On July 9, Indonesia went to the polls to choose between two presidential contenders: Joko Widodo and Prabowo Subianto. Almost two weeks on and the archipelagic nation of 17,000 islands and 240 million people is no closer to knowing who its president will be for the next five years. The trouble is, both candidates claim to have won.
The likely victor is Joko, who is better known by his nickname, “Jokowi.” His ticket has topped quick counts from credible survey institutions with a reputation for accurately predicting election results, at an average split of about 52.6 to Prabowo’s 47.4 percent of the vote. Jokowi claimed victory on election day on the basis of these results, which prompted his supporters to celebrate into the night on the main streets of the capital, Jakarta.
Meanwhile, Prabowo also claimed victory on election day, based on results from fewer and less credible institutions that showed an average split of about 51 to 49 percent of the vote. Despite the lack of reliable statistical support for his claim to victory, Prabowo has refused to concede defeat.
The political deadlock has produced a sense of uncertainty among citizens, who are now nervously waiting for July 22, when the official results from the General Election Commission (KPU) will be made public. Irregularities have been reported in the vote-counting process, mostly alleged to tip the vote in favor of Prabowo.
It’s likely that even Tuesday’s results will not bring an end to the uncertainty as both sides are prepared to defend their claims in the Constitutional Court. The court itself has had its objectivity questioned in recent times after its chief justice was arrested last year on bribery charges related to local-level election disputes.
Aside from the legal procedures, there are also concerns about how supporters of each camp will react to the KPU’s announcement on Tuesday. Supporters of Jokowi have alleged that unrest could repeat from Prabowo’s track record as a military commander, a post he was dismissed from over his alleged role in inciting riots and coordinating the abduction of pro-democracy activists in 1998, when authoritarian president Suharto was toppled from a 32-year rule.
Rumours are circulating that Jakarta could again face violence in the event of a Prabowo defeat. Meanwhile, Prabowo supporters have levelled similar accusations against their rivals, saying that the ranks of low-income voters backing Jokowi could resort to violence if Jokowi’s claims to victory are denied.
Prevailing President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, now at the end of his maximum ten years in office, has urged citizens to safeguard the democratic process and peaceably handle any disputes as Indonesia transitions to a new government. The Jakarta Globe daily reported that thousands of police officers in Jakarta are performing security drills in the capital to anticipate “chaos” outside KPU headquarters.
The tight split between Jokowi and Prabowo today would have been unthinkable only a year ago. In mid-2013, Jokowi was still riding the wave of popular support that carried him from his position as reformist mayor of the Central Java town of Solo to become the governor of Jakarta, Indonesia’s overpopulated, underserviced capital.
It wasn’t just the support of the people that carried Jokowi to Jakarta. He also had the backing of Megawati Sukarnoputri, a former president and current chairwoman of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), as well as his now-rival, Prabowo. Megawati and Prabowo had unsuccessfully run as a presidential and vice-presidential pair in the 2009 election and were said to have plans to run again in 2014, this time with Megawati supporting Prabowo’s bid for president.
The pair backed Jokowi’s governorship bid in the hope of boosting their reformist credentials, pairing him with deputy governor candidate Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama from Prabowo’s party, the Greater Indonesia Movement (Gerindra). Backed by a vibrant campaign involving both mainstream and social media, Jokowi and Ahok easily took the election, and set about bringing their hands-on approach to reforming the city’s bureaucracy and accelerating development of public infrastructure and welfare. Probably against Megawati and Prabowo’s original intentions, Jokowi soon overtook both of them in popularity as a presidential contender, even before he had announced his intention to run.
A small-town politician of humble origins as a furniture maker, Jokowi had built a reputation for himself as a hard-working problem-solver with close links to the people he served. His approach set him apart from the notoriously corrupt and aloof political elite who still dominated governance in Indonesia more than a decade after the fall of Suharto’s New Order. Wherever his name was entered in comparisons of presidential contenders, the results tilted heavily in his favor. Observers dubbed this phenomenon the “Jokowi effect.”
Prabowo, who topped survey results for president where Jokowi’s name was not included, represented a very different political pedigree. Prabowo came from a politically connected family of influential economists and was, for a time, married to Suharto’s daughter, Titiek. In his military career, he served in conflict-ridden reaches of the archipelago such as Papua and the then-occupied territory of East Timor, where the Indonesian military waged a bloody campaign against the independence movement. Once a close ally of the United States, Prabowo was denied a visa to enter the country in 2000, reportedly due to human rights abuse allegations.
In Indonesia, Prabowo partly found support from a growing public nostalgia for the New Order. Across Java, the smiling face of General Suharto had started appearing on T-shirts, stickers and the backs of trucks along with the caption: “It was good in my day, wasn’t it?”
Indonesians were deprived of social and political rights under Suharto’s New Order, and perceived enemies of the state were commonly ‘disappeared’ by the security apparatus, including during the 1965-66 anti-communist massacres that left an estimated half a million people dead. Nonetheless, the New Order was also a time of great economic development and surface stability, in part due to a tightly controlled media.
Since Suharto fell in 1998, civil society and media freedom have flourished, helping to consolidate Indonesia’s democracy but also exposing undercurrents of instability such as gaping inequality, rampant corruption, organized crime and hardline Islamist movements. All of these problems existed during Suharto’s time but were less visible to the public. (That perhaps goes to a lesser extent for hardline Islam, which was suppressed by the government.) The condemnation of widespread corruption in the mainstream media in the reform era, while an important element of a functioning democracy, has also created the impression that democracy has failed to overcome the problem.
Yudhoyono has led Indonesia through ten years of steady economic growth and increasing prosperity for the Indonesian people, including the emergence of a burgeoning middle class. However, religious intolerance has also spiked under his leadership, including attacks against Christians and minority Islamic groups by hardline Sunni Islamists. The moderate majority of Indonesian Muslims has tended to blame Yudhoyono for not taking a firm stance against it. Prabowo has built his image on representing the strongman leader that some Indonesians long for to restore order to the nation.
In 2013, Jokowi’s brand of clean, transparent governance and his effective campaigning attracted a larger support base, and made him appear a shoo-in for presidency in 2014. But somewhere in the intervening months, Prabowo charged ahead to close a gap of about 30 percentage points between the two candidates down to less than 5.
Having groomed himself as a presidential candidate for several years before this month’s election, Prabowo had a long head start on Jokowi, who was only named a candidate in March 2014. After legislative elections in April, the two began to build coalitions that would back their presidential bids.
Prabowo found a running mate in Hatta Rajasa, who let go of his position as Coordinating Minister for Economic Affairs to focus on the bid. Jokowi was paired by his party with Jusuf Kalla, a former vice president intended to bring experience and authority to Jokowi’s campaign.
Other parties without a sufficient percentage of the legislative vote to nominate a presidential candidate fell in line behind the two contenders. Jokowi aimed to form a “slim” coalition that would enable him to pass reforms without having to compromise with too many conflicting interests, a lesson learned from Yudhoyono’s “rainbow coalition.” Prabowo was less selective, aiming for a bulky coalition to attract as much public support as possible.
Among others, Jokowi secured the support of the National Democratic (NasDem) party, which also brought him the support of its owner’s TV station, MetroTV. Meanwhile, Prabowo convinced Aburizal Bakrie to join his campaign effort, bringing with him the station tvOne. These stations played a crucial role in supporting the two candidates’ campaigns, providing polarized coverage throughout the run-up to the election. On the big day, each broadcast victory for their owner’s candidates.
Social media also played an influential role, with Prabowo dominating Facebook while Jokowi reigned on Twitter. Both players also used viral videos, interactive websites and applications to reach voters. Internet access is still limited in remote parts of Indonesia, but in urban centers Indonesians are avid adopters of new technology. Jakarta has gained a reputation as the world’s Twitter capital. Online activity during the campaign period not only included the dissemination of official material, but also grassroots campaigns, public discussion and the spread of smear campaigns.
As the July election approached, polls began to swing in Prabowo’s favor, bringing him closer in numbers to the support base for Jokowi. And as the Jokowi team beat back smear campaigns in the final weeks and mobilized grassroots support, the ticket experienced a final upswing before election day.
When official results are released and likely contested in the coming days, Indonesia may yet have to postpone celebrations to welcome its new president, and a new direction for the country’s democracy.