Indonesia: 'Prabowo’s defeat will keep open democratic space'; Jokowi's 'unprecedented' presidential bid

Presidential candidate Joko “Jokowi” Widodo speaks to a crowd of tens of thousands.

Dr Vannessa Hearman will be the guest speaker at a Green Left Weekly forum in Sydney on August 5, which will discuss what the election means for the struggle for democracy in Australia's largest neighbour. More details here.

By Peter Boyle

July 11, 2014 -- Green Left Weekly -- The official results of the July 9 Indonesian presidential elections are not expected till at least July 22, but many private “quick count” surveys and exit polls have proclaimed a winner.

Most of these unofficial polls have declared that former Jakarta governor Joko Widodo (popularly known as Jokowi) has defeated his sole challenger — sacked Suharto dictatorship general Prabowo Subianto by a margin of up to 4%.

According to the CSIS-Cyrus quick count, Jokowi and his vice-presidential candidate Jusuf Kalla won 52% of votes compared to 48% for Prabowo Subianto and his running mate Hatta Rajasa.

Kalla was Indonesian vice-president from 2004-2009 and former chairperson of former dictator Suharto’s Golkar party. Hatta is linked to the outgoing presidential administration of Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

Despite the lack of official results, both Jokowi and Prabowo have claimed victory and held victory celebrations. This has led to fears that a disputed election result may lead to serious conflict.

Australian National University professor Edward Aspinall, a widely quoted Indonesian scholar, told Green Left Weekly from Indonesia that he was “completely confident” Jokowi won the election.

“All of Indonesia’s professional and respect survey institutes that conducted quick counts produced results that showed him with a clear-cut lead.

“These institutes have records of producing quick counts that very accurately predict the final results. It is close to a statistical impossibility that they got it wrong this time.”

“The significance of Prabowo’s defeat,” he added, “is that it has prevented a return toward the authoritarianism of the Suharto period and it will keep open democratic space to articulate and defend popular interests.

“A Prabowo victory would have represented a decisive defeat for Indonesian democracy.”

Aspinall has published an expose on Prabowo's rise to immense wealth and power under the Suharto dictatorship. He has also showed that Prabowo, who became Suharto's son-in-law, has a record of anti-democratic behaviour.

However, Aspinall conceded that “many of Indonesia's established elite politicians and oligarchs early on offered to back Jokowi because they saw him as having the higher chance of victory”.

Interestingly, he did not accommodate all such requests, refusing to meet with some oligarchs, for instance. Members of Indonesia's established elite are well-represented in the coalition supporting Jokowi, but “most of the most authoritarian elements backed Prabowo”.

“Prabowo is certainly going to try to delegitimate the result and steal the election. Sponsoring fake quick counts can have no other purpose than preparing the ground for fraud in the counting process.

“I am reasonably confident that the margin of Jokowi’s victory will make this task too difficult. However, defending this victory will require great vigilance on the part of his supporters.”

Aspinall's concerns about the possible “stealing” of the election result was echoed by a number Indonesians who supported Jokowi in the elections.

Anom Astika, a former leader of the radical People's Democratic Party (PRD) that played a leading role in the movement that eventually brought down the Suharto dictatorship, spent three years as a political prisoner of the dictatorship. He was one of many PRD and other pro-democracy activists jailed, abducted, murdered or disappeared by the Suharto regime.

As the former commander of the army special forces (Kopassus), Prabowo was implicated in the kidnapping of activists in 1997/98 when the Suharto regime was on the verge of being toppled.

Nine of the abducted were found alive, one was found dead and 13 have never been found. The disappeared include radical poet Wiji Thukul.

Today Anom is a media analyst and lecturer in Jakarta and he was worried that Prabowo, backed by big business conglomerates, may have the means to bribe the election commission into rigging the official result.

“Jokowi's volunteer associations and groups need to guard the votes,” he told Green Left Weekly, “and expose the false claims of a Prabowo win by institutions with poor credibility.”

“The seven or eight survey institutions whose quick counts found that Jokowi has won the election have had good credibility for more than five years. But now the association of survey institutions will check the methodology of all the surveys.”

[Further reading: "Prabowo's game plan", by Ed Aspinall and Marcus Mietzner in New Mandala.]

From GLW issue 1015

Indonesia: Jokowi's 'unprecedented' presidential bid

By Peter Boyle

July 12, 2014 -- The unofficially successful bid for presidency Joko Widodo (popularly known as Jokowi) is “unprecedented thus far in post-authoritarian Indonesia” according to Vannessa Hearman, a lecturer in Indonesian Studies at the University of Sydney. The bid survived a vicious anti-communist smear campaign by supporters of Jokowi's sole contender for presidency – the sacked former Suharto-era general Prabowo Subianto.

Indonesian-born Hearman did her doctoral thesis on the 1965-68 anti-communist repression in Indonesia in which some half-a-million members and sympathisers of the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI), so she knows a bit about the power of anti-communist propaganda in that country.

In an article published in The Conversation five days before the July 9 presidential election, Hearman described how Prabowo's supporters first spread “rumours that Jokowi is a secret Christian and of Chinese ethnicity” and then followed this up with accusations that he had “communist sympathies”.

Jokowi's party, the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), she wrote, was said to be riddled with “communists”. The fact that Budiman Sudjatmiko, a former leader of the radical People's Democratic Party during the struggle to topple the Suharto dictatorship, is now a PDI-P parliamentarian was used to support this charge.

A visit in May to Timor Leste/East Timor by Budiman at the invitation of the Timorese government to discuss the role of village councils was painted by Prabowo supporters as an attempt to consult “communist leader” Mari Alkatiri in East Timor, Hearman recounted.

In another recent article published in New Mandala, Hearman described how a photo of Jokowi standing beside the grave of Boris Yeltsin was circulated on Twitter to accuse Jokowi of having communist sympathies. The photo was circulated with the question, “Have you finished studying communism in Russia and China, Jok?”

Jokowi, has denied he has any “communist sympathies” but he has promised to resolve past human rights abuses, including the 1965-66 killings. In this he follows the democratic example of Indonesia's last reform-minded president, Abdurrahman Wahid (popularly known as “Gus Dur”), who invited former PKI exiles to return to Indonesia in 1999, and proposed removing restrictions on open discussion of communism.

Hearman told Green Left Weekly that Jokowi's program was not left-wing but one of democratic reform. However, even such reforms were a big challenge to the political status quo.

“Jokowi's popularity as the mayor of Solo in Central Java, which in turn propelled him to the position of governor in Jakarta in 2012 was what attracted the attention of the PDI-P in the first place to nominate him as presidential candidate.

“Jokowi has captured the imagination of people as to what Indonesia could look like. His program of reforms might have looked modest but these are the basic things Indonesia has needed for a long time. Free health and education, a mass transit system, open spaces and parks, assistance for market traders through market renovation schemes, cleaning up the public service to speed up access to services and reduce corruption.

“He has also been the only candidate to promise to deal with human rights abuses under Suharto including the 1965-66 killings. Jokowi’s win itself will be one step of putting the past to rest – and that’s the earlier dominance of former military officers and figures only from the elite running for president!

“Seeing the huge popularity of Jokowi, elite figures, such as retired general Wiranto himself also accused of human rights abuses in East Timor for example, have associated themselves with the Jokowi campaign.

“With a Jokowi win, it’s time to demand that those in his own campaign be dealt with when it comes to past human rights abuses. There would have been no chance of enforcing any acountability measures under a Prabowo presidency, given his own personal links with human rights abuses. If Prabowo had won, there is a danger that many democratic reforms would have been rolled back. He has been quoted as saying democracy is too costly.”

Meanwhile, Prabowo is refusing to concede the election by disputing the method and results of the quick count by seven survey agencies and reporting through media channels in the Prabowo camp, the results of three survey companies showing a Prabowo win.

“Quick count results were good enough in previous elections but apparently not in this one. This move is designed to sow confusion, doubt and possibly unrest in the country in the next few weeks before the results are available on July 22. And there is no guarantee that destabilisation of a Jokowi administration will not continue after July 22.”

Jokowi supporters are now on guard for any attempts to tamper with the official result in the process of completing the national tally of reports from polling sites around this large and dispersed country.

On July 13, volunteer groups supporting Jokowi held a demonstration outside the electoral commission offices in Jakarta. The Indonesian media has published a number of photographs of election return forms with discrepancies in the count.