www.theedgereview.com – app/digital magazine available here (subscription required)
JAKARTA/BANDA ACEH – Late Wednesday night, Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono held somber-sounding meetings with the two men claiming to have won the right to replace him, after elections held earlier that same day.
The incumbent, who will step down in October and is known by his initials “SBY,” asked the contestants – Jakarta Governor Joko Widodo, and Prabowo Subianto, the one-time head of Indonesias’s special forces – to rein in their supporters, pending official election results on July 22.
“The President asked us to restrain our celebrations. We agreed to comply so I called on volunteers, supporters and party cadres to not hold any celebrations starting tomorrow,” said Widodo, who is known to all as “Jokowi” and who made his name as mayor of Solo, his east Javan hometown.
SBY’s winnowed-out Democrat Party – its vote bisected in April legislative elections – backed Prabowo’s campaign. The former arny man’s running mate was Hatta Rajasa, a minister in Yudhoyono’s government and whose daughter is married to the current President’s son.
But a good ten or so hours before SBY’s intervention, the indications were that Widodo won a 2-5% margin victory over Prabowo Subianto, based on “quick count” results derived from a sampling of the country’s near-480,000 polling stations.
These counts have in the past proved accurate projections of the eventual, official results, hence Widodo’s early confidence that he prevailed. If Widodo takes office, it will be the first time that the country would be run by a politician without links to Indonesia’s old “New Order” regime – a corrupt oligarchy headed by dictator Suharto, whose daughter was previously married to Prabowo.
On Wednesday afternoon, in a swiftly-arranged press conference at the residence of former President Megawati Sukarnoputri – held as votes were being tallied across the vast archipelago’s 3 time zones – Widodo claimed the win. He was then driven slowly through a throng of elated supporters outside Megawati’s compound, later to give a sundown victory speech at Proclamation Monument – the same spot where Megawati’s father, Sukarno, who was later ousted from office by Suharto, declared the country’s independence in 1945.
There, half hidden behind two superfluous teleprompters, Widodo raised his arms in triumph in front of hundreds of supporters, before reading from handwritten notes that included the line “today Indonesia has set its course,” referring to his own incipient victory.
But while Widodo supporters celebrated at Jakarta landmarks – hundreds more chanted and waved banners at a vast, fountain and traffic roundabout in the city centre – Prabowo went on TV, refusing to concede. He criticised Widodo’s victory claim, and saying that Prabowo himself had won decisively in some heavily-populated regions, including the lynchpin province of West Java – results that if true, he surmised, would mean he still has a chance of winning the Presidency in behlaf of the array of parties lined up behind him.
But if the quick counts prove prescient, the outcome will show up, again, a dissonance between support for political parties on the one hand, and backing for individual politicians on the other. Prabowo was endorsed by a group of parties whose collective vote in the April 9 legislative election exceeded the roughly 48% support he seems to have picked-up in Wednesday’s Presidential election. Widodo’s own appeal vastly-exceeds the near 20% backing won by Megawati’s Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDIP) in April, when the PDIP hoped that latching onto Widodo’s presidential coattails would push the party toward the halcyon reformasi days of 1999, when it won 33% of the vote.
The promiscuous, bend-with-the-wind nature of political alliance-making in Indonesia likely accounts for some of the skewing. Jusuf Kalla, a former Presidential candidate for Golkar, Suharto’s party and, this year, an endorsee of Prabowo’s aspirations – ran as Widodo’s veep contender, and surely took some Golkar voters with him when it was time to mark ballot papers on Wednesday morning.
Personality, too, played a part, and the hauling-back of Widodo’s seemingly-unassailable lead in the weeks leading up to the vote was based partly on a view that Prabowo was the more assertive of the two contenders. Areni Saraswati, a well-to-do voter who cast her ballot at 11am Wednesday, at the same polling station as Joko Widodo voted a half hour before, would not give the name of her preference when asked by The Edge Review.
“The leader must be powerful and be able to secure the land,” she said, however, in a thinly-veiled admission that she had plumped for Prabowo.
Three days before the vote, in Banda Aceh, a once-restive region on the northern tip of Sumatra island, the odds were on Widodo winning around 60% of the Aceh’s 3.3 million votes.
32 year old teacher Fitri, a survivor of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami that levelled much of Banda Aceh and killed 170,000 people in the region, said that she found both candidates hard to figure out, beyond the much-remarked public personas: the bluff, self-styled man’s man Prabowo, versus the diffident, diligent Jokowi.
“Honestly I dont know who is Jokowi, who is Prabowo.” More important, Fitri said, was to assess both candidates’ track records. Personality, for some younger voters, means only so much, she said.
“I would love Jokowi as my President” Fitri said. ” was impressed with what he did with housing for people who lived near the river, and other policies when he was in Solo and Jakarta.”Show