Comparing Elections in the Two Countries with the Largest Muslim Populations

In a democratic climate that resonates throughout the world, general elections are one of the main pillars that determine the direction and future of a country.

Indonesia and Pakistan, recently held general elections in 2024. These two countries, although sharing similarities in demographic context, have different political, social, and economic backgrounds, making the elections in each country unique with their challenges and dynamics. Indonesia, with its long-standing Pancasila democratic system, and Pakistan, with its dynamic political history, provide interesting cases to study and compare. Through this comparison, we can understand how elections in the most populous Muslim countries contribute to strengthening or challenging democratic practices in the region.

In a democratic climate that resonates throughout the world, general elections are one of the main pillars that determine the direction and future of a country. Indonesia, as a democratic country with the largest Muslim population in the world, has recently held elections in 2024, an important moment that is in the spotlight not only at the regional but also international level. There is controversy regarding the past of the winner, Prabowo Subianto, especially regarding his role as a a special forces commander who was accused of being involved in the kidnapping of activists in the late 1990s and several human rights abuse allegations. Critics also doubt the election’s integrity, partly due to judicial adjustments allowing Jokowi’s son to be Prabowo’s running mate, raising concerns about democracy’s future in Indonesia.

In this election, major parties such as the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDIP), Gerindra Party, Golkar Party, and several other parties, once again showed off in the political arena. Each party is nominating candidates to compete in the presidential election, with the hope of leading Indonesia for the next five years. The impact of the track record of cases of human rights violations involving Prabowo and the ethical controversy that dragged Gibran Rakabuming Raka into the 2024 Indonesian election process reveals the complex dynamics that determine the direction of public support and trust. Initially, these two issues may appear to be significant factors in changing the map of political support, given the public’s sensitivity to issues of justice and moral integrity in leadership. However, a deeper investigation shows that the impact varies, depending on the voter base and the acceleration of information in society. For example, for some voters, concerns about Prabowo’s track record in cases of human rights violations may raise doubts about supporting him, while for others, this issue may be considered as part of the past that is not very relevant to the current leadership context. On the other hand, the controversy involving Gibran appears to have had a more limited impact, mainly due to its handling by his father – the current President, and the authorities.

The political and electoral system in Pakistan defines the distinct context in which the 2024 elections take place, characterized by its governance by a bicameral parliament consisting of the National Assembly and Senate, with general elections held to elect members of the legislature and head of government. In the election, the main parties such as Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), and Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) (PML-N) competed closely, but the results surprised many political observers when the independents managed to win the majority of seats. This victory was inseparable from several important factors that influenced it.

First, public dissatisfaction with traditional parties is one of the main factors. Many voters feel that major parties have failed to address critical issues such as the economy, corruption and security, prompting them to look for alternatives. Second, effective independent campaigns, which reach voters through social media and field campaigns, expand their influence among younger and urban voters. Third, independent parties are also considered more capable of representing local interests and specific community issues, different from the top-down approach often applied by large parties.

Imran Khan, former Prime Minister of Pakistan and leader of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), has had significant influence in Pakistani politics, including in the context of elections. His charisma and popularity as a former cricketer and as a politician have played an important role in garnering support for the PTI, especially among the youth and urban groups. Khan’s leadership of the PTI and his promises to fight corruption and improve the country’s economy have appealed to many voters seeking a change from the political status quo in Pakistan. In the election context, the influence of Imran Khan and the PTI remains strong, despite legal challenges and negative campaigning in the media. His support among certain circles of the electorate remains solid, especially among those who appreciate his efforts to introduce political and economic reforms. However, public perception of Khan and the PTI is also influenced by various factors, including how the media reports on him and how his political opponents exploit his legal situation.

In the 2024 elections, the campaign strategies used by candidates in Indonesia and Pakistan show adaptation to the specific political and social environment in each country, although there are some similarities, especially in the use of media and technology. In Indonesia, candidates rely on a combination of traditional approaches, such as rallies and physical distribution of materials, with digital strategies involving social media and massive messaging applications to reach young and urban voters. Meanwhile, there is greater emphasis on field campaigns and mobilization through local and community networks, given the importance of social structures and community-based political affiliations in Pakistani politics.

The role of media and technology in both countries’ elections has become critical, with social media and other digital platforms becoming key arenas for campaigning, political discussion and information dissemination. Traditional media such as television and newspapers also remain influential, especially among older voters or in areas with limited internet access. The use of information technology not only expands the reach of campaigns but also increases the ability of candidates to target their messages more specifically to certain voter segments.

In Al-Maududi’s political perspective, elections are not only a democratic process but also a reflection of Islamic values ​​and principles in state management. Al-Maududi emphasized that sovereignty belongs to Allah alone, and leaders must fulfill their responsibilities in implementing sharia as a way of life, citing, ‘Power belongs to Allah alone. In Indonesia, Prabowo’s victory may signal a shift to conservative policy, given his military background and campaign promises to strengthen national identity and stability. In the context of Al-Maududi, this is somewhat difficult to see as an opportunity to strengthen Islamic aspects in state governance, because it must be remembered that Indonesia has great religious and ethnic diversity. On the other hand, in Pakistan, the victory of the PTI under Imran Khan, which has demonstrated a desire to implement a model of governance inspired by Islamic values, directly resonates with Al-Maududi’s views on the importance of implementing Islamic principles in governance.

From the perspective of regional geopolitics and the global Muslim community, the victory of these two leaders has the potential to increase cooperation between Indonesia and Pakistan, especially on issues related to Muslims, such as Palestine, Islamophobia and shari’a economics. In line with Al-Maududi’s views on the importance of Muslim unity in facing global challenges, collaboration between the two countries with the largest Muslim populations can provide new momentum for advocating the interests of Muslims in international forums.

Prabowo’s approach which emphasizes strengthening national defense and security as well as trade cooperation in security systems and weapons marks a potential shift in Indonesia’s diplomatic strategy from soft power to a more balanced approach, combining soft and hard power. Indonesia, which has been known for its soft power diplomacy through the promotion of culture, democracy and economic diplomacy, may begin to place greater emphasis on defense and security aspects as an integral part of its foreign policy. However, this shift also requires a careful balance to ensure that the increased focus on hard power does not diminish Indonesia’s commitment to the diplomatic principles of peace and international cooperation that have long been a hallmark of Indonesian diplomacy. By maintaining a balanced approach between soft and hard power, Indonesia can strengthen its position and influence on the international stage, while remaining a key player in promoting regional and global stability and cooperation.

Reflections on the importance of elections in strengthening democracy in Indonesia and Pakistan, as countries with the largest Muslim populations, show that the results of the 2024 elections will play a crucial role in determining the direction of the political future of both countries. Elections not only reflect the will of the people but are also the foundation for strengthening democratic institutions and foreign policy that is responsive to global dynamics. the question that arises is, how will these two countries navigate post-election internal and external challenges to ensure that democracy not only survives but also thrives while maintaining a strategic position on the global stage?

Ida Mujtahidah
Ida Mujtahidah
Ida Mujtahidah is a graduate student from Gadjah Mada University, a disability activist, a writer and a book lover. She has written academic articles and book reviews on various topics, such as Track II Diplomacy, Public Diplomacy, historical fiction, and disability empowerment. She is also active on social media, known as Aida Mudjib, where she shares her opinions and interests. Aida is a multitalented person who uses her writing to promote inclusiveness, express her passion for books, and connect with others. She is a highly intellectual and dedicated figure who inspires many people in Indonesia and beyond.