THE BLOG
01/13/2014 03:01 pm ET Updated Mar 15, 2014

Indonesia Elections: A Chance for America to Re-Engage in Asia

Two years ago President Obama declared that America was "all in" on a U.S. foreign policy "pivot" to the Asia-Pacific Region. A U.S. shift in policy focus from the Middle East and the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan to a longer term commitment to strategic economic and security interests in Asia was welcomed news in many Southeast Asian countries. Since then, little progress has been made in the execution of this policy pivot. However, the upcoming Indonesian elections offer an opportunity for the U.S. to re-engage in Asia by supporting and advancing mutual democratic values and principles to ensure a free, fair and credible election and the first peaceful democratic transition of power.

President Obama's statements promising a renewed interest in Asia were particularly well received in Indonesia. He spent four years of his childhood in Jakarta, returned for a visit in 2010, and enjoys broad popularity throughout the country despite several recent trip cancellations. Unfortunately, the president's commitment of an increased presence in and attention to the region have gone largely and remains a back-seat priority due to ongoing crises in the Middle East, such as Syria, and all-consuming domestic issues, such as fiscal emergencies and the troubled rollout of the Affordable Care Act. However, Indonesia has fast approaching parliamentary and presidential elections in 2014 which offer the U.S. an opportunity to again press the "reset button", this time on the pivot to Asia policy shift. As illustrated by Indonesia's willingness to sign and support for continuing the U.S.-Indonesia Comprehensive Partnership Agreement (CPA any serious presidential candidate in Indonesia would see the vision of the American pivot as essential to the country's trade and economic development future.

The Indonesia elections are critically important to U.S. interests in the region. American engagement and support for a free, fair, and credible poll will significantly advance several points of strategic interest for the U.S. First, Indonesia is the most populous Muslim nation in the world but simultaneously remains a multi-ethnic, multi-lingual, and multi-religious society based on tolerance and mutual respect. The Indonesian government has consistently pushed polices that support religious, ethnic and cultural diversity but religious intolerance is on the radical Islam has begun to increase, and a rapidly growing number of local governments have passed legislation based on more extreme versions of Sharia law. The U.S., Indonesia, and other countries in the region can simply not afford for the cancerous growth of Islamic extremism to spread throughout the country risking violence, upheaval, or worse - a failed state. The overwhelming majority of the Indonesia population does not want to see an expansion of extreme Islamic law and the most effective way to ensure the will of the people is reflected is through guaranteeing free, fair, peaceful and credible elections and a smooth democratic power transition in 2014.

Secondly, as China continues to expand its influence throughout Asia a greater American presence would act as a much needed counterbalance that would be much welcomed by the traditional American partners in the region such as Australia, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Indonesia. However, while the U.S. continues to be a no-show at important regional meetings and little has been done to establish this vital counterbalance, Chinese leaders carry on with their "charm offensive in Indonesia, most recently announcing $30 billion worth of mining deals during a to the Indonesian parliament. The Chinese have taken advantage of and benefited greatly from the American lack of focus on Asia, however, Indonesia will have a new president by mid-2014 and the elections offer the U.S. another opportunity to support a still new democracy in a critical country at the center of the race for influence in the region.

Finally, opportunities for broader economic ties abound throughout the region, particularly Indonesia. The country's emerging economy has performed impressively in the democratic era since 1999, averaging approximately 6% annually and per capita income has more than doubled in the last 7 years. The country's demographics are shifting to a much younger population more focused on entering the global economic system, industrialization, and entrepreneurship rather than economic protectionism. As Indonesia works through some of its significant domestic challenges, both economic and governmental, the country will soon be in a position to project its power regionally and internationally. By 2030 Indonesia is projected to be the 7th largest economy in the world, currently 16th, representing a tremendous economic partnership opportunity for the United States. Recognizing future economic potential growth, Indonesia has even expressed in joining the Trans-Pacific Partnership - a key U.S.-led trading bloc among trans-pacific countries - as a potential vehicle to strengthen economic security and showcase its competitive advantages. These shifting dynamics represent an opportunity for a significant expansion of mutually beneficial economic ties between the U.S. and Indonesia, which would certainly amount to a real and tangible pivot and regional presence.

The upcoming elections in Indonesia are critically important to American interests in the region and represent an initial opportunity for the U.S. to re-engage in Asia and fulfill the sound strategic policy vision of the American pivot. Calling for and supporting free, fair, peaceful and credible elections in Indonesia is the first step and could be the foundation the U.S. needs to build and maintain a reliable regional presence based on mutual interests, respect and understanding. A broader American-Indonesia partnership built on these principals is guaranteed to have limitless benefits for many years to come.

Djojohadikusumo is vice chairman of the Supreme Leadership Council and a founding member of the Gerindra Party.