by Dr. Rahul Mishra
Indonesia, the biggest country of the Southeast Asian region, and world’s third largest democracy which houses the highest number of Muslims in the world, has completed the process of choosing a new government. Sadly, however, the post-election scenario in the country is mired in controversies.
The incumbent President Joko Widodo won the presidential election that is based on a presidential system. On May 21, the General Election Commission (KPU) of Indonesia confirmed the results of April 17 polling. Out of a total of 154 million votes cast, Jokowi won 55.5% of the votes which amounts to more than 85 million votes.
In the 2019 election, Jokowi’s Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDIP) turned out as the largest party gathering 27 million votes. Garindra from the opposition camp gathered 17.6 million votes and stood at the second position, replacing the Golongan Karya Party (Golkar) which used to have a stronghold over Indonesian electorate.
The post-election days in Indonesia are still not peaceful as eight people were killed and more than 200 were injured during two days of violent riots allegedly provoked by the opposition after the election results were formally announced. In the aftermath of the riots, which reminded the common Indonesians of the 1998 riots, more than 400 people were arrested. The police have also accused Prabowo supporters of hatching plots to assassinate President Jokowi’s security guards.
The supporters of Prabowo Subianto, the opposition presidential candidate and former special forces commander, are not satisfied with the election outcome and have protested against the results calling it unfair and rigged. Prabowo has also challenged the results in the constitutional Court, which is likely to give its decision in June. Interestingly, Prabowo had made a similar move in 2014 after he lost to Jokowi, but the court had rejected his plea.
As per the laws, the losing candidate can challenge the result in the constitutional court within three days of announcement of results. Since the KPU firmly stands by its decision, the results are likely to be validated in the court of law. Moreover, barring isolated instances of vote-buying etc., the opposition was unable to provide any credible evidence for large-scale electoral fraud.
Prabowo has been calling for protests terming it as “people power” against electoral fraud. While he did appeal for peaceful protests, his supporters got involved in riots and clashes with the security forces since the results were formally announced. Deployment of around 40,000 security forces personnel and arrests of protestors and alleged terrorists make clear how tense the situation has been on the streets of Jakarta.
While the law and order situation are likely to be restored soon, the country especially the capital Jakarta is still sitting on the edge. Arguably, the 2019 Indonesian election will be remembered as the one marred by bitter electoral campaign pushing the mainstream political discourse to the conservative religious and identity issues.
During the run-up to the election, it was clear that though initially hesitant, a moderate-liberal Jokowi too was compelled to join the bandwagon in making religion a key factor in the elections. Jokowi chose Ma’ruf Amin, a conservative Muslim cleric, as his running mate. Seemingly, it was Jokowi’s attempt to refute allegations about his own family roots and personal religious beliefs and demonstrate that he was “Muslim enough” to run a majority-Muslim country. Ma’ruf played a key role in downfall of blasphemy-accused Basuki Tjahaja Purnama aka Ahok who is former Jakarta governor and Jokowi’s ally.
President Jokowi comes from a humble background and has been considered an “outsider” in Jakarta’s traditional political elite milieu. Before assuming the office of the President in 2014, Jokowi ran a successful tenure as the Governor of Jakarta and demonstrated his impressive leadership skills. Back in 2014, when Jokowi came to power, he was popularly called as “Barak Obama of Indonesia” and the “man of people”.
However, most of the high hopes and (some unrealistic) expectations from Jokowi could not materialise, leading to disappointment among a section of Indonesian people. The pace of economic growth also remained sober, which arguably contributed in persuading Jokowi to accept the entry of stronger role of religious issues in the elections.
The 2019 Indonesian election was unique in several ways. For one, it was the first time that the presidential, parliamentary, and local elections were held simultaneously- and in just one day. Around 245,000 candidates were in the fray this time, running for more than 20,000 national and local legislative seats. According to the laws, 30% of the total candidates had to be women, which is a strikingly positive aspect of the Indonesian electoral process.
The youth played a huge role in the elections and political parties made systematic attempts to woo the youngsters. This included the large-scale use of merchandise supporting candidates. Voters aged 17-35 comprised 40% of total eligible voters in Indonesia.
Another closely related aspect was the unprecedented use of social media platforms across Indonesia, which has the fourth-highest number of Facebook users in the world and is one of the top users of Twitter also. A closely related challenge for the electoral agencies, therefore, was to monitor news and stop the spreading of fake news.
Unfortunately, both KPU and the government agencies could not do enough to stop the spread of fake news. Being as victim of fake news himself, (large amount of the fake news and propaganda was targeted against him and his political supporters) Jokowi might consider proposing new laws to tackle such challenges more effectively.
Now that Joko Widodo has formally assumed the office as the seventh President of Indonesia, he has more challenges to deal with than during his previous term. In a country increasingly divided on identity and religious issues, Jokowi’s biggest task is to bring the country back on track. Smooth functioning of law and order, especially the image of the police as a neutral agency, remains another major immediate challenge before Jokowi.
Article was first published in The Geopolitics website on June 9, 2019.