from Asia Unbound

What Does Indonesia’s Election Standoff Mean for Indonesia’s Next President?

July 15, 2014

Indonesian presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto (C) waves to his supporters during a signing ceremony of an agreement of his coalition parties in Jakarta on July 14, 2014 (Beawiharta Beawiharta/Courtesy: Reuters).
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As I have previously blogged, unless Prabowo Subianto is able to steal four to six million votes in the days before the official vote tally is released, an unlikely possibility, Jakarta governor Joko Widodo will be declared the winner of the presidential election sometime next week.

However, Prabowo is not going to go quietly; in the days since the vote he has repeatedly showed the thin-skinned, bombastic, dictatorial-type personality that scared many Indonesians about the prospect of a Prabowo victory. After Election Day, he lashed out at Indonesian journalists, accusing them of being biased against him and warning one reporter to watch out if she didn’t want to “be hurt.” Prabowo conducted an angry interview with the BBC that sounded more like a conspiratorial tirade; in a brief interview with the Wall Street Journal last Friday, Prabowo offered more conspiratorial warnings that “imperialist” tycoons and unnamed foreigners were plotting to take over Indonesia. Thus, of course, Indonesia needs a military strongman to protect it against such predation.

Still, even if Prabowo is unsuccessful in getting himself into the presidential palace, and if many of his claims defy all logic (he rails against predation even though his campaign is backed by most of Indonesia’s old guard Suharto-era tycoons), his post-election actions are going to make a potential Jokowi presidency much harder than it otherwise would have been. (And it was never going to be easy – if Jokowi really wants to make a break from politics as usual, curbing the power of tycoons and other Suharto-era elites, he would have an enormous task on his hands.)  Prabowo’s actions will undermine a President Jokowi’s legitimacy and, likely, leave a mass of voters who, even after the election is certified, will never believe that Prabowo actually lost, creating potential unrest throughout a Jokowi term. Such a scenario happened in Mexico (albeit with the left-leaning candidate the one unwilling to accept the election results) in the squeaker 2006 presidential election, when supporters of candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador refused to believe their man had lost, in part because of the candidate’s own unwillingness to accept defeat, and in part because Mexico truly did have a history of thrown elections and rigged vote counting, as Indonesia does. Lopez Obrador supporters massed in major Mexican cities and launched other types of civil disobedience to protest the victory by Felipe Calderon. The stand-off after the election heightened partisanship, cast doubt onto Mexico’s vote counting and monitoring institutions and its young democracy itself, and made it harder for Calderon to govern in such a charged post-election atmosphere.

The post-election situation in Indonesia could be worse. Lopez Obrador, though imbued with something of a messiah complex himself, and willing to drag on the post-election combat far too long, was overall a relatively clean politician and certainly one without deep ties to armed organizations. Lopez Obrador publicly discouraged his followers from using violence in the post-election period. Prabowo, on the other hand, has well-documented links to Indonesian criminal leaders, an alliance with the notoriously violent paramilitary group Islamic Defenders Front, and a history as a special forces commander that is allegedly rife with human rights abuses of all sorts. Prabowo seems, from all public accounts and private conversations I have had with his associates, to honestly believe that the “real count” in the election shows he has won. They say that even if the Indonesian election commission announces next week that Jokowi won, Prabowo will remain convinced that he was defrauded and that he won the “real count,” as he calls it. His conviction, several Prabowo associates say, has only been reinforced in recent days as the former general’s closest allies continue to tell him that he surely won the election, while any independent and dissenting voices in his circle have been shut out in the days since Indonesia went to the polls on July 9.