What are some steps for an honest citizen to enter Indonesian politics?

Assuming that the end goal is to become president, due to the extent of corruption on many levels of Indonesia’s political system, you’re left with a limited number of ways. First let’s establish some don’ts.


  • Work your way up through a political party. Indonesian political parties are notoriously corrupt due to the many potential money making schemes that influential members can take profit from. As noble as your intentions are, if you moved up the ranks of a political party, you definitely have done some killing on your own to get to where you are. Its not in the nature of Indonesian political parties to facilitate the growth of an honest leader fighting for the common people. On the contrary, influential party members paid their way to the top while the honest members get either ignored or ousted.
  • Spend too much time on the House of Representatives (DPR). Yes, if you are an aspiring President who wants to keep his/her integrity, spending a long time as DPR member can be a waste of time. Why? Our political landscape is somewhat different to the US where senators and congressmen have a shot at running for presidency. This is because the US only has 2 parties, so the party that holds the majority seat in the House of Representatives gets to introduce new laws and legislation without challenge (only unless the President Vetos). Indonesia meanwhile has many political parties. This leads to a lack of agreement and cooperation between members of DPR due to their many different political affiliations. It is therefore nearly impossible for you to make an impact in DPR because to just propose your own legislation represents a huge challenge as you have to convince the majority of members with different party affiliations to get on board. Of course you could always incentivize with money.

Now that we’ve established the don’ts. We are going to discuss the most honest routes to Presidency. There are variations to these steps but the general idea revolves around these 2 methods.

The People’s Champion

  1. Governor outside Jakarta
  2. Governor of Jakarta
  3. Apply for Presidency

Ever since Jokowi’s rise to fame, this has become the popular route that the new generation of politicians have taken to build their names. This route allows you the opportunity and experience of Governing. By building your name as Governor or Mayor outside Jakarta, you have a very good chance to quickly become popular and gather the support of people in the region. This can be done through improving the general well being of the people, cleaning up the city, building infrastructure, eradicating crime and corruption, and overall make the city a greater place to live in. Eventually your good work will be noticed by the people of Jakarta.

Taking the next step and governing the capital is a crucial step if you want to get anywhere near the discussion of Presidency. In Indonesia, very much of the attention is directed towards Jakarta. Everything you do in your term as Governor in the capital, either good or bad will be the focus of the nation. So if you’ve done an outstanding job, your popularity will rise meteorically.

The Nationalist Technocrat

  1. Build career and reputation (preferably industrial or finance) in the private sector
  2. Minister of Indonesia
  3. Apply for Presidency

Although we are yet to see a president in Indonesia taking this route, i strongly believe we will somewhere in the future. There are already ministers and high ranking Government positions who employed variations of this route, with varying levels of political party influence.

There are several ways you can transition your business career to a political career. Jussuf Kalla was active in joining and leading several organizations to build his political stature, including the Indonesian Economics Graduate Association (ISEI) and the Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KADIN). Then he became recognized and made the jump to Government positions. Sri Mulyani built a stellar career as the executive director on the board of IMF before she was brought in to the position of Finance Minister. Sandiaga Uno is similarly active in many organizations while building a stellar career in the private sector.

The 3 examples mentioned can give an insight into the politics of Indonesia. The less you are involved with the political parties, the more likely you are perceived to be honest. None of the current candidates for Jakarta’s Governor position are political party members. Although to run for the highest level of Government position such as President and Vice President, you will still need the backing of the parties. Then it becomes an art of compromising some necessary evils with your integrity.