Michael

Totally fine.

Totally fine.

But, you know, the ruling held, but then the brother-in-law slash uncle gets kicked off the court.

And this is the top court.

This is the constitutional court.


By Jukowi giving his blessing to Perbolo, who again for a decade has been his political nemesis, and giving him his son, this really won over the youth vote.

And I think it was the winning over of the youth vote that was really essential for the election.

And the tone of the campaign ads this time couldn’t be more different than a decade ago.

A decade ago, they had the heavy metal soundtrack with this fascist imagery and Proboa would literally ride into huge rallies on a horse, literally the strongman on a horse coming in.

this time they reinvented him as this cute cuddly grandpa and they’re calling him by the Indonesian slang term gamoy which is like so so cute you just want to you just want to pinch his little cheeks right I mean whose grandpa hasn’t committed some human rights violations in the past in a systematic way it’s well it’s fine both of my grandparents have some other story but

Fortunately, we’ve broken with that tradition.

But the videos, the campaign videos, which were wildly successful, couldn’t be more different.

It’s this cute AI-generated cartoon character of the older grandpa and then this younger kid.

And Prabowo would come out at these rallies and would dance and do these kind of goofy little old man dances that were kind of like village folk dances.

and it yeah it’s adorable and he had for years for decades he says his reputation of being short-tempered and fiery and and unable to take criticism and there was this complete reinvention how sincere this new version of Probo is who knows

vast majority of people are really skeptical about this.

But again, it’s this incredible reinvention of this guy.

The voting stats I’ve seen is that older voters did not vote for him.

They remember the new order and they did not want to see a return to that.

But he really won over the younger base and got almost 60 percent

because the February 14th election was a three-way election.

And if, what is it, if you don’t get 51% of the vote, it would go into runoff at the top two candidates.

And Prabowo got 58% out of a three-way election, which is, that’s a political mandate.

And then the breaking news that just an hour before we got online is that the election has been ratified, that it’s certified or whatever the term is.

So, you know, he was the presumptive president and it’s now official.

He is going to be the new president of Indonesia and get sworn in in October.

And it’s wild.

It’s been a wild ride.

SPEAKER 4: Derek

Where do things stand now in terms of challenges?

I know that Anis and Ganjar have both said they intend to challenge the victory in court.

I’m not sure on what basis.

It seems like this result was more or less consistent with most of the polling in the last leg of the election, which, you know, polling, say what you want, I guess, but there does seem to be a, like, it didn’t seem to be an anomalous outcome

to me that he got you know 58% of the vote or whatever he got so what what’s the claim what are the claims that they’re making as they kind of formulate these these court challenges and and then maybe you could also talk about this effort to potentially do a Parliament parliamentary investigation as well

SPEAKER 2: Michael

Yeah, yeah, no, good question.

I mean, the biggest thing is they cheated by putting someone who was below the minimum age on the ticket and then had the nepotism of having the kid’s uncle decide this, right?

That’s huge.

What is clear is that on election day,

It was a pretty darn free and fair election.

I mean, there’s really robust systems of poll place observation and so forth.

I’ve got some friends who are actually doing that work.

And one of the guys was who’s no no no fan of Pro Bowl was saying telling me that, you know, it would be impossible to stuff a ballot box from from what he saw.

in a couple voting districts.

There’s just so many different observers.

Not to say that you get some outlying areas, something like that could have happened, but that seems very unlikely because it’s a pretty robust network of observers.

But what

So Election Day was probably okay, but the lead up to Election Day, there’s numerous reports of all sorts of malfeasance.

And is it Alan Nairn?

Who’s always on Democracy Now?

Is it Alan Nairn or Bob Nairn?

Let’s mix them up.

One’s the famous Marxist theorist, and the other one’s the journalist.

I only listen to American Prestige, so I have no idea.

Yeah, I don’t listen to American Prestige.

That’s right.

But, you know, he writes for The Intercept.

And what he’s been really good at reporting is the amount of influence that the Jokowi administration

was throwing at people before the election in the months leading up to the election and this is all sorts of things like army or police visiting scholars at their university offices and saying hey why don’t you tone it down about a

talking about this issue with the vice presidential candidate to reports of local officials threatening to withhold subsidized cooking oil and rice which many poor Indonesians really depend upon and all sorts of local pressures to let villages and kampung sort of like

not slums but like very very populated lower class sections of the city that then the district leaders of the kampungs know that they need to deliver this voting district for uh for pro bolo so there’s all sorts of pressure there but they you know that most of the

big demonstrations and complaints are focused on the vice presidential candidate.

And that really and by all accounts, I mean, I think I think that is what what gave ProBolo the the electoral edge there.

SPEAKER 4: Derek

What’s the what’s the recourse, though, with the court having

you know given him the exception to the the law and allowed him to be on the ticket and you would have to illegally to challenge you’d have to go back to the same court with with the same nepotistic problem like what is the the actual hope of a recourse operating within the the system

SPEAKER 2: Michael

yeah well so we don’t know and that’s it that right there is a really open question and we will note that that was a court of nine and the the the brother-in-law has been pulled off the court he can’t sit on that case I mean he received a reprimand so it’s not like it’s not like people aren’t getting slapped on the wrist but it’s happening after the fact and I think that the fix is in and I think they’re just gonna push this through

And now the opposition is very interesting because the opposition is a lot of folks that your listeners might identify with, supporters of an actual democracy, a lot of academics.

The university I used to work at, UGM, they’ve launched major demonstrations, a lot of anti-corruption groups, a lot of sort of the more progressive aspects of civil society.

but also Islamist politics is is playing a role here and because Anis was the one who came in second Ganjar was like a far distant third many people feel that like

Many supporters of Anise feel like they were really cheated in this process.

And part of his larger coalition are groups that push for a much stronger ismist presence in Indonesia.

He’s tied to the 212 action movement, which was a series of demonstrations in 2016 and 2017 against Ahok, who is a Chinese politician, Christian Chinese politician who was

they fabricated a video saying that he had offended Islam and this was a huge mobilization and really brought a nice to national political prominence so you have this this coalition of both more progressive elements of society and Islamist politics going after Prabowo I’m not sure that those two groups will find a common ground

But that’s the these are some of the big questions right now, like what’s going to happen?

I personally think that this is just going to get steamrolled and pushed on through.

And he can point to the the 58 percent of the vote again.

And what was on Election Day?

Pretty clear election.


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SPEAKER 4: Derek

what is the lay of the land in the parliament after this election what kind of support does Prabowo have and if there is an investigation that’s done through the legislative process rather than through the the legal process is there any path there to you know to something that could really threaten Prabowo’s victory

SPEAKER 2: Michael

I don’t think so.

I’ll admit that I haven’t been paying as much attention to the legislature, but I don’t think so.

I think because of the coalition building between the parties that got behind ProBolo, that I think they’ll be able to push that through.

And, you know, ProBolo is in many ways riding on Jokowi’s coattails here.

and Jokowi remains tremendously popular and Jokowi’s been very strong and his party’s been very strong in Parliament.

Also, we should note that during Jokowi’s second administration, there’s been a steady series of reforms that he’s pushed through that have increased the power of the presidency.

At the Expense of Parliament and made it more difficult to criticize the president and all sorts of ways in which the government can respond to human rights activists or labor activists and so forth and say, well, you’re criticizing the government, you’re criticizing the presidency.

Turning that on

Other Members of the Elite, Other Members of Parliament.

I’m not quite so sure how that will work out, but I don’t think that there’s enough support in Parliament to undo this.

I could be proven wrong on that one.

I could be proven wrong on that one.

Again, I’m a historian, right?

I look backwards.

I don’t look forwards.

SPEAKER 4: Derek

Well, let’s assume that, you know, all of this fizzles out.

It’s, you know, brushed under the rug, as you’ve said, or, you know, just kind of rubber stamped.

what do you expect or you know what what concerns you about the possibility of a pro-bowl candidacy is he going to go you know full fascist here or will the fact that he has

he does depend to some degree now on on Jokowi who’s who’s this kind of you know consummate Barack Obama liberal type uh type of guy with his son in the the position of uh presumably heir apparent now um does that will that moderate Prabowo’s politics and and again I guess you know the legislature would would play some role here not not a ton but but maybe some uh role

SPEAKER 2: Michael

Yeah, I think that again, that’s another big question is, is this

just so is this the making of a Jokowi political dynasty or is this going to be Prabowo seizing power for himself?

What is Jokowi’s influence on Prabowo’s cabinet going to be?

One thing I’ll note is that the Prabowo of 2024 is not the Prabowo of 2014 or 2019 just in terms of his

his health and his energy.

He’s now 72.

He’s walking with a bit of a limp.

He is looking more gamoy.

He’s looking more cuddly.

He’s not looking as fiery.

Was this, you know, was this really a campaign facade or is this guy actually melding with age?

Is he going to have the energy to fight for this?

I think a decade ago, yeah, it would be, we’d be looking at a return towards some new order authoritarianism.

Here, we’re really not so sure.

And I know through some of the folks that I’m in touch with that there’s already the horse trading going on behind the scenes and that the various members of the oligarchs or the oligarchy are getting

a cabinet and ministerial positions.

He seems to be buying off the, well, buying off, but bringing in the Jacoes circle in a big way.

I think that as long as he can start to increase

The Bound of Action in Extractive Industries, particularly nickel mining for electric batteries and things like that.

There’ll be enough money and enough sort of economic energy to sort of dish out the goods and push this through.

So yeah, I’m not, I guess I really think he’s got it.

And I don’t see like an effective opposition to him.

SPEAKER 4: Derek

So maybe we could talk a little bit about what’s ahead for Indonesia.

There are internal conflicts.

Indonesia is obviously a powerhouse in Southeast Asia.

There’s this plan to

Move the Capital that just seems hugely disruptive environmentally you know socially whatever what what are some things that are you know that are likely to to be on Proboa’s plate assuming that we do get some sort of politics as usual and there isn’t this hard right turn back to the uh the battle days that it’s just sort of chugging along yeah and again yeah let me just circle back I don’t think it’s

SPEAKER 2: Michael

There could be a hard right turn, but I think what we’re going to see is this increase of the centralizing tendency that started under Jokowi’s second administration.

And that may be kicked up and things five years from now may look very different than they do right now.

But along the same sort of trajectory that things look different now than they did in 2019.

I think the two big issues would be capital, moving the capital and mining.

Prabowo has economic ties to moving the capital, so he’s committed to it.

He’s got various contracts and he’s an incredibly, incredibly wealthy individual with all sorts of various subholdings in mining, in plantations, in construction and so forth.

So I think the building of new capital would generate enough goods to dish out amongst the elite.

And the capitals, the capitals move forward.

Allegedly, they’re going to officially declare it, concentrate it, anoint it on August 17th this year, which is Indonesian Independence Day, Hari Merdeka.

That’s the plan.

When offices will actually get moved over there is unclear.

it’s it’s disruptive in that it will be moving the administration administrative aspects of the Indonesian government out of Jakarta but it’s also a tremendous boon for the construction industry and for regional transportation so low-cost airlines and so forth so this is this is in some ways like a great make work project for for Indonesia along with this is going to be I think under Provo is going to be a steady increase in

in extractive industries, mining and plantations, which have just been devastating Indonesia.

I mean, if you look at like the disappearance of rainforests, particularly in Borneo, where the new capital is going, it’s just stunning over the past 15, 20, 30 years.

This will be accelerated palm oil, sugar,

and then again I think I mentioned nickel mining and other other metals for for batteries and this is one area where actually Prabowo had some economic specifics in the campaign most of the candidates in the campaign were really really

American Prestige.

just being an exporter of raw materials to doing some of the value-added work you’re doing a benefit for your economy and this could lead to further economic growth I know he’s been well Jokowi’s been flirting with Tesla for years now trying to get Tesla to build a build a factory in Indonesia what Proboa is really pushing for is Indonesian battery factories and

ideally Indonesian-owned battery factories that are then exporting finished batteries.

We’ll see.

One of the things I read a couple of weeks ago is that the next generation of batteries may be less dependent on the minerals that Indonesia is supplying them.

So this could backfire for him.

But then again, you know, striking deals with Elon Musk has always been good for all sorts of people, right?

SPEAKER 3: Danny

I mean, Elon Musk is a listener, so take what Michael’s saying seriously, Elon.

Michael, let’s turn now to the most important country in the world, and that is, of course, the United States.

Has the United States reacted to any of this?

Has the United States’ policy toward Indonesia or the region in general transformed?

Maybe you could give listeners some context for that.

SPEAKER 2: Michael

Yeah, the relations with the United States have been fairly consistent.

They’re nowhere near as close as they were under Suharto, where… Mega close, yeah.

SPEAKER 3: Danny

That’s the period that I know as a historian the best, and it was so close.

But it seems to be less so these days.

You hear about it less from policymakers.

It’s not as covered in the news any longer, even though it’s a gigantic country.

And of course, during the war on terror, gigantic Muslim country that you very, very rarely hear about, which always struck me as somewhat odd.

SPEAKER 2: Michael

Yeah, well, I mean, it’s where you look for your news sources.

I mean, I’m an Indonesian watcher and, you know, know people who were around a couple of the attacks in Bali and Jakarta.

So that was on my radar screen.

And the Indonesian state in the aughts really swung into action with its paramilitary force against terrorism.

The densest ADA was like

Pretty Wild.

Just as a digression, I was a Fulbright scholar in Gajah Mada in 2012, 2013, and I was teaching a class on American imperialism, and I showed my students Zero Dark Thirty, and I thought it’d be this provocative look at the empire and a moment for critique.

And my students were like, yeah, yeah, right on.

they really got those guys they really showed them they got them I mean say what you will about the movie but they got them but the um

yes that Indonesia has played I think a very quiet role in responding to some pretty nasty terrorist networks in the region Jamaah Islamiyah and there are connections to even to into the moral and in the Philippines and does this 88 this like this anti-terrorist commando forces

has been pretty, shall we say, robust in that regard.

But in terms of sort of general political alignment, there’s been this big question, you know, is Indonesia going to move more into the Chinese orbit?

I mean, that’s where a good portion of their trade relations lie.

That was one of the real anxieties of the Obama administration.

But I think that I think Indonesia wants to sort of balance and not quite a return to the non-aligned movement, which Sukarno was, you know, one of the founders of.


But friendly towards the U.S., but very practical.

And it’s undeniable that Chinese money

is so central to the Indonesian economy.

But they’ve got to be careful because Chinese investment always runs the risk of inflaming local Sinophobia, which is very, very intense.

In any period of sort of civil strife, Chinese shops get burned right away.

And under the Suharto dictatorship, Chinese language was banned.

Chinese holidays were banned.

That’s been

that’s been rescinded and now Chinese New Year is celebrated and Chinese neighborhoods and Chinese Indonesians are much more open about their ethnicity but there’s always this background level of anxiety and we saw that flare up in 2016-2017 when Anis ran for governor of Jakarta against

against Jokowi’s political ally, Ahok, who was ethnic Chinese.

And in the Islamist politics, there’s always a lot of Sinophobia.

And that’s directed both at local Indonesians of Chinese descent and Chinese foreign investment.

So it’s always, always a tricky card there.

But I think that

I think that ProBowl will be very friendly to the United States, possibly even friendlier than Jokowi.

He was trained at, where’s the School of the Americas?

Is that Fort Benning?

We should all know that one, right?

SPEAKER 3: Danny

We should all know this off the top of my head.

I believe so.

Let me check.

SPEAKER 2: Michael

He’s a graduate of all those… Actually, I had a former student who was… It’s actually, Michael, the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation today.

Yeah, well, I’m a historian.

I go by the old school name.

I’m an OG Cold Warrior.

But yeah, he’s a graduate of these programs.

He’s fluent in English.

He just gave a speech in English yesterday that I was watching.

I think he’ll be very friendly to the United States.

And his party, his own… So he’s one of the few that doesn’t switch parties too much because he created his own party, Garinda.

and you may not have caught this but when Trump was elected but had not been inaugurated one of the high-ranking officials from Indonesia who was a member of Gerinda went to Trump Tower

and got his photo taken with them.

And it was a big scandal.

But what it revealed was all sorts of ties between Proboa’s faction and Team Trump.

And there’s all sorts of Trump Corporation investments, I think, in West Java and a few other places.

So if

The Election Goes the Way It Looks Like It Might Go.

When are we speaking?

March, mid-March of 2024.

I think that Perbelo and Trump would be rather simpatico.

SPEAKER 3: Danny

just a couple of savvy businessmen you know just getting things done getting things done I think business leaders should be our political leaders I think there’s a direct correlation between being good at business and being good at politics and that is the podcast position so Michael what what final thoughts would you leave listeners with what should they be paying attention to where should they look for news on Indonesia all that good stuff

SPEAKER 2: Michael

look for news in Indonesia well you could look at what every now every couple months I write something in Jacobin for them on Indonesia

I think the issues to really pay attention to are well I mean what happens politically in these next six months although again I think he’s going to steamroller that but what what is going to happen in terms of will there be a further development of these extractive industries that are already doing so much damage to the Indonesian environment because you know

maps are misleading, right?

The cater projection is very misleading.

Indonesia is bigger than the continental United States.

It is a gigantic swath of territory with a huge rainforest play a huge role in in the global environment.

And the steady deforestation that we’ve seen has been disastrous.

Should that be increased?

That’s going to have an impact not just for Indonesia, but it’s going to be it’s going to be a global impact.

I think that’s the main area of concern.

Another area to look at is something that barely anybody talks about, and that’s Papua, Indonesian-occupied western New Guinea and the steady human rights abuses that are going on there.

News trickles out bit by bit.

I can only imagine Prabowo’s going to take a really hard line there.

And we also might see things tick up again in Aceh.

Aceh was in a prolonged civil war that really didn’t come to an end until the tsunami disrupted everything.

And a previous president negotiated an agreement after the 2004 tsunami, and that gave them some regional autonomy.

But because Anis was so popular in Aceh,

We May See Some Tensions Flare Up There Again.

I hope not, but I think those would be the areas to pay attention to.

SPEAKER 3: Danny

Michael, thank you so much for joining us, and we’ll definitely have you back again soon to talk more about Indonesia.

Really appreciate it.

It was a delight to be here.

Thanks, guys.

American Prestige

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Daniel Bessner

Daniel Bessner is an historian of US foreign relations, and cohost of American Prestige, a podcast on international affairs.

Derek Davison

Derek Davison is a writer and analyst specializing in international affairs and US foreign policy. He is the publisher of the Foreign Exchanges newsletter, cohost of the American Prestige podcast, and former editor of LobeLog.

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