Indonesia's General Elections Commission (KPU) is tomorrow likely to confirm a victory by Joko ('Jokowi') Widodo over presidential rival Prabowo Subianto by a margin of somewhere between 4% and 6.88%. While supporters of Indonesian democracy collectively hold their breath in anticipation of a negative response from Prabowo, it is useful to also look beyond Indonesia's domestic politics to the foreign policy and defence implications for Australia resulting from a Jokowi presidency.
Prior to the election, Jokowi and his vice presidential candidate Jusuf Kalla released a policy platform or Vision Mission (Visi Misi) statement to the KPU which included defence and foreign policy objectives. The statement was predicated strongly upon securing Indonesia's economic and security interests in the maritime domain and enhancing Indonesia's identity as an archipelagic state.
Advised by a cohort of talented Indonesian intellectuals, the statement reflected the authors' views of the Indo-Pacific region as a single geopolitical and strategic entity.
In a significant development for Australia, the statement committed a future Jokowi-Kalla government to an increase in defence spending from 0.8 to 1.5% of GDP and to building the Indonesian Armed Forces (TNI) into a regional maritime power of consequence. It further committed to enhancing regional defence diplomacy and maritime cooperation through multilateral entities such as the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA), of which both India and Australia are members.
Although the statement did not refer to any specific countries, the sub-text was clearly China. Priorities included defending Indonesia's outer islands, protecting natural resources within its exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and strengthening the regional architecture in order to 'prevent the hegemony of major powers'.
The third presidential debate on 22 June on 'International Politics and National Resilience' revealed further insights into Jokowi's thinking on foreign policy and strategic issues.
On the Australia relationship, the candidates seem to agree there was a trust deficit between Jakarta and Canberra, but Jokowi offered more considered analysis. He indicated his willingness to work towards ameliorating this deficit through business, education and cultural diplomacy, but cautioned that a government he led would not abide perceived condescension or disrespect from its southern neighbour.
On the South China Sea, a critical security issue for the region, Jokowi generally kept to the foreign ministry line that Indonesia was not directly involved in the dispute but would continue to work towards a diplomatic solution. His equivocation during the debate about Indonesia's ongoing commitment to mediating in the dispute can be attributed more to inexperience on foreign policy matters than an indication of any forthcoming policy shift.
If Jokowi is confirmed as Indonesia's next president on 22 July, as widely anticipated, Australia can expect a degree of policy continuity with Jakarta. At the same time, Australia could also expect a more assertive and more militarily capable Indonesia over the next five years.
A key disjuncture from the Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono period will be the weakening of high-level executive support in Jakarta to steer bilateral relations through the inevitable peaks and troughs. In short, Canberra can expect the troughs to be deeper and to last longer without the champion of bilateral relations represented by SBY.
On the upside, powerful systemic forces are likely to enhance Australia's utility in the minds of Indonesian defence strategists, mitigating against the risk of protracted bilateral tensions. There is a higher-stakes game emerging in the Indo-Pacific, with China's increasing presence in Southeast Asian states' EEZs.
The Jokowi-Kalla Visi Misi statement recognises the realities of contemporary geopolitics in its strong emphasis on Indonesia's maritime domain. Indeed, Australia, through a combination of its geographic proximity to Indonesia's maritime approaches and middle power defence capabilities, may assume an increasingly important role in the strategic policy of a future Jokowi government.
Photo by Flickr user Hendrik Mintarno.