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Jokowi’s High Road a Mistake

by Joshua Kurlantzick
July 14, 2014

A vendor sells newspapers to motorists the day after the Indonesian presidential election in Jakarta on July 10, 2014 (Darren Whiteside/Courtesy: Reuters). A vendor sells newspapers to motorists the day after the Indonesian presidential election in Jakarta on July 10, 2014 (Darren Whiteside/Courtesy: Reuters).

In the wake of July 9’s voting in Indonesia’s presidential elections, both candidates, Joko Widodo, or Jokowi, and Prabowo Subianto have declared that, according to quick counts, they have won the presidential election. For those who are not familiar with Indonesian elections, a quick count is not the same thing as an exit poll, common in Western elections; a primer on quick counts is available on New Mandala.

Of course, as has been widely reported, the quick counts showing Jokowi and his running mate won are regarded as highly credible, while Prabowo’s quick counts are regarded as unreliable or, worse, essentially paid for by Prabowo’s team to deliver whatever data he wants. This disparity has not stopped Prabowo from claiming victory, and from defying promises he made to outgoing President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono not to increase the tension in Jakarta in the days leading up to the release of the official vote tally. Instead of trying to help tamp down tensions, Prabowo has appeared on the BBC’s World News Impact and given a particularly boisterous interview, and he has appeared on other media touting the fact that the “real count” showed that he is leading the election. He also appeared before a rally of supporters in Jakarta late last week, including militants from the Islamic Defenders Front. Prabowo whipped them up into cheering for him as the new president of Indonesia.

Jokowi appears to have basically stuck to the promise he also made to SBY not to increase tensions before the release of the official tally, which is due to be released on July 20 or 21. Jokowi appears to be counting on Prabowo being, as Jokowi has put it a “statesman” in accepting Prabowo’s likely defeat. Good luck. More dangerously, Jokowi’s organization, which has relied on volunteers throughout its terrible election campaign, as compared to Prabowo’s well-financed and highly organized operation, seems ready to rely primarily on volunteers to monitor the vote counting around the archipelago. As a result, most analyses suggest that Jokowi is likely to have observers at a smaller fraction of vote counting sites than Prabowo’s team will. Fewer counting observers will potentially make it easier for Prabowo’s allies to commit voter fraud, particularly in Prabowo strongholds where the retired general already has won the support of powerful local officials who can meddle in the vote counting process.

The most thorough analysis of how Prabowo might try to steal the election is available here.

It seems staggeringly unwise and naïve for Jokowi not to keep his foot on his rival’s throat after all credible quick counts suggested that the Jakarta governor had won the election. Sure, as Aspinall and Mietzner note in their analysis of Prabowo’s post-election game plan, it is going to be difficult for Prabowo to steal the election, given what appears to be a relatively comfortable margin of victory for Jokowi. Stealing the election could mean fraudulently shifting as many as six million votes, not an easy task even for the most well-financed, connected, and organized campaign. And to be sure, part of Jokowi’s appeal is his image as a clean, positive, and new type of politician, one with no direct links to the Suharto period and who does not get into the gutter that so characterizes Indonesian campaigns. So Jokowi can’t exactly copy Prabowo’s tactics.

Yet there is a difference between being clean and being naïve. Jokowi does not need to buy off local officials and defraud voters in the next ten days. But, just as during the campaign he should have quickly rebutted false charges against him (that he was Christian, that he was Chinese, etc) in the post-campaign counting period he should more proactively state why his quick counts are definitive, and he should rally his supporters to be present at every counting station, particularly those in areas known to be Prabowo strongholds. That he is not doing so, in the most hotly contested presidential election in modern Indonesian history, is a huge mistake.

Post a Comment 1 Comment

  • Posted by William

    The number of poll watchers, Jokowi has on teh ground is about 50-10% less than Prabowo. Secondly,, the volunteers are are focused on Prabowo’s bastions (like West Java), and close races (like East Java). Voting stations in Bali and Central Java aren’t subject to the same scrutiny.

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