Table of Contents

For most of Indonesia’s democratic period, which dates from the resignation of the authoritarian president Suharto in 1998, analysts have emphasized and often lamented the lack of ideological competition in Indonesian politics. Within the country’s party system, a certain ideological divide has long existed between Islamic parties that seek a larger role for Islamic precepts in public life and pluralist parties that promote a multireligious vision of the Indonesian state. Yet political campaigns have usually been inclusive. Parties and politicians also routinely collaborate across the ideological divide because their overriding objective is to enter government and gain access to the state’s patronage resources. As a result, some analysts have concluded that Indonesia is “one of the least polarized democracies in Asia.”1

Since 2014, however, Indonesia has become more politically polarized. Three major elections have left the country more divided than it has been in decades: the 2014 presidential election, the 2017 gubernatorial election in Jakarta, and the 2019 presidential election. Competition between President Joko Widodo (Jokowi) and his former opponent, Prabowo Subianto, ignited a previously latent political cleavage between Islamists and pluralists.2

Various political and societal forces have coalesced since 2014 to divide Indonesian politics, and the ensuing polarization threatens the country’s democratic institutions and social fabric. Indonesia’s patronage-driven politics have continued to blunt partisan divides to some extent—a dynamic vividly illustrated when Prabowo decided to join Jokowi’s government after the 2019 election. Yet Prabowo’s about-face has not eased the ideological tensions he helped stir over the past five years, as recent political conflicts precipitated by the coronavirus pandemic have demonstrated.


Indonesia’s Islamic-pluralist cleavage has deep roots. Even before the country’s independence in 1945, political movements mobilized on opposite sides of this divide. Proponents of political Islam advocated a larger and more formal role for Islam, whereas pluralists supported a more­—though not entirely—secular state, with laws and institutions to protect the country’s many religious minorities. Pluralist leaders prevailed, and thus Indonesia’s constitution does not make reference to Islam but instead outlines a general “belief in one God” as one of the nation’s five founding principles, together known as the Pancasila.

Eve Warburton
Eve Warburton is a postdoctoral research fellow at the National University of Singapore’s Asia Research Institute. Her research interests include identity, representation, and the political economy of policymaking in young democracies. Her work focuses primarily on Asia and especially Indonesia. She received her PhD from the Australian National University’s Coral Bell School of Asia Pacific Affairs.

To this day, the country’s political parties have distinguished themselves primarily based on their Islamic or pluralist orientation.3 In the contemporary party system, the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (Partai Demokrasi Indonesia-Perjuangan, or the PDI-P) is the most pluralist party and attracts support from religious minorities, as well as more secular Muslims and those who mix their religion with traditional, syncretic cultural practices. At the opposite end of the ideological spectrum are the conservative Islamic parties, most notably the Prosperous Justice Party (Partai Keadilan Sejahtera, or the PKS), the United Development Party (Partai Persatuan Pembangunan, or the PPP), and the National Mandate Party (Partai Amanat Nasional, or the PAN). Their constituents tend to come from urban, middle-class Muslim communities, and they typically adhere to more puritan, modernist versions of Islam.

The other major Islamic party, the National Awakening Party (Partai Kebangkitan Bangsa, or the PKB), sits somewhere in the middle of the ideological spectrum. The PKB is linked to Indonesia’s largest Muslim organization, Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), whose traditionalist orientation has made it historically more tolerant of religious and cultural diversity. Most other contemporary parties are catchall parties with ideologically diverse supporters, and many—including former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s Democratic Party and Prabowo’s Gerindra Party—were established by former generals and wealthy oligarchs to fulfill their personal political ambitions.

Patronage has served as a powerful incentive for compromise and cooperation across ideological lines.

Despite the enduring importance of the Islamic-pluralist divide, electoral competition has been remarkably free of ideological or identity-based conflict for most of the country’s democratic period. Crucially, patronage has served as a powerful incentive for compromise and cooperation across ideological lines. Although patronage-based politics weaken democratic institutions and accountability, in Indonesia this system has cut across potentially polarizing socioreligious cleavages. Parties have been willing to enter into governing coalitions with all sorts of other parties, regardless of their ideological orientation, in pursuit of electoral victory and access to state resources.

The marked absence of polarization for much of the democratic period is also a function of Yudhoyono’s style of leadership during his presidency (2004–2014). In the 2004 and 2009 presidential elections, Yudhoyono had the opportunity to run an ideologically polarizing campaign and tar his opponents as insufficiently Islamic. In both contests, Yudhoyono’s coalition consisted primarily of conservative Islamic parties, while his rivals were backed by the pluralist-nationalist parties. But the ideological cleavage reflected in those party coalitions did not divide the electorate. Yudhoyono was a pious Muslim, but he was not especially inclined toward Islamist politics and ran inclusive electoral campaigns. As a result, he won a strong majority of votes, including in conservative Islamic communities in Sumatra and West Java, while also enjoying support from religious minorities.

Furthermore, in his approach to governing, Yudhoyono valued compromise and stability over competition and conflict. As Edward Aspinall, Marcus Mietzner, and Dirk Tomsa argue, “Yudhoyono viewed himself as leading a polity and a society characterised by deep divisions, and he believed that his most important role was to moderate these divisions by mediating between the conflicting forces and interests to which they gave rise.”4 Yudhoyono’s preference for coopting opponents and compromising meant that he was reluctant to engage in tough or disruptive reform, and as a result, Indonesia’s democratic progress stagnated. But these were also years of political stability and a notable absence of polarizing political conflict.


At the end of Yudhoyono’s decade in power, Indonesia’s political landscape changed dramatically. The old Islamic-pluralist divide has sharpened since 2014, including most recently amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Three Contentious Elections (2014, 2017, and 2019)

In 2014, Jokowi, a member of the PDI-P, ran for president with a coalition of pluralist parties. Jokowi’s rival, Prabowo, saw that Jokowi’s especially pluralist political orientation made him vulnerable to a religiously themed campaign. Prabowo exploited that vulnerability and allied with conservative Islamic parties, Islamist figures, and hardline Muslim groups. He and his allies spread the message that Jokowi was not a pious Muslim and that his politics were too secular to govern a Muslim-majority nation. A more sinister smear campaign was run in the shadows via anonymous social media accounts and tabloid magazines. It suggested that Jokowi was a closet Christian and that he and his family had ties to the country’s long-banned Communist Party. The strategy proved effective. Although Jokowi ultimately won, Prabowo received a significant boost and came within striking distance in the final weeks of the presidential race.

Jakarta’s popular governor, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama (known as Ahok), was the target of a more explicitly sectarian campaign in the 2017 gubernatorial election. As a Christian, ethnically Chinese Indonesian, and Jokowi ally, Ahok attracted vehement opposition from Islamic groups that claimed a non-Muslim had no right to hold high political office in a Muslim-majority country. Ahok’s opponent, a Prabowo ally named Anies Baswedan, joined forces with the hardline Islamist groups opposed to Ahok, and these groups spread a sectarian message through online networks, prayer groups, and mosques. That campaign gained broad public traction after Ahok told the press that Jakartans were being “lied to” about the Quran’s position on non-Muslim leaders.5 Hardliners called for Ahok’s arrest on charges of blasphemy and rallied hundreds of thousands of Indonesians onto the streets of Jakarta in a powerful display of opposition to a politician who was both a religious and an ethnic minority.

This sectarian campaign delivered Anies a resounding victory. Ahok, who had been the favorite going into the election, not only lost decisively but also was prosecuted for blasphemy and sentenced to two years in prison. Quick count results indicated that religious identity was indeed a central driver of voting behavior. There was a striking divide between Muslim and non-Muslim voters: Muslims were uniformly more likely to vote for Anies regardless of their other characteristics, such as income or education.6 Non-Muslims, by contrast, overwhelmingly voted for Ahok. The Jakarta election deeply affected Indonesia’s wider political landscape. In other regional elections around the country where rival candidates lined up along the Islamic-pluralist cleavage, the more pluralist candidates feared being di-Ahokkan—defeated by an Islamist-inspired campaign.

Polarization reached a new zenith in the 2019 presidential election, when Jokowi and Prabowo faced off once more. Prabowo’s campaign again depicted Jokowi as an enemy of the ummah (the Muslim community) and as a threat to pious Muslims and Islamist organizations. However, this time Jokowi and his coalition went on the offensive and leveraged an equally polarizing narrative about the rival camp, claiming that Prabowo’s victory would lead to an Islamic caliphate and that his coalition threatened the essence of Indonesia’s pluralist national identity. In this election, NU was a crucial ally for Jokowi, and its leaders helped spread anti-Prabowo and anti-Islamist messages through their network of mosques and boarding schools.

The 2019 campaign produced an electorate deeply divided along socioreligious lines. Jokowi won decisively in predominantly non-Muslim regions and in the NU’s core constituencies of Central and East Java. Regions long known as the heartland of political Islam, such as Aceh and West Sumatra, voted overwhelmingly for Prabowo. Moreover, even though Jokowi won reelection by a convincing margin, Prabowo refused for weeks to accept his defeat, and protests over the election results devolved into violent riots in which hundreds were injured and eight protesters lost their lives.7

Elite Reconciliation and Enduring Divisions (2019–2020)

In late 2019, just months after the polarizing presidential contest, Jokowi and Prabowo struck a peace deal that initially seemed to alleviate political tensions. Jokowi appointed Prabowo minister of defense, and Prabowo’s party, Gerindra, joined the governing coalition. In most politically polarized settings, the government’s sudden inclusion of the main opposition figure would be a highly unusual act, particularly so soon after a divisive election. But for close observers of Indonesian politics, Prabowo’s pivot was not a major shock.

Negotiations between Prabowo and the government about his potential realignment had begun well before the presidential election. At one stage, Jokowi and Prabowo seriously considered running on the same ticket, but they never reached a mutually agreeable arrangement. Prabowo’s decision to join the government was motivated largely by his desire to gain access to state patronage and the prestige of a strategic ministerial post. Jokowi, in turn, sought to separate the Islamic parties and organizations from their charismatic and popular figurehead and in the process weaken opposition to his government. The maneuver was a vivid illustration of how Indonesia’s patronage-driven politics can in some ways paper over ideological differences.8

There are two reasons to doubt, however, that this elite-level reconciliation has dramatically altered the trajectory of Indonesia’s political polarization. First, Prabowo’s decision to join the government has not healed the ideological tensions he stoked. Neither Prabowo nor his party is Islamist: He only represented the interests of political Islam in the contest against a more pluralist opponent. Conversations with PKS and PAN politicians during the 2019 election indicated that they viewed Prabowo with suspicion and understood that his political loyalty was potentially fleeting.9 These parties, as well as Islamist organizations outside the party system, now view Anies as the new leader of the opposition and as the Islamist candidate of choice for the 2024 presidential election. To be sure, without Prabowo, the Islamist opposition may lose some of its appeal, particularly among Indonesians who were attracted to his strongman image. But Indonesians who oppose Jokowi on ideological grounds have a new political figure around whom they can rally.

Second, the Jokowi administration continues to treat Islamist actors and organizations as political threats, a stance that entrenches rather than eases polarization. Even after Prabowo joined the ruling coalition, the government launched efforts to purge the bureaucracy of people deemed ideologically Islamist (as discussed further below). Prabowo appears to have embraced, rather than tempered, the government’s use of illiberal tactics against its Islamist opponents.

Polarization Amid the Pandemic

The crisis caused by the coronavirus has precipitated fresh divisions between Jokowi and his Islamist opponents—a clear indication that Prabowo’s about-face has done little to remedy polarization in the country.10 As of April 2020, Indonesia had the most coronavirus-related deaths in Asia outside China, and experts agree that official figures significantly underestimate the scale of the unfolding tragedy.11 In March, Anies, the governor of Jakarta and now de facto leader of the opposition groups, directly challenged the central government’s data and claimed that Jakarta was experiencing many more coronavirus cases and deaths than national figures suggested.12 Furthermore, in contrast to Jokowi, who had failed to provide clear guidelines on social distancing, Anies announced plans to lock down the capital to slow the spread of the virus.13

Disagreements over the appropriate response to the pandemic quickly ignited a polarizing political conflict. Progovernment buzzers (or social media influencers) were mobilized to spread anti-Anies material and to criticize the proposed lockdown in Jakarta as a dangerous and politically motivated policy.14 Jokowi then used emergency powers to overrule local governments’ coronavirus policy interventions and prevent them from acting independently.15 The national police also issued new guidelines instructing officers to bring charges against citizens who made negative comments about the president or any public official in relation to the coronavirus outbreak. Government critics have, as a result, been harassed and intimidated, and by early May, more than one hundred people had been arrested for spreading hate speech and misinformation about the virus.16 Although it is too soon to judge the political effects of the pandemic, if Jokowi continues to work against local leaders and if the security apparatus is perceived to be harassing the opposition, then polarization will likely deepen.


What explains the striking shift toward more polarized politics in Indonesia? First, political elites’ strategies and personalities played a key role in activating a cleavage that had remained dormant during the Yudhoyono years. Second, two structural conditions—Indonesia’s susceptibility to populism and the growing Islamization of Indonesian society—gave polarizing political messages widespread traction with the electorate.

Political Entrepreneurs

Indonesia’s story of polarization is, as in many countries, one of leadership and the strategies of particular political entrepreneurs. Prabowo, most notably, aggravated polarization by pioneering a sectarian, populist campaign strategy. In the 2014 presidential election, he ran a “classic populist” campaign, in which he blamed Indonesia’s problems on greedy elites and nefarious “foreign agents”—a coded term for wealthy members of the country’s Chinese ethnic minority.17 He also questioned the country’s liberal democratic model and promised to return Indonesia to the old 1945 constitution, which heavily favored executive power and had no place for direct presidential elections. His alliance with fringe Islamist groups and his willingness to engage in sectarian-themed smear campaigns were unprecedented in Indonesia’s history of presidential elections.

Indonesia’s susceptibility to populism and the growing Islamization of Indonesian society gave polarizing political messages widespread traction with the electorate.

Jokowi, by contrast, contributed indirectly to polarization as a candidate because he was both culturally and politically far more pluralist than the previous president, Yudhoyono. Unlike many Indonesian politicians, Jokowi did not—at least initially—make Islam a prominent part of his political identity, and he was unable to appeal across the Islamic-pluralist divide in the way that Yudhoyono had as president. The 2014 election was, therefore, a competition between a politician willing to enflame divisions and another who was unable to bridge them.

Jokowi’s rise caused much anxiety among a class of conservative Muslim elites who had enjoyed generous state funding, ministerial positions, and other patronage opportunities under Yudhoyono.18 Jokowi was a politician from outside the predominant political class and a member of the PDI-P, Indonesia’s most pluralist party, and conservative Islamic groups feared that he would marginalize them and cut off their access to patronage. Prabowo allied strategically with this political faction, enflamed their fears, and framed Jokowi (and Ahok as well) as an existential threat to the prominent political place that Islam enjoyed during the Yudhoyono era.

Those fears were, in many ways, well-founded. During his first term in office, Jokowi attempted to insulate himself from attacks on his Muslim credentials by cultivating a closer relationship with NU. State patronage flowed to NU and its political arm, the PKB, as a result. As NU prospered, modernist Muslim organizations like Muhammadiyah were left out in the cold. Conservative Islamic parties, especially the PKS, no longer enjoyed the rich patronage opportunities offered to them during the previous administration. The 2019 presidential election took place against this backdrop of internal political tensions and gave both urgency and credibility to the Islamist camp’s claim that Jokowi and his pluralist allies threatened their existence.

Fertile Ground for Populism

The personalities and elite machinations described above are particular to Indonesia, yet the drivers of polarization in the country are common to other divided democracies. One is the rise of populism, which has deepened divisions in Indonesia as it has elsewhere around the world. As Paul D. Kenny argues, patronage democracies like Indonesia are particularly vulnerable to populism because “populist mobilisation thrives where ties between voters and non-populist parties do not exist or have decayed.”19 When linkages between voters and parties are weak, charismatic individuals at the national level can make direct, personal appeals to the masses and minimize their use of formal party structures.

This is precisely what transpired in Indonesia. By the end of the Yudhoyono era, disillusionment with the political establishment had become widespread.20 The public’s trust in and loyalty toward political parties had deteriorated dramatically: In the years after the democratic transition, around 80 percent of Indonesians identified with a particular political party; by 2014, that figure had fallen to just 7 percent.21 After almost two decades of democracy, Indonesia’s parties had done little to win voters’ loyalty, and this dissatisfaction gave populists like Jokowi and Prabowo immense public appeal.

Societal Shifts

What made a more religiously charged campaign style appealing to large sections of the electorate? As outlined earlier, the Islamic-pluralist cleavage is not a new feature of Indonesian politics. Indeed, the polarized map of the 2019 presidential election looks remarkably similar to the results of the 1955 election, which took place during a time of rising socioreligious tensions.22 Yet the scale of sectarian mobilization in recent elections surprised analysts both within and outside Indonesia.

Some observers have pointed to structural shifts taking place within Indonesian society. Over the past three decades, the country has become far more pious.23 More and more Muslims attend Friday prayers and participate in neighborhood prayer groups, and there has been a well-documented growth in mosques, Islamic education institutions, and Islamic businesses and banks. Against this backdrop, politicians routinely bring religion into their campaigns, emphasizing their religious identities and presenting themselves as pious community figures. Some studies suggest that as Indonesians have become more religious, they have also become more socially conservative. The Asia Foundation’s Sandra Hamid, for example, describes a “decades-long trend . . . towards exclusivism in the practice of religion in the private and public spheres.”24 This trend can be attributed in part to the growing social influence of conservative groups that benefited from Yudhoyono’s accommodationist impulses, as described earlier.

The polarizing sectarian campaigns of Prabowo and Anies arguably were effective because their message resonated with a large and growing constituency of pious, conservative Muslims and because they partnered with Islamist organizations and figures that had grassroots followings outside the party system. For example, the campaign against Ahok exploited the networks of popular, hardline Islamist figures, and mosques across Jakarta helped spread the message that good Muslims must not vote for a kafir (unbeliever) or a blasphemer.

The expanding reach of Islamist organizations and ideologies has also heightened fears among pluralist Indonesian constituencies. NU’s leadership and community of followers, in particular, have watched anxiously over the years as radical Islamic groups like Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia (HTI) have encroached upon their traditional base. According to Greg Fealy, NU has long seen itself as “under growing threat from ‘transnational’ and ‘fundamentalist’ forms of Islam, which it associates with Arabised and intolerant religious expression.”25 This fear has led the Jokowi administration to take polarizing actions to repress Islamist groups (as described in detail below).

Prabowo and Anies leveraged a strategy of populist mobilization that tapped into religious tensions bubbling up from the societal level. In each major election since 2014, and especially in the 2019 presidential race, candidates allied with competing Muslim organizations outside the party system. Each side claimed to be defending what it saw as the right version of Indonesian Islam and framed the other as an existential threat.


The polarizing electoral conflicts of 2014, 2017, and 2019 have contributed to a perceptible decline in the quality of Indonesian democracy. Moreover, many Indonesians are concerned about the damage that the recent exclusivist, polarizing political campaigns have done to the country’s social fabric.

Democratic Decline

Jokowi’s attempts to defuse polarization have in fact undermined core democratic institutions and norms. He has eroded democracy by criminalizing the most extreme figures in the Islamist mobilizations of 2016 and targeting opposition figures involved in the Change the President protests leading up to the 2019 election. Such figures were charged with treason, corruption, and the spreading of pornographic images. Jokowi then circumvented proper legal processes to ban HTI, whose radical Islamists were involved in the protests against Ahok. In doing so, Jokowi introduced a presidential regulation in lieu of a law that gave immense authority to the executive to ban groups it deemed to be unnationalist or to have contravened the Pancasila.26

Many Indonesians are concerned about the damage that the recent exclusivist, polarizing political campaigns have done to the country’s social fabric.

After winning reelection in 2019, the Jokowi government then encouraged a purge of Islamist elements from state agencies. A Joint Ministerial Decree issued in November 2019, for example, forbade civil servants from engaging in “hate speech” against the Pancasila, the constitution, the country’s official national motto of “unity in diversity” (Bhinneka Tunggal Ika), or the government.27 It also forbade them from liking, retweeting, or commenting on hate speech on social media or being a member of an organization deemed to be anti-Pancasila or even antigovernment. These vaguely defined terms have made this decree ripe for political manipulation. The coronavirus outbreak has only intensified this trend toward restricting free speech, and several prominent opposition figures have been threatened with criminal charges for criticizing the government’s pandemic response.28

The Jokowi government’s crackdown on opposition figures and ideologically defined threats is unprecedented in Indonesia’s history as a democracy since 1998. Not only do such actions entrench the divide between opposition forces, Islamist groups, and the pluralist coalition now in government, but they also erode the country’s fragile democratic institutions.

Rising Societal Tensions

Since 2014, Islamist appeals and smear campaigns have become a more prominent feature of Indonesian electoral discourse. Such campaigns can shift public opinion and create a new wedge between different societal groups. Levels of societal polarization are difficult to study, and data on Indonesia remain limited. However, growing evidence suggests that many Indonesians do indeed feel they are living in a more divided political landscape, and those divisions permeate social relations outside election season. Hamid’s research, for example, documents the experience of people living in Jakarta in the wake of the 2017 gubernatorial election, many of whom felt marginalized from community and family events because of their support for either Ahok or Anies. A poll conducted by Marcus Mietzner, Burhanuddin Muhtadi, and Rizka Halida also found that political intolerance toward non-Muslims increased after the 2017 Jakarta election.29

Another poll conducted in May 2019 following the presidential election suggests that levels of intergroup animus in Indonesia are comparable with those in other deeply divided societies, including the United States.30 In this survey, one question prompted respondents to imagine that they were moving to a new neighborhood and then asked them how important different factors would be for them. As figure 1 demonstrates, a strong majority of Indonesians expressed a preference for living among coethnics and people of the same religion. Furthermore, a significant minority of between 30 and 40 percent expressed a preference for political homogeneity: They would rather live in an area where most people vote for their preferred party or presidential candidate. The number is slightly higher among those with strong partisan attachments: 44 percent of Jokowi partisans and 41 percent of Prabowo partisans reported that they would prefer to live in areas with people who vote the same way in presidential elections.31

These results are similar to studies of societal polarization in the United States. For example, in 2014, a Pew survey found that 28 percent of Americans feel it is important to live in a place where most people share their political views—fewer than the number of Indonesians who would prefer to live in areas where people vote for their preferred presidential candidate.32

Remedial Actions

One mechanism that may temper polarization in Indonesia is elite-level compromise, usually premised on the government’s distribution of patronage resources to its opponents. Yudhoyono’s leadership style exemplified this form of compromise and cooptation, as did the recent rapprochement between Jokowi and Prabowo. Yet Jokowi’s truce with Prabowo has done little so far to ease divisions between the country’s Islamist and pluralist camps.

Outside government, there have been important efforts, particularly since the sectarian campaign against Ahok, to manage polarization at the societal level. Prominent civil society organizations such as the Wahid Institute, the National Democratic Institute, and the Asia Foundation—all groups with a long history of supporting programs for the consolidation of a liberal democracy in Indonesia—fund interfaith dialogues and support community-based initiatives that seek to combat hate speech and religious extremism. New media personalities and small, local media-based nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), such as Sabang Merauke and Masyarakat Anti Fitnah Indonesia, have also received funding from international donors to expand their activities. These activities include sponsoring online social media channels that encourage religious tolerance, cultural awareness, fact-based knowledge production, and positive online discourse.

It is unlikely, however, that such efforts will have a measurable impact on political polarization in Indonesia. First, polarization has begun to infect the NGO sector, and in recent years, some of the organizations mentioned above have become deeply politicized. The director of the Wahid Institute, Yenny Wahid, for example, campaigned fiercely for Jokowi in 2019 and is now a government minister. Second, community efforts need genuine buy-in from the country’s political elites. Politicians, parties, and Islamic leaders routinely assert their commitment to supporting unity, positive campaigning, and truthfulness while opposing divisive identity politics. But these rhetorical commitments have proved thus far to be disingenuous. To the extent that Jokowi’s pluralist coalition sees more benefits than costs from excluding and even repressing Islamist rivals, the incumbent’s current approach will continue to deepen the country’s Islamic-pluralist divide. The incumbent administration’s actions will likely provide fertile ground for an Islamist backlash and a polarizing campaign in the next electoral contest.


1 Dan Slater and Aries A. Arugay, “Polarizing Figures: Executive Power and Institutional Conflict in Asian Democracies,” American Behavioral Scientist 62, no. 1 (January 2018): 104.

2 See, for example, Edward Aspinall and Marcus Mietzner, “Indonesia’s Democratic Paradox: Competitive Elections Amidst Rising Illiberalism,” Bulletin of Indonesian Economic Studies 5, no. 3 (2019): 295–317.

3 The ideological spectrum along which Indonesia’s parties fall is mapped using survey data in the following source. See Edward Aspinall, Diego Fossati, Burhanuddin Muhtadi, and Eve Warburton, “Mapping the Indonesian Political Spectrum,” New Mandala (blog), April 24, 2018,

4 Edward Aspinall, Marcus Mietzner, and Dirk Tomsa eds., The Yudhoyono Presidency: Indonesia’s Decade of Stability and Stagnation (Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 2015), 3.

5 Yenni Kwok, “Jakarta’s Christian Governor Will Face Charges of Blaspheming Islam in Court,” Time, November 30, 2016,

6 Eve Warburton and Liam Gammon, “Class Dismissed? Economic Fairness and Identity Politics in Indonesia,” New Mandala (blog), May 5, 2017,

7 Sausan Atika, “Jakarta Riots Death Toll Rises to Eight, More Than 700 Injured,” Jakarta Post, May 23, 2019,

8 Prabowo’s new alliance with Jokowi seemed to confirm the cartel theory of Indonesian politics. This theory argues that ideology plays little role in how parties and politicians behave because all parties ultimately seek access to state patronage and because presidents seek the security of large coalitions. See Dan Slater, “Party Cartelization, Indonesian-Style: Presidential Power-Sharing and the Contingency of Democratic Opposition,” Journal of East Asian Studies 18, no. 1 (2018): 23–46.

9 Author’s discussions with political party members during Indonesia’s 2019 presidential election campaign, April 2019.

10 For a more detailed analysis of how the pandemic has affected polarization in Indonesia, from which this chapter draws, see Eve Warburton, “Indonesia: Polarization, Democratic Distress, and the Coronavirus,” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, April 28, 2020,

11 “Indonesia Has the Highest Number of Coronavirus Deaths in Asia Outside of China,” ABC News, April 18, 2020,; and “Jump in Jakarta Funerals Raises Fears of Unreported COVID-19 Deaths,” Channel News Asia, April 4, 2020,

12 “Antara Jokowi, Anies, dan Kepanikan Publik soal Wabah Corona” [Between Jokowi, Anies, and the public panic over the coronavirus outbreak], CNN Indonesia, April 3, 2020,

13 Eko Listiyorini, “Jakarta Orders Offices to Close, Bans Gatherings to Combat Virus,” Bloomberg, April 7, 2020,

14 Ary Hermawan, “Politics of Pandemics: How Online ‘Buzzers’ Infect Indonesia’s Democracy, Jeopardize Its Citizens,” Jakarta Post, March 21, 2020,

15 Marchio Irfan Gorbiano and Ghina Ghaliya, “Turf War Undermines COVID-19 Fight in Indonesia,” Jakarta Post, April 1, 2020,

16 “Indonesian Police Detain People Suspected of Spreading Misinformation,” Star, May 4, 2020,

17 Edward Aspinall, “Oligarchic Populism: Prabowo Subianto’s Challenge to Indonesian Democracy,” Indonesia (April 2015): 1–28.

18 Sandra Hamid, “Normalising Intolerance: Elections, Religion and Everyday Life in Indonesia,” Centre for Indonesian Law, Islam, and Society (CILIS) Policy Paper, 2018,,-religion-and-everyday-life-in-indonesia; and Robin Bush, “Religious Politics and Minority Rights During the Yudhoyono Presidency,” in Aspinall, Mietzner, and Tomsa eds., The Yudhoyono Presidency, 239–257.

19 Paul D. Kenny, Populism and Patronage: Why Populists Win Elections in India, Asia, and Beyond (New York: Oxford University Press, 2017).

20 Marcus Mietzner, “Reinventing Asian Populism: Jokowi’s Rise, Democracy, and Political Contestation in Indonesia,” East-West Center Policy Studies no. 72, 2015; and Vedi R. Hadiz and Richard Robison, “Competing Populisms in Post-Authoritarian Indonesia,” International Political Science Review 38, no. 4 (2017): 488–502.

21 Trust in political parties has not improved much either: A 2018 poll found that only 0.3 percent of the population thought political parties were trustworthy. See Husein Abdulsalam, “Burhanuddin Muhtadi: Ideologi Parpol, Bukan Jokowi atau Oposisi, tapi Pancasil vs Islam” [Burhanuddin Muhtadi: political party ideology, not Jokowi or opposition, but Pancasila vs

Islam],” Tirto, June 25, 2018,

22 Aspinall and Mietzner, “Indonesia’s Democratic Paradox.”

23 Greg Fealy and Sally White, Expressing Islam: Religious Life and Politics in Indonesia (Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 2008).

24 Hamid, “Normalising Intolerance.”

25 Greg Fealy, “Indonesia’s Growing Islamic Divide,” Straits Times, May 3, 2019,

26 Stephen Wright, “Indonesia’s President Signs Decree to Ban Radical Groups,” Associated Press, July 12, 2017,'s-president-signs-decree-to-ban-radical-groups.

27 Ghina Ghaliya, “Antiradicalism Decree Fuels Fears of Authoritarianism,” Jakarta Post, November 27, 2019,

28 Francisca Christy Rosana, “Said Didu Tak Minta Maaf, Luhut Lanjutkan ke Jalur Hukum” [Said Didu did not apologize, Luhut to continue with legal course], Tempo, April 9, 2020,

29 Marcus Mietzner, Burhanuddin Muhtadi, and Rizka Halida, “Entrepreneurs of Grievance,” Bijdragen Tot de Taal-, Land- En Volkenkunde / Journal of the Humanities and Social Sciences of Southeast Asia 174, no. 2–3 (2018): 159–187.

30 Eve Warburton, “How Polarized Is Indonesia, and Why Does It Matter?” in From Stagnation to Regression: Indonesian Democracy After 20 Years, Thomas Power and Eve Warburton eds. (Singapore: Institute for Southeast Asian Studies, forthcoming).

31 Warburton, “How Polarized Is Indonesia, and Why Does It Matter?”

32 “Political Polarization in the American Public,” Pew Research Center, June 12, 2014,