JAKARTA — Joko Widodo looks set for a second term and final term as president of Indonesia, with unofficial early tallies putting him around 10 per cent ahead of challenger Prabowo Subianto, a former general who also faced off against Widodo for the presidency in the last vote in 2014.
Widodo, known by his nickname “Jokowi,” did not claim victory on the back of the so-called “quick count” numbers released by several polling organizations during the afternoon after voting closed at 1pm.
Greeting jubilant supporters at a Jakarta theatre, Widodo asked them to keep cool and wait for the final result. “We’ve seen indications from exit polls and quick count results, but we must patiently wait for official counts,” he said.
However, in another reprise of the 2014 contest, Prabowo declared himself the winner, citing his own campaign’s exit polls that he said put him over the 50 per cent mark. “There have been attempts from pollsters and surveys that we know of, cooperating with one side, to steer public opinion as if we have lost,” he told media and supporters as the early tallies emerged.
In 2014, with the margin tighter at 6 per cent, Prabowo unsuccessfully challenged the outcome in Indonesia’s highest court, with supporters taking to the streets to back his claims. It is not clear if opposition supporters will protest again, with Prabowo cautioning against “anarchy” after voting closed. “My fellow countrymen, we must not be provoked,” he said.
The campaign ran since September last year and was largely uneventful, with most opinion surveys showing Widodo maintaining a double-digit throughout, all pointing to a comfortable win and another five year term for the incumbent.
A pre-election concern for Widodo was the possibility of a low turnout, due in part to calls among some younger Indonesians to abstain from voting in protest at what they deemed bipartisan pandering to Islamic clerics. Other would-be abstainers cited long-standing allegations that Prabowo oversaw human rights abuses while in the army, as well as Widodo’s recourse as president – which flew in the face of his liberalism-tinged 2014 campaign – to having critical voices arrested or their organizations proscribed.
Widodo supporter Djatmiko was among the tens of thousands who attended a lively final pre-election campaign rally-cum-concert at a Jakarta football stadium, held on the Saturday before the election. He said that Indonesia’s fractious party politics and need to maintain sometimes-unwieldy coalitions explained why Widodo ended up letting down some of his more idealistic supporters from 2014. “Maybe they’re disappointed in some ways, but he has to promise a lot of parties, that’s politics, he cannot satisfy everyone,” he said.
However despite predictions that abstentions, or golput, could take in up to 30 per cent of the electorate, the indications so far are that the turnout was high – between 70 and 80 per cent – despite the relatively tepid campaign and a series of presidential debates in which neither side seemed to stoke the passions of the electorate.
According to Alexander Arifianto, Research Fellow with the Indonesia Programme at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS) at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, the “large voter turnout also helped him [Widodo] especially among millennials which were expected to go golput. I think millennial women and religious minorities are going to Jokowi in large numbers.”
Widodo was seen as vulnerable due to his past affiliation with Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, a Protestant of Chinese descent who succeeded Widodo as governor of capital Jakarta in 2014.
Purnama was jailed in 2017 over allegations that he insulted Islam while campaigning ahead of that year’s gubernatorial elections, which he lost to Anies Baswedan, a former Widodo cabinet minister who was supported by Prabowo. Purnama’s downfall came after hundreds of thousands of Islamist protestors twice thronged a square beside Indonesia’s presidential palace, demanding that the then-governor be jailed.
Widodo responded by selecting the 76 year old cleric Ma’ruf Amin – who testified in court against Purnama – as his running mate, a clear attempt to burnish his Islamic credentials and force the opposition campaign to focus on economic issues, which they did in part with the selection of 49 year old entrepreneur Sandiaga Uno as the vice presidential candidate. Uno, perhaps with an eye on a tilt at the presidency in 2024, was notably absent on Wednesday evening as Prabowo made his reality-defying victory claims.
And though Indonesian social media was peppered with numerous hoax messages about the election, the campaign in general did not descend to the sectarian name-calling of 2014, when Widodo, a former furniture salesman from Central Java, was branded a communist and a Christian in an attempt to discredit him with the majority Muslim electorate.
If the final results mirror the early counts released after voting closed, Widodo, though securing a comfortable win, will possibly be disappointed at not nearing the landslide won in 2009 by his predecessor, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who took over 60% of the vote in a three-cornered contest.
That shortfall could be down to Indonesia failing to grow at Widodo’s hoped-for 7 per cent a year. Indonedia remained mostly unable to attract the kind of manufacturing investment that went to other Southeast Asian countries, despite Widodo implementing some pro-business changes during his first term.
Nonetheless Widodo supporters believe the president has done a good job with upgrading the country’s infrastructure, the sub-standard condition of which is regularly cited by businesses and economists as a hindrance to doing business.
According to Widodo supporter Ronny Tanjung, the president has “done very well, you can see the difference within four or five years.
“I am thinking of toll roads, things like that. Compared with the previous president, the country is doing well,” he added.
The Prabowo campaign, which held an early morning election rally at the same stadium the previous weekend, sought to score points with voters by alleging that Indonesia was allowing too much foreign investment and foreign workers, particularly from China, into the country.
Even with a comfortable 10 per cent victory and a likely increase in parliamentary support, it seems unlikely, some observers contend, that Widodo will use his second and final term to undertake politically challenging economic reforms.
According to Peter Mumford of U.S. consultancy EurasiaGroup, “Jokowi’s victory, while likely accompanied by a larger majority in parliament, will be insufficient to break him free of the constraints of coalition partners and vested interests—elite political, military, religious and state-owned enterprise (SOE) leaders.”