Electoral shadow play – The Edge Review


Tension, maneuvering ahead of Indonesia’s presidential election result

Prabowo Subianto and running mate Hatta Rajasa shake hands at Proclamation Monument, Jakarta,  July 14 2014 (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

Prabowo Subianto and running mate Hatta Rajasa shake hands at Proclamation Monument, Jakarta, July 14 2014 (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

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JAKARTA – “I’ll see your election victory proclamation, and raise you an unbreakable five-year parliamentary coalition plan.”

Unsaid, of course, but that was the implied challenge issued by Indonesian presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto to his rival Joko Widodo last Monday evening, announcing what he described as a “permanent” amalgam of parties in Indonesia’s incoming parliament – a bloc holding over 60 per cent of seats – which he would effectively lead.

“This is an overall coalition in the national and the regional and district legislatures ” declared Prabowo, sitting, legs-folded, on a stage at Proclamation Monument in Jakarta, surrounded by party leaders.

Five days earlier, after voting had closed on July 9, Joko made a beeline for Proclamation Monument to deliver a snap victory speech at the evocative site of Indonesia’s 1945 declaration of independence. Prabowo’s commandeering of the plaza last Monday was meant as a peremptory rebuttal of Joko’s claim to victory.

The July 9 election was the closest-fought of Indonesia’s three direct presidential votes held since 2004, and came after a sordid campaign that saw Prabowo eat away at Joko’s double-digit lead in opinion polls in the closing weeks. Official results are due by July 22. Since election day, both sides have issued jeremiads about the possibility of cheating – by their opponent, of course – as votes are totted up at regional levels prior to that final announcement.

In a confrontational press conference last Monday, which included refusing to take a question from a newspaper that had endorsed Joko’s candidacy, Prabowo again dismissed the so-called “quick count” samplings of results immediately after polls closed that showed Joko winning 52-53 per cent of the presidential vote.

“The quick counts are made by companies that are commercial,” Prabowo scoffed, in response to a question from The Edge Review, asking why voters should discount early results from organisations whose work proved accurate in previous elections. “I can give you 16 that are showing me as winning,” Prabowo asserted.

People working at three of the organisations that pointed to a win by Joko have in the past expressed support for Joko’s candidacy or criticised Prabowo. But of the eight quick counts showing Jakarta Governor Joko in line to succeed incumbent President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, one is a joint effort by national radio and Antara, the state news agency – hardly commercial entities.

Abdullah Yazid, a member the student wing of Nahdlatul Ulama, Indonesia’s biggest Muslim organisation, told The Edge Review that “we [Indonesia] have a serious problem with the quick count result, regarding some institutions that are not credible.”

Leaning on a pro-Palestine banner,  Yazid was speaking a few minutes after Prabowo addressed a protest against Israel’s air raids on Gaza, but said that he viewed the agencies showing a Prabowo win as less reliable.

Amid such a febrile, conspiratorial vibe, both sides have warned of possible cheating at local and district levels, where votes from polling stations are being tabulated ahead of the announcement of the official result in the coming days.

If the quick counts are accurate, as they have been for the most part during previous elections, then Prabowo would need a swing of around 3 million votes to force a dead heat or show a slight majority.

Since last weekend, Indonesians have been scouring the election commission website for result sheets coming in from individual polling stations, in turn posting on social media downloads of tallies that, at best, show shoddy arithmetic.

Some observers are concerned that even if these errors — if that is what they are — are not enough in number to make a difference among around  190 million eligible voters, then they point to a dangerous information gap.

“Personally, I think the chance is quite slim to manipulate the real result, given the pressure from the public and the media,” said Reza Lasmana, who only last Saturday set up Kawal Suara (Guard the Vote), a website and app to assist Indonesians who want to monitor the step-by-step vote tabulation over the coming days.

“We cannot sum up the results as they come in to the KPU (Indonesian election commission) website,” Lasmana told The Edge Review. “It will be difficult for people to see if the counting at local and district level matches up to [the] national level.”

If the quick counts prove as prescient as they have in the past, then any outcome other than a 4-5 per cent win for Joko will prompt allegations of cheating, and will surely be resisted by Joko’s supporters.  By Thursday afternoon, unofficial tallies were showing Joko leading with 52-53%, similar to the numbers that came up in the quick counts back on July 9.

Some are saying that Prabowo should concede. In an open letter to Prabowo and his running mate Hatta Rajasa, Abdillah Toha, founding member of the pro-Prabowo National Mandate Party (PAN), told the pair to “have a reality check.”

“They should be just resigned to the results, as gentlemen and statesmen. Eight pollsters cannot be wrong,” he wrote.

Prabowo has said he will concede if the official results show him as the loser – but he has not, in turn, ruled out a legal challenge.

Even if Prabowo yields, and Joko ends up taking office in October, Prabowo’s coalition, a majority in parliament, will surely aim to make it difficult for Joko to govern.

A pre-emptive shot was fired even before the presidential election, with Prabowo’s supporters moving last week to make the post of parliament speaker an elected role. Currently, the job goes to a member of the biggest party in parliament, which will be Joko’s Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P). But, with a majority of seats, Prabowo’s coalition can aim at least to win the house speaker gig in the next parliament.

Or will it? Prabowo’s coalition is currently backed by Golkar, a self-styled “party of government” that was headed by former dictator Suharto and is the second-largest party in parliament after PDI-P. Jusuf Kalla, Joko’s running mate and would-be vice president, remains popular among Golkar members, some of whom are said to be pushing to oust current leader Aburizal Bakrie, a prominent Prabowo backer. If Joko ends up taking office, Golkar – or a bloc of the party – could defect to the winning side.

“Anyone wishing to join us to build the nation will be accepted. We would have no problem with that,” Joko told Antara last Sunday, when asked if he would ally with Golkar.

That alliance would reduce Joko’s vulnerability to opposition filibuster, but could diminish his scope to be his own man in office by adding to the number of interest groups he would have to appease

If, that is, he gets that far.

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