The fall of the Suharto government in 1998 following the Asian Financial Crisis brought an end to decades of authoritarian military governments. Over the past 16 years, Indonesia has been slowly transforming into an emerging democracy, yet political dynasticism, aloof elites, corruption and nepotism still abound. The July 9th Indonesian presidential election saw Joko Widodo (popularly known as 'Jokowi') running on an anti-corruption, economic reform platform, and buoyed by his man-of-the-people image, defeat Prabawo Subianto garnering 53% to Prabawo's 46.8%.
Despite some commentators declaring the victory as definitive; Jokowi won by eight million votes out of a popular vote of some 180 million, making it the smallest margin of victory in any Indonesian presidential election. This fact appears to be of significant importance, yet efforts to put any stock in this state of affairs must be tempered by the knowledge that during the Suharto years elections were still held with Suharto winning 63.8% in 1973 and running unopposed in elections in 1978, 1983, 1988, 1993, and 1998. Consequently there are few contenders for Indonesia's narrowest electoral victory margin.
This margin of victory did however cause Prabowo to challenge the election results; appealing to the Supreme Court, claiming widespread electoral fraud affecting twenty-one million votes and fifty-two thousand polling stations. Such a challenge is not uncommon with similiar actions having become a common course of action in previous elections, in part as a face-saving mechanism. Despite the frequency of these appeals, the Supreme Court has never overturned the result of a presidential election, with Prabowo's appeal encountering a similar fate. The nine judges of the Supreme Court unanimously rejected the appeal, stating in their verdict which took over four hours for the court to read, that Prabowo had not proffered any credible evidence of electoral fraud.
Prabowo's concerns were not completely unfounded as election officials had in some cases opened ballot boxes early, a fact which the Court acknowledged, yet ruled had been done in a transparent manner. The Court's decision cannot be appealed and while Prabowo camp accepts the appeals it has stated that it considers the decision a miscarriage of justice.
Given the lack of Supreme Court precedence in overturning election results, the Court's rejection of the appeal was widely expected, especially since prior to the Court's decision the General Elections Commission as well as independent election observers had dismissed Prabowo'sclaims. Despite such widespread rejection of the claim, following the public broadcast of the Court's decisions, supporters of Prabowo clashed with riot police outside of the Supreme Court.
Some pro-Prabowo protestors attempted to storm the razor wire fence surrounding the court and several trucks were rammed against barricades. Thousands of riot police had been deployed around the Court as a precaution and responded to these actions with tear gas, quickly dispersing the crowds. Aside from isolated incidents, the majority of protests were non-violent, with only a few individuals injured and the arrest of four others, as parts of Jakarta were put under lock-down.
Going forward Jokowi, as a political outsider, and now as president-elect will have to consolidate his legitimacy among the political elite. Despite winning the election, Jokowi is faced with an opposition coalition that backed Prabowo holding the majority of seats in the House of Representatives. Jokowi's Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle is largest in the House with twenty percent of seats, yet the Prabowo coalition holds sixty-eight percent of the remainingseats. However, these coalition partners are pragmatic and since Prabowo has lost his appeal, cracks are emerging in the coalition. In a bid to prevent infighting and create a functioning government, Jokowi has stated that he will welcome coalition parties to his side, reserving some seats for them in his government.
The election of Jokowi is important because in many ways it signifies a new era in Indonesia politics. Despite Suharto's departure in 1998, the political class has continued to be dominated by elites tied to previous autocratic regimes. Suharto era technocrats and career politicians still control much of the power in Indonesia, with political dynasticism a creeping issue. For instance from 2001-2004 Megawati Sukarnoputri, the daughter of Sukarno, Indonesia's first president and pre-Suharto autocrat presided over a mediocre presidency. Prabowo himself is Suharto's son-in-law and was a special forces commando and later general during his father-in-law's reign. Prabowo's background, combined with accusations of human rights violations during his military career and his aloof public image all have contributed to Jokowi's victory. Furthermore, while the Court's decisions is in line with precedence, it may also be part of a greater move away from politicians with links to Suharto, politicians who since 1998 have done little to tackle corruption.
The lack of dynamism and accessibility in the Indonesian political class should not fool observers into thinking that Jokowi has been elected by default or as the lesser of two evils. Jokowi enjoys widespread popularity across the country, with many citing his humble demeanour and accessible public image as key points in his favour. In contrast to established political elites, Jokowi was born and raised in a slum in the mid-sized city of Solo, eventually training himself as a carpenter before entering politics in 2005. Since then his rise has been meteoric, having been twice elected mayor of his hometown, and later becoming Governor of Jakarta in 2012.
The same year Jokowi won third place in the World Mayor Prize: an award that is given to politicians who have revitalized their cities. During his time in office Jokowi did not draw on his mayoral salary, built free housing for slum dwellers, upgraded transit infrastructure and according to the Supreme Court “turned a crime ridden city into a regional centre for arts and culture which has started to attract international tourism. His campaign against corruption earned him the reputation of being the most honest politician in Indonesia."
Even with such an accomplished record, Jokowi will face many challenges once he is sworn in as president in October. Foremost amongst these are corruption, bad infrastructure such as a lack of drainage systems which sees many cities in Indonesia regularly flood, and finding funds for the budget. A key problem in the Indonesian budget is that long running energy subsidies are draining the state of vital funds to the tune of $31.3billion dollars. This amounts to eighteen percen tof the budget or three times the total infrastructure budget.
Previous attempts to reduce or eliminate these subsidies have caused widespread protests, yet the system which is inefficient, needs to be drastically changed. This is especially pressing given the wide economic disparity in the country. Funds which are flowing into energy subsidies need to be redirected towards healthcare, housing and education for despite being a G20 country, Indonesia still has over one hundred million people living at or below two dollars a day