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Harmony And Economy—Jokowi’s Two Big Challenges

Incumbent Indonesian President Joko Widodo (or Jokowi as he is popularly called) was declared formally elected by the Indonesian Election Commission on 21 May, a day before its remit to declare the election ran out. The victory saw Jokowi and his running mate, ageing Islamic cleric Maruf Amin, secure 55.5 per cent of the vote (85.6 million votes) compared to 44.5 per cent (68.6 million votes) for the opposition challenger Gen. Prabowo Subianto and his younger media savvy and business friendly running mate Sandiago Uno.

The victory had been called by exit polls on the day of the election—17 April. While Jokowi has spoken about the need to be the president of all Indonesians, Prabowo has decided to challenge the results in the Constitutional Court.

This was for the first time that Indonesia held a concurrent poll for the presidency and for parliament besides some local bodies but not the provincial governors. One hundred ninety million people were eligible for voting, 16 parties, which included four new ones, participated in the elections and each took a side in the presidential contest, turnout was 81.93 per cent but abstentions were nearly 18 per cent mainly in response to a NOTA-like call by disappointed groups who felt Jokowi had failed them in the first term and Prabowo was not their man.

Meanwhile, riots broke out in Jakarta around the areas of the election office in Menteng, the presidential palace and in Slipi near where the parliament is located. The violence is low during the day (which is the fasting period) but past iftar at night, rioting appears to pick up. The casualties may not look large but were quite disturbing for a post-election scene and are perhaps more the doing of non-state actors. The United States and Australia have been quick to issue travel advisories. There is no advisory relating to current events on the web page of the Indian embassy in Indonesia.

While Prabowo looks to challenge the result in the Constitutional Court, it will depend on how much evidence he is likely to collect. In 2014, he did so too when he had lost the election by a smaller margin. The challenge which seemed better organised at the time failed. Prabowo then put aside his objections and sought to support Jokowi in his new administration.

At that time Jokowi was the new political player but this time he is a five-year incumbent and has successfully bucked anti-incumbency by roping in many parties and allies who were not part of his initial coalition in 2014. The biggest has been the Golkar which in 2014 stood with Prabowo but is now a significant part of the Jokowi coalition.

The results declared by the Election Commission indicate that the PDIP, the party led by Megawati Soekarnoputri whose candidate Jokowi is, has won the parliamentary election but with not so much difference over the Gerindra of Prabowo.

Of the 16 parties. nine made the threshold of 4 per cent to enter parliament and seven parties (all new ones) and two established ones failed to enter parliament. Out of Prabowo’s five parties in coalition one failed to enter while the larger coalition of Jokowi had more casualties but their main parties scored better than 2014. The Democratic Party of former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono continues to look for its space. It only secured 7.77 per cent with 54 seats and is within the Gerindra group. The Hanura party of Coordinating Minister Wiranto lost its place in parliament.

The election was marred by controversy and bad blood. It was Prabowo’s third election and he had his back to the wall. He managed to win the largest province of West Java, which the PDIP had wrested in the provincial elections but still lost the national election. His fortunes had swung up after his team won the Jakarta election last year and the deputy governor was his running mate but they still lost Jakarta this time. That governor election had been heavily fought on issues relating to Islam in society and in the polity and that controversy continues even now with the post-result rioting being ascribed to such fringe elements who swept Jakarta in 2018.


The Muslim issue was strong enough for Jokowi to choose a most unlikely running mate in the 75-year-old Muslim leader of the Ulema Council after the suave and business friendly Jusuf Kalla. Prabowo, who was expected to muster the Muslim vote, had the modern business friendly Sandiago Uno as his running mate and people expect him to be the presidential face in 2024 when Jokowi would have exhausted his two terms in office.

The deaths of 569 people “due to over work” made headlines; it includes 456 election officers, 91 supervisory agents and 22 police officers. Besides, 4,310 had reportedly fallen sick. This led the incumbent Vice President to call for a return to separate polls next time as the manual nature of conducting and counting so many elections at one time seemed too heavy. The Election Commission’s decision to keep out drugs, sex and corruption offenders from contesting the election was overruled by the Constitutional Court and 38 candidates participated, though none for parliament. Jokowi was seen as being soft on the Islamic side and was even willing to release jailed terror convict Abu Bakar Ba’asyir due to old age and declining health. But his refusal to sign allegiance to the Pancasila national ideology saw him remain in prison. Both sides were seen as wooing hardline Muslim institutions and groups who had played a role in the Jakarta election in 2018 but neither was building up the traditional Muslim soft groups like the Nahadtullah Ulama and Muhammadiyah, though the new Vice-President is from that stream of conviction which is not hardline and syncretic. This Islamic influence in a Muslim society which is inclusive and where six religions are recognised is going to be major threat ahead.

Besides dealing with the issue of religion which now seems like a genie out of the bottle, Jokowi has to strive to bring harmony to society and to look after the economy. He needs to reach out to Prabowo and his team to include them in the power structure. His presidential cabinet is not dependent on parliament and the Gerindra-led parties have sufficient strength in parliament to influence matters. Getting some of them into the Cabinet will help. Sandiago Uno is a well-regarded person of the future and will make a good minister. Similarly, more efficient ministers need to be included and not just party nominees who necessitate many cabinet changes. In his first five years, Jokowi had four trade minsters, three finance ministers and the senior coordinating ministers were often shuffled.

The generation shift in the Indonesian parliament will be visible when it meets by September. A large number of young people has been elected to parliament and will play a role reflecting the larger number of younger voters on the electoral lists. The new President and his Vice-President will be inaugurated in October, so there is enough time to build bridges and heal the society. In 2014, I witnessed Prabowo come to parliament when Jokowi was sworn in and he stole the show as the great healer. Now it’s Jokowi’s turn.

The new government needs to focus on the economy. Jokowi’s first term was not so impressive with average growth rate of 5 per cent. His focus on interrupted and inclusive growth of regions and people met with limited success. He needs to be more focused and reduce the transactional costs of doing business in Indonesia. He also needs to be more open to foreign partners other than China which was heavily favoured in his first term,

For India it’s almost like a clone election with similar dates, similar issues, and the re-election of a new entrant into national politics from a state level role. Now it’s upon us to build a new partnership on real issues for mutual benefit.

(The author is a former Indian ambassador to Indonesia. Views are personal.)


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