Prabowo contra mundum – The Edge Review


Losing Indonesian presidential candidate defies election outcome

Prabowo Subianto listens to political allies speak at Jakarta's Proclamation Monument  on July 14 (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

Prabowo Subianto listens to political allies speak at Jakarta’s Proclamation Monument on July 14 (Photo: Simon Roughneen) – app/digital magazine available here (subscription required)

JAKARTA – Just after 9 pm Jakarta time on Tuesday, the world was told that Joko Widodo will be Indonesia’s next president.

The official announcement, showing Joko and running mate Jusuf Kalla winning with 53.15 per cent of the vote, tallied closely with projections available since voting day on July 9. Heads of government in neighbouring countries such as Australia, Malaysia and Singapore quickly issued their congratulations to Joko, the governor of Jakarta, as did U.S. President Barack Obama, apparently speaking Indonesian over the phone to Joko early Wednesday.

One man who wasn’t buying it, however, was defeated candidate Prabowo Subianto, once head of Indonesia’s feared Kopassus, a praetorian guard for the late former dictator Suharto, who was father of Prabowo’s former wife.

“The 2014 presidential election overseen by KPU [the Election Commission] was riddled with problems. It was undemocratic and went against the 1945 Constitution,” Prabowo said on Tuesday afternoon, even before the result, which showed Joko winning by an 8 million-vote margin, was declared. 

By Wednesday morning, Prabowo’s wealthy brother Hashim Djojohadikusumo was telling media that the apparent loser of the election wanted an investigation into 52,000 voting stations, taking in around 21 million voters, amid claims of cheating.

Among the allegations being made are claims foreign hackers had undermined the counting system and that more voters than were registered cast ballots at some polling stations.

“We would not be in this situation, we wouldn’t be so angry today,” Hashim said, referring to the Election Commission’s snubbing of Prabowo’s push to postpone announcement of the result.

That all came after another bruiser of a press conference on Tuesday afternoon – one of several since Joko claimed victory in the afternoon of July 9 – when Prabowo said he would not recognise the election result, reiterating the claim of “electoral cheating” that he and his allies had made over previous days.

With the official result due to be announced that evening, Prabowo dispatched a letter from his campaign headquarters across town to the Election Commission, ordering his representatives there to leave – which they promptly did, brandishing Prabowo’s missive to media on the street in front of the heavily-guarded building.

Such petulant theatrics did not faze the election commissioners, however, who proceeded with the final hours of the long count – a process called recapitulation – delaying the last act so that weary officials could break their Ramadan fast at 6 pm.

“We are proceeding with the recapitulation as planned,” Hadar Gumay, an election commissioner, told The Edge Review. “The law says you don’t have to stop. The law says you don’t have to have all sides present.”

And shortly after the final announcement began, Joko and vice presidential running mate Jusuf Kalla squeezed through a throng of flailing photographers, taking their seats in the KPU hall as the commissioners completed the formalities.

Afterwards, the victorious pair took a speedboat to a pier in North Jakarta, where Joko made his first speech as president-elect, calling for unity and praising Prabowo as a “friend in political competition.”

After a 10-year drive to win the presidency, Prabowo will likely have to put up with his disappointment for another five years, until Joko’s term expires, should he wish to make another run. Prabowo’s moneyed and ritzy campaigning helped him eat into Joko’s double-digit lead in opinion polls in the final weeks of the campaign, making the contest too close to call on the eve of the vote.

During the days leading up to the July 22 announcement of the result, Prabowo remained adamant that he had won the election, despite election day surveys showing otherwise. Some supporters seemed to take a step back – with running mate Hatta Rajasa nowhere to be seen at campaign press conferences on Sunday and on Tuesday, while others maintained that the election result would be much closer than what it turned out to be.

Speaking on July 18, after presenting the Prabowo-Hatta campaign financing report to the KPU, Thomas Djiwandono, the campaign’s finance manager, said that they were “confident” that the result would show Prabowo as the winner. “It’s going to be a slim margin, similar to what we were projecting, 1-2 per cent,” he told The Edge Review.  “Our camp is optimistic that our counts are solid.”

Now, with Prabowo wanting to prolong the game beyond the final whistle, his campaign looks increasingly like the lone kid kicking a ball around the darkened stadium, fantasizing about scoring the winning goal in the cup final, hours after the fans have gone home and the floodlights have been switched off.

Recalling that Indonesia’s 2004 and 2009 elections saw the losing candidates petition the Constitutional Court, author Elizabeth Pisani predicted that “he (Prabowo) will lose and Indonesia will get on with life.”

Prabowo’s lawyers will formally present their case on July 25, to a court that will come under close scrutiny when the case comes up, not least because previous Chief Justice Akil Mochtar is serving a life sentence after being found guilty of corruption in a case related to a local election.

And if the court option fails to quell Prabowo’s attempt to overturn the election result, protests or even street violence against a Joko presidency are unlikely to be popular.

“Dedication to democracy runs deep in Indonesia,” Pisani, author of the recently published book, Indonesia Etc : Exploring the Improbable Nation, told The Edge Review. “The idea that Prabowo might undermine this, by challenging the system, is unappealing to most Indonesians, even some of those who voted for Prabowo,” she said.

So if Joko takes office on Oct. 20 as scheduled, he will be the first post-1998 president not to have direct ties to the Suharto era – meaning, perhaps, a reclaiming of the “new order” nomenclature used to describe Suharto’s authoritarian regime.

Nonetheless, Joko will face a parliament dominated, as things stand, by parties that supported Prabowo’s election campaign, and, if he relents and becomes leader of the opposition, a likely formidable spoiler in Prabowo himself.

Even Joko’s government could be weakened by the need to appease allies and reward backers such as Megawati Sukarnoputri, a former president and head of Joko’s Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), and supporters of Jusuf Kalla, a former vice president and grandee of the Golkar Party, which was Suharto’s political vehicle.

“Given that he (Joko) has a relatively small political base within the parliament, it would be hard for him to pull off any major initiatives within the initial six months, as he settles in to the role and establishes the processes of negotiation that will be required to gain political victories,” said David Hill, a fellow at the Asia Research Center at Australia’s Murdoch University.

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