Elections in Indonesia matter to a closely watching world. The results of the presidential elections in the world’s third largest democracy on July 9 will determine the future direction of Southeast Asia’s most populous nation and dynamic economic powerhouse.

Beyond that, Indonesia’s political choice will have an equally strong impact on its neighbours, the wider Asian region and also on Europe and the United States.  Most importantly, the way Indonesians vote will resonate across the Muslim world.

Indonesians should know: their country offers a successful alternative model for Islamic societies, especially Egypt and other troubled Arab nations.

As a Muslim majority country which is also a robust and vibrant democracy Indonesia is quite exceptional in a Muslim world dominated by monarchies, dictatorships and uncertain, vulnerable democracies.

Indonesia’s experience in transiting from years of authoritarianism to democracy stands as an inspiration at a time when countries like Egypt are back peddling on meeting popular aspirations for change and political reform.

Egypt’s failed democratic transition is proof that democracy needs visionary, thoughtful and cool-headed leaders, careful nurturing and can never be taken for granted.

The choice Indonesians face now is simple: will they vote for a man who harks back to a past era, talks tough at a time

when the world is looking for Indonesian “soft power” to tackle 21st Century challenges or a young and dynamic politician who stands for a new and progressive Indonesia, ready to take its place as a global power.

Indonesia over the last decade and more has witnessed a massive transformation of its economy, with analysts now predicting that by 2030, the country will have an economy larger than either Germany or the United Kingdom.

Whoever takes over the reins of power will have to tackle a long list of challenges, including a slowing economy, over-reliance on commodity exports, infrastructure bottlenecks and corruption. Keeping Indonesia open for business and avoiding the dreaded “middle income trap” will be other important priorities. The next president will also need to confront the problem of religious extremism which threatens a country known for its tolerance and moderation.

The world needs an inspirational, forward-looking Indonesia which stands proudly for pluralism, human rights, civil society and reform in a world where these values are in short supply.
Friends of Indonesia are hoping they can continue to engage with a country which can fulfil its role as a modern and promising 21stCentury power.