As foreshadowed in On Line Opinion earlier this month, Indonesians are facing a potentially explosive situation with no clear winner from the 9 July direct vote for a new president.
But thank God for Ramadhan. Literally. The Islamic fasting month is the principal reason volcanic chaos hasn’t erupted following the keenly contested result.
It’s not easy seething over statistics when hunger gnaws and the mind is supposed to be concentrating on matters pious, not political.
The liberal - progressive’s poster boy, mellow Joko Widodo (Jokowi) remains in front by about five percentage points according to exit polls labelled ‘credible’ by Western observers. Not so says his rival, former three-star general and tungsten-tough Prabowo Subianto. He stoutly asserts his polling reverses Jokowi’s reported lead.
The disputed figures are the result of the so-called ‘quick counts’, not the official result which should be released on 22 July. Whatever the determination, appeals to the Constitutional Court are expected - so no winner declared till late August.
Even then a settle down is unlikely should Prabowo lose. Few believe that the alleged human rights abuser discharged from the army for exceeding his authority will shake the winner’s hand, then gracefully retire to breed Portuguese Lusitano warmbloods.
Prabowo, 62, campaigned with foam-flecked intensity for a nostalgic return to the simple and certain era of his former father-in-law, the kleptocrat dictator Soeharto who ruled Indonesia for 32 years till toppled in 1998 by pro-democracy students.
Prabowo’s grandstanding campaign style, which included reviews of his uniformed ‘troops’ from the saddle of a high-stepping stallion, reminded historians of Il Duce, the Italian fascist dictator Mussolini. One French journalist cleverly dubbed him Putin van Jawa.
Admitting defeat won’t come easy for a patrician who believes only he was born to rule the world’s fourth largest nation, not some provincial pleb. Jokowi, a former furniture salesman and small town mayor turned Jakarta Governor, campaigned on a ‘mental revolution’ platform. This included reforming the bureaucracy, embracing modern business practices, eliminating nepotism and responding to the voices of ordinary Indonesians.
He appealed because he was seen as a clean break from the corrupt and incestuous Jakarta oligarchy that’s long controlled an archipelago of 250 million people, most of them Muslim.
Prabowo has already formed a coalition that dominates the Legislative Assembly (DPR). It includes the hard-right Islamic parties and could frustrate a Jokowi-led attempt to advance reform policies even if he’s given the people’s mandate to do just that.
So far the protests have been verbal because voters are more concerned with their religious and cultural duties. These include mudik, visiting families in distant villages, journeys that are already constipating the highways.
The painful movements will peak during the Idul Fitri holiday at the end of July. Though scheduled for just two days the celebrations can extend to two weeks as workers overstay with relatives.
In this environment it’s hard for even the most intense supporter to muster enough enthusiasm for a good demo. This is despite ample evidence that there’s reason to worry, as foreign commentators have noted.
Ed Aspinall and Marcus Mietzner from the Australian National University have been in Indonesia monitoring the election and writing scathingly about Prabowo. Example:
“During the election campaign, Prabowo Subianto posed as a democrat. In fact, he protested regularly against being portrayed as a ‘dictator’—even in his last Facebook message to supporters before the election, he complained about the non-democratic image given to him by unspecified forces.
“Now, however, he delivers the final piece of evidence that he truly is a would-be autocrat who has no respect for the will of the people and would stop at nothing to win power, even if he has to lie and cheat his way to the presidency.”
According to the academics that evidence of Prabowo planning to “steal the presidential result” includes supporters bribing electoral officials, sowing confusion and stirring the possum with fake survey results.
There are widespread claims of malpractice, including attempts at vote buying and intimidation of electors. In some booths not one vote was recorded for Jokowi in what are supposed to be secret ballots. In others officials reportedly defaced votes for Jokowi making them ineligible.
The police, who are supposed to be guarding the process, are notoriously corrupt. So are many bureaucrats; after the general election in April around 100 electoral staff were sacked for illegal practices.
Jokowi was a late entrant into the presidential race. In local government he became famous for his Javanese consensus-style problem solving. He was handpicked by Megawati Soekarnoputri, the head of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) when it became clear the daughter of first president Soekarno would lose if she stood as planned.
The campaign, run by her daughter Puan Maharani, was reported to be underfunded and clumsy, kept in play only through the smartness of volunteers. It was little contest for the professional show staged by Prabowo’s battalions. They were backed by his Croesus-rich brother Hashim Djojohadikusumo and the major commercial television stations, the source of most information for Indonesians.
Next came the dishing of dirt that found acceptance in an electorate that prefers gossip to researched and verifiable news. Jokowi was labelled a communist, a Chinese and a secret Christian with an agenda to convert the nation.
He was slow to respond, preferring to stay out of a gutter fight. Morally-right, politically wrong. Three days before the election he flew to Mecca to pray for success – and prove his Islamic credentials.
There are daily demands from supporters for their opponents to concede defeat, and occasional pleas for the current president and former general Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to intervene.
This won’t happen – the General Elections Commission (KPU) has to make the call; Yudhoyono, who has run the nation for the past ten years and is constitutionally barred from continuing in office, has already poisoned his impartiality. His Democratic Party backed Prabowo.
Indonesia’s seventh president will be sworn in for what should be a five year term on 20 October. The weeks till then will be a time of living dangerously. So could the months beyond.
(First published in On Line Opinion, 21 July 2014: http://www.onlineopinion.com.au/view.asp?article=16514 )