Originally published in TheEdge Malaysia, 20th – 26th February 2019 edition.

The people of Indonesia exercised their democratic rights when they participated in the general presidential and legislative elections on 17 April 2019. The presidential election, in particular, has been seen as arguably the most divisive in the history of the country. It was a rematch of the last election in 2014 when the incumbent, Joko Widodo, popularly known as Jokowi, came out as the winner, to become the president of Indonesia for 2015 to 2019.

The official result was announced in the early hours of 21 May: Jokowi won by a margin of around 12%, a significant margin that is hard to dispute. Having had two unsuccessful attempts: as a vice-presidential candidate in 2009, and the losing side five years ago, the other contender, Prabowo Subianto, has found it very hard to accept that he has lost the race again, and is attempting to challenge the result through judiciary measures, alleging fraud in the election that cost him the presidency.

When it was certain that Jokowi and Prabowo would again run for the chief position, their immediate task was to select their running mates. Jokowi selected Ma’ruf Amin, a senior Muslim cleric, who was the Chairman of the Majelis Ulama Indonesia (MUI), to be his running mate. This was a stark contrast to Prabowo’s choice, Sandiaga Uno, a well-known businessman, as his vice-presidential candidate. Sandiaga was previously the deputy governor of Jakarta who, together with governor Anies Baswedan, defeated the popular incumbent, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, or better known as Ahok.

Jokowi’s choice of Ma’ruf Amin was largely based on his need to win the hearts of the majority of Muslims in Indonesia. While it has never claimed to be an Islamic country, no country has a larger Muslim population than Indonesia. The constitution guarantees equal rights and opportunity for its people to practice their religious beliefs, but during the last decade, Indonesia has seen the emergence of more radical Islamic movements, which seem to have gained more attention and followers. Somehow, Jokowi has never been able to portray himself as a devout Muslim, to the point of his opponents accusing him of being a communist, which he constantly and strongly denies. Having Ma’ruf Amin was expected to prove that he would be a good representative of the majority of Indonesian Muslims.

Former general Prabowo is actually not known as a representative of the Muslim population of Indonesia (many of his family members are Christians), but has managed to gain the sympathy and support of the radicals, who see him as someone who can strengthen the influence of Islam in the country. This is an expectation that Prabowo must be able to manage if he had won the election, given that Indonesia is known as a country with many ethnic groups and religions, and that this unity in diversity is what makes Indonesia unique.

Prabowo’s choice of running mate was a bit surprising since Sandiaga had only been Anies’ deputy for less than a year, and as a businessman, he has very little political experience, especially in the circles close to the central government. He is also not known as a representative of Indonesian Muslims, but he and Anies somehow managed to play the religion card against Ahok, who was accused of blasphemy during the Jakarta gubernatorial election, which cost him the top position in Jakarta.

The voting on 17 April saw the majority of Indonesians strongly decisive in their choice of who should lead the country in the next five years. 01 was the code number for Jokowi-Ma’ruf and 02, for Prabowo-Sandi. Indonesians were rooting for either 01 or 02. The early quick counts, based on random sampling conducted by survey institutes, which had proved to be accurate in the previous elections, suggested that Jokowi was on his way to his second term as president. The earlier response from the 02 camp was immediate rejection of the results and quick counts, claiming that they have their own more accurate calculations. However, they have rejected requests to disclose their methodology and compare the findings, raising suspicion that their data are statistically unreliable.

 

Quick Count and Real Count

The official result based on the real count of all the ballots, was published by the General Elections Commission, or Komisi Pemilihan Umum (KPU), in the early hours of 21 May 2019, showing 55.41% for Jokowi-Ma’ruf and 44.59% for Prabowo-Sandi.

The result, which had been predicted by many, could be attributed to the following reasons:

  • Although radicalism is allegedly growing in Indonesia, the religion card is not working effectively given that the majority of Indonesian Muslims are moderate. Indonesia has never declared itself as an Islamic country and the idea that one day it will become one does not sit well with most Indonesians. The eastern part of Indonesia has a large non-Muslim population and they mostly reject Indonesia becoming more and more Islamic, and will strongly support the current existence and form of Negara Kesatuan Republik Indonesia (Unitary State of the Republic of Indonesia).
  • The younger voters are frequent users of social media and Jokowi, with the help of his sons, is more adept at this and, therefore, has been able to win the hearts of the millennials. He also understands how younger people do business and has actively encouraged the development of unicorns, startups and businesses focusing on information and communication technology.
  • Unlike Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s sons, who entered politics, Jokowi’s family chose to stay away and focus more on developing their own simple businesses. As a result, he is not seen as part of the political elite but more as a leader who is close to the common people.
  • Although he has many uncompleted plans, Jokowi has shown concrete results in developing Indonesia and he has clearly explained what would become his priorities in the next term, should he be given the mandate for the second time. Prabowo, on the other hand, struggled to find something different and new that would set him apart from Jokowi.
  • Prabowo’s premature declaration that he would become the next president has been ridiculed by many, including the foreign media. While this may not change the vote count, it may make him more vulnerable and if he loses in the courts, it would be very difficult for him to run again in the future because no one will believe him anymore.

 

Prabowo’s Response

Prabowo has maintained his position in rejecting the official results, claiming a massive, structured and systematic fraud taking place in the counting process that benefitted Jokowi. Immediately after the announcement, demonstrations by his supporters took place at the KPU and Supervisory Election Agency or Badan Pengawas Pemilu (Bawaslu) offices. However, the conflicts with the police authorities were short-lived and did not spread all over Jakarta. Prabowo’s camp maintained that they never advocated violence and the conflicts were initiated by paid thugs aiming to discredit him.

Prabowo and Sandiaga are now taking judiciary action to challenge the official outcome of the election, attempting to prove that the fraud has cost them a fair process of electing the next president of Indonesia and to overturn the official real count. This is understandable given that they have spent a lot of resources to defeat the incumbent.

However, this may be a very difficult attempt with very little likelihood of success. With a difference of slightly below 17 million votes and their ongoing reluctance to share their data and counting methodology, it is unlikely that the Constitutional Court, or Mahkamah Konstitusi, will reverse KPU’s official decision.

Despite the protest and street rallies, it is most likely that Jokowi will continue to serve his second term and attempt to keep his promises and finish what he had started. What is important for Indonesia right now is sustainable peace, stability and growth in its effort to become the next global economic giant. Most Indonesians believe that Jokowi is the right person to lead the country towards that goal.