In The Possessed (1872), Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoyevsky warned: “In turbulent times of upheaval or transition low characters always come to the front everywhere.” His book, after all, was a reaction to the disruptive emergence of radical thinkers and nihilist movements, which sought to supplant a fossilised Tsarist regime in the dusk of the 19th century. The subsequent Russian Revolution, which precipitated decades of ideological violence and political fratricide, only underscored the prophetic nature of Dostoyevsky’s misgivings. Today’s new and fledgling democracies such as Indonesia, which will soon head to the polls, are facing a similar moment of reckoning, as public confidence in democratic institutions frays and fractures. From Kyoto to Kansas City, it’s Indonesian tuna on the world’s sushi counters In fact, the unlikely rise and mind-boggling popularity of President Rodrigo Duterte in the neighbouring Philippines only underscores the fragility of contemporary democracies. If anything, Indonesia seems even more vulnerable to bouts of right-wing populism and perilous political fragmentation in the years to come. On the surface, Indonesia projects a hopeful image, where religious pluralism, economic dynamism and democratic politics live in sustained harmony. By some measures, the world’s largest Muslim nation is also the most democratic in the Southeast Asian region. Scratch the surface a bit, however, and one discovers Indonesia’s vulnerability to authoritarian temptations and its stubborn nostalgia for the days of dictatorship. No matter who wins in the upcoming presidential elections, the country faces major challenges to its new-found democratic institutions. The curious case of Duterte poignantly provides a cautionary tale. First of all, one should take into account the eerie similarities between Indonesia and the Philippines. Though no two countries are perfectly identical, no two countries are as alike as the Philippines and Indonesia. Absent the advent of Western imperialism, one could have had imagined a “Greater Indonesia” stretching from Basilan in the east to Banda Aceh in the west. In the past decade, the two neighbours have joined the ranks of what I call “emerging market democracies” along with Turkey, Brazil, and India. These are nations with rapid economic growth and decades-long democratic practices. But beyond their similarly beautiful seascape (think of Bali and Boracay) and suffocating traffic congestion (think of Jakarta and Manila), the two countries share something troubling in common. Both nations have been suffering from “democracy fatigue”, namely declining public confidence in democratic checks and balances as well as rapid erosion in civic culture. Indonesia’s gambling with a tax on e-commerce. Will it pay off? According to the latest Pew Research Centre survey, only a tiny plurality of citizens in the Philippines (15 per cent) and Indonesia (12 per cent) expressed a categorical commitment to democracy. The same survey also showed that half of the citizens in the Philippines and a slim majority in Indonesia (52 per cent) preferred a “strong leader” who didn’t have to bother with institutional checks and balances, including legislative oversight and judicial inquiries into the practices of the executive branch. The disenchantment with democratic institutions is most apparent among the aspirational middle classes, who feel politically ignored and economically disenfranchised amid a decade of rising inequality and concentrated growth, which has benefited the oligarchy. The upshot is toxic levels of social polarisation, which has provided a unique space for unorthodox politicians and fringe ideas to enter mainstream politics. Moreover, a growing number of voters have begun to place their faith in what German sociologist Max Weber described as “charismatic” leaders, who are supposedly “endowed with supernatural, superhuman, or at least specifically exceptional powers or qualities”. This is precisely the context within which Duterte, a former provincial mayor known for his iron-fisted law and order agenda, was able to capture the presidency and single-handedly upend Philippine democracy, the oldest in Asia. Peace, noble, large male organ? Jury’s out on Duterte’s plan to rename Philippines as Maharlika The Filipino president should be very familiar to Indonesians, precisely because he at once combines the key elements that define the politics of both Indonesian President Joko Widodo and his chief rival Prabowo Subianto. This is why the Indonesian presidential elections arguably resemble a battle between the different instincts that define the so-called Dutertismo ideology. On one hand, Jokowi represents the more folksy and populist aspect of Duterte, aiming to protect the interest of orang kecil (ordinary people) against the old elite. But in recent years, Jokowi has lurched to the right, adopting a Duterte-style approach to law and order issues. Back in 2017, he seemingly instructed Indonesian security services to follow in the footsteps of Dutetre’s brutal drug war, which has allegedly claimed the lives of thousands of individuals without due process. “If [drug dealers] resist arrest, just gun them down, show no mercy,” Jokowi said, confidently maintaining that “[from] the practice in the field [the Philippines], we see that when we shoot at drug dealers they go away.” Even more shockingly, the Jokowi administration went so far as awarding General Bato dela Rosa, Duterte’s former police chief who oversaw the scorched-earth drug war, the prestigious Bintang Bhayangkara Utama (Medal of Honour). Jokowi’s inculcation of Dutertismo was now in full display. And his reactionary turn was most apparent with his embrace of religious conservatism, most prominent in his controversial choice of cleric Ma’aruf Amin as vice-president. Duterte is the Putin of Asia. Maria Ressa is the proof Yet it’s Prabowo who best reflects the sharp edge of Dutertismo. In both of his presidential campaigns, the former general has adopted a Duterte-style appeal to autocratic nostalgia, tapping into the lingering yearning for a return to the authoritarian past. And similar to Duterte, Prabowo has resorted to fearmongering and apocalyptic rhetoric to rally support, including his comical citation of the American novel Ghost Fleet , which details the fictional disintegration of Indonesia in decades to come. And similar to the Philippines’ 2016 presidential elections, polarising fake news and systemic disinformation is rapidly poisoning the well of political discourse in Indonesia. Almost regardless of the election outcome, Dutertismo seems to have won in Indonesian politics, as a growing number of voters embrace fear over hope and partisanship over pluralism in an era of right-wing populism.