I have not been following the Indonesian presidential election closely in the sense that I am unfamiliar with detailed policy proposals from both candidates, Jokowi and Prabowo. I remember from some time back that Jokowi specifically offered little detail, leading to the criticism that he has no idea what he is doing and betting on his clean, humble image to win. But I think I have heard or read some proposals along the way. But what I do know is that there is a difference between the two candidates and Prabowo comes out as nationalistic, protectionist candidate, which I think is bad for Malaysia and for Asean integration.
Malaysia and Indonesia are having it relatively good in the past year or so. There have not been too many ugly and petty spats around the accusation of cultural theft. Others are more serious, like the abuse of Indonesian workers in Malaysia and the haze. I should not mention the haze because looking outside right now in Kuala Lumpur, it is pretty bad. Normally I can spot the Petronas Twin Towers from here but right now, it is all white. Walking outside is unpleasant. It is hot, humid and acrid. It is impossible to tolerate the condition. In the past, Malaysians (and Singaporeans) had been quick to blame their largest neighbor but I think both have to come suspect and possibly realize that the perpetrators of the opening burning in Sumatra and elsewhere (including in some parts of Malaysia) are Malaysian and Singaporean-held plantation companies. And besides, we consume the very products produced by the plantations there. I do not mean that Indonesia is blameless, but solving it requires regional cooperation to address it.
Still, apart from the unpleasant smell, we are not at each other’s throat and I think that is partly because of the reconciliatory tone, or rather, non-aggressive approach taken by the political leadership of both countries, Malaysia and Singapore. I suppose, it is also because the current President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has no incentive to appease the more populist crowd who love a chance to slam Malaysia. He is approaching his term limit after all. But even earlier in his term, I think he preferred discussion rather than Sukarno-style rhetoric when dealing with Malaysia.
I do not believe the relatively good period of Malaysia-Indonesia relations will last very long if Prabowo becomes the new Indonesian President. Prabowo appears very nationalistic and I think he would be easy for him to ride on those anti-Malaysian sentiments, especially if things do not go according to his plan in Indonesia. It will always easy to shift the blame to foreigners than focus on the actual problems at hand.
Prabowo also appears to be a protectionist. Having a nationalistic and protectionist President is probably bad news for Malaysia and for Asean integration. It is bad news for Malaysia because there is a lot of Malaysian investment in Indonesia, from plantation to banking. Indonesia is already trying to limit exports of raw material, hoping to develop its own industries. Prabowo looks like the person who would go further for a more comprehensive protectionism across industries. Indonesia is also behind in Asean Open Skies initiative, while most others have agreed and even done opening up.
Also, having Prabowo campaigning with fascist theme is not all too hot for a libertarian like me. Having a fascist Indonesia will take pressure off Malaysia to liberal further. As in right now, I think Indonesia has some democratic and liberal credential to nudge Malaysia in the right way, in a small way. I suppose it is like the one of those Newton’s laws: bodies of mass attract each other and Indonesia is a very large body compared to Malaysia. Having a big, bad fascist right next door is like having a big, bad, black hole across the narrow sea.
Asean wants to integrate closer by 2015. It does not appear that all the goals set will be achieved within target but having its largest members dragging its feet or even regressing will make integration harder than it already is.
This is not to say Jokowi is all free-trade liberal. But I think Jokowi is more even-minded when it comes to Indonesia’s role in making the AEC a success.
I am a regionalist and I am so because I see global effect at closer integration is going nowhere. So, I would like to see the Asean initiative moves forward. Also, as a Malaysia, it is really tiring arguing about petty stuff. I think only Jokowi can do good on both fronts.
So, good luck Mr. Jokowi. I hope you will win the Indonesian election.