Indonesia is at a crucial moment in its history. Stretching behind it are 16 years of a post-Suharto era that saw the country quit authoritarianism, cold-turkey style, and plunge headlong into democracy and decentralization. The last decade has been under outgoing President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who will reach his constitutionally mandated two-term limit in October. On July 9, he will hand the reins to one of two candidates standing in the country’s presidential election.

Will it be Prabowo Subianto, a hubristic ex-general once married to the daughter of Suharto, the authoritarian leader who was forced to resign in 1998? Or will it be Joko Widodo, known as “Jokowi,” Jakarta’s tireless, self-effacing governor? Both have the capacity to bend Indonesia’s arc of history — but each in a different direction. Indonesians will not merely be choosing between two very different leaders. They will be choosing between two very different futures.

In recent weeks, the battle lines between the candidates have solidified. Each has produced a vision and a mission statement. They have sparred in several televised debates — with two more scheduled, on June 29 and July 5. The race appears to be heading for a tight finish. Jokowi’s early lead in the polls has evaporated, and Prabowo appears to be slightly ahead, although the number of undecided voters remains large.


Prabowo’s steady rise in popularity has been helped by his alliance with Golkar, the second-largest party in April’s legislative elections, which brings him a strong nationwide network of political operatives. He can also count on the deep pockets of his billionaire brother and supporter, Hashim Djojohadikusumo. And he has an edge in media access, thanks to broad support from the business community, including several media tycoons, one of whom has exclusive rights to broadcast the World Cup to soccer-mad Indonesians.