Jul 23, 2014

Indonesia - Prabowo’s petulance mars Jokowi’s Indonesia election win

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Another day of immense drama in the Indonesian capital has culminated in a widely expected presidential election victory for the popular Jakarta governor Joko ‘Jokowi’ Widodo Tuesday, and a not so expected “withdrawal” from the contest by his rival Prabowo Subianto – a former military strongman well known for his abysmal human rights record.

As per the final tallies of Indonesia’s National Elections Commission (KPU), Jokowi took 53.15% of the popular vote, whilst Prabowo lagged behind with 46.85%.

The official results are thus very much in line with those projected by the eight reputable pollsters who called the election in Jokowi’s favour earlier this month, on the basis of unofficial, private quick counts. Conversely – and perhaps somewhat predictably – the quick count data produced by the four (now disgraced) pollsters who called the election for Prabowo has been shown to be wildly inaccurate and potentially bogus.

Many observers of this year’s presidential contest had been expecting trouble in the likely event of a defeat for Prabowo Subianto, but few – if any – predicted that he would duck out of the race completely just hours before the grand unveiling of the KPU’s official vote count.

As he announced his “withdrawal from the ongoing process”, Prabowo desperately levelled charges against the country’s electoral commission, claiming that the KPU had failed to identify and act against widespread “cheating”. With an air of petulance hardly befitting an aspiring statesman, Prabowo alleged that there has been a “massive, structured and systematic fraud in this election”, and thus refused to recognise the validity of his own defeat.

Prabowo’s shocking rejection of the KPU’s impending verdict quickly precipitated an embarrassing desertion of numerous high-profile figures from within his own camp. The earliest and most explicit abandonment came from Prabowo’s campaign manager, Mahfud MD, who acted swiftly to disassociate himself from the sour grapes theatrics of his very own candidate. “The election has been completed and my job is complete. I’ve failed the Prabowo-Hatta ticket,” he said in a televised interview with Metro TV, shortly before declaring rather unceremoniously that, “I don’t care about the politics surrounding the election.”

As the day went on it also became clear that Prabowo had been deserted by his own vice-presidential running mate, Hatta Rajasa, who refused to be present for the cameras at Prabowo’s grand pre-empting of the KPU vote count, and later declared through an intermediary that he would “continue to respect the KPU’s  [tabulation] process regardless of the final result”.

Rumours also circulated that another of Prabowo’s close allies, Amien Rais, would abandon his adopted frontrunner and distance he and Rajasa’s National Mandate Party from the “Red and White Coalition” of naysayers. He later rebutted such hearsay, however, after voicing his unequivocal support for Prabowo’s withdrawal and reiterating – in his own equally emphatic verbiage – Prabowo’s charges of “extraordinary, systematic, structured, massive [electoral fraud], for which there is already overwhelming evidence”.

Prior to yesterday’s tragicomic turn of events at “Red and White Coalition” HQ, most observers had expected a defeated Prabowo to take his grievances straight to the Constitutional Court in order to appeal against an unfavourable vote count – a legal recourse which is of course guaranteed to any losing party in a presidential election. However, in one of yesterday’s most intriguing plot twists, it soon became apparent that an officially withdrawn Prabowo wouldn’t be able to challenge the KPU’s verdict at the courts, as the termination of his candidature also forfeits his constitutional right of appeal.

For a brief period, this appeared to be a controversial point; up until team Prabowo’s chief legal representative, a lawyer named Mahendra Datta, went on record with Kompas.com to clarify the situation. “Why won’t we go to the Constitutional Court?”, he asked rhetorically, “[Because] only those who have legal standing can go to the constitutional court, that is to say, those who are registered as presidential and vice-presidential candidates. [However], by withdrawing [from the election] we are no longer…candidates nor do we have any legal standing.”

Given the judicial limbo now faced by Prabowo and his retainers, it is particularly difficult to see how they will be able to launch a legitimate challenge to the outcome of the election. A few fanciful ideas have been floated – such as immediate repeat elections in allegedly fraud-ridden localities, or even a one-year extension of SBY’s presidency to allow for a KPU investigation and ultimately a wholesale repeat election – but such proposals are both ludicrously infeasible and completely unconstitutional, not to mention deeply unpopular among most ordinary voters. Prabowo is perhaps unaware that a staggering 93% of respondents to a recent survey indicated that they would prefer for this year’s losing party to simply step aside and accept defeat, rather than launch an appeal – let alone have their votes annulled in preparation for an all-out rematch in 2015.

Perhaps even more embarrassing than Prabowo’s ill-conceived counter-strategy is the likelihood that he himself could well face prosecution for ducking out of the election prior to the announcement of the result. Yesterday a number of Indonesian jurists – including former Minister of Justice Yusril Ihza Mahendra – condemned Prabowo’s withdrawal from the competition as “unconstitutional”, and also pointed out that electoral malpractice of this sort is in fact a serious offence – and one which carries heavy penalties.

The relevant statute – images of which have quickly gone viral on social media – is Article 246 of Indonesia’s 2008 Presidential Election Laws (Pasal 246 Undang-Undang Pilpres 2008), which stipulates that:

Any candidate for President or Vice President who deliberately withdraws after the first round of voting and before the implementation of the second round of voting, will be punished with a minimum of 36 months to a maximum of 72 months imprisonment, and a fine of between Rp50,000,000,000.00 [$4.3m] to Rp100,000,000,000.00. [$8.7m].

As the wording of the article suggests, presidential elections in Indonesia can sometimes lead to two rounds of voting if the first round of the vote does not produce a clear winner with a sizeable margin. In contrast, however, this year’s election had to be settled in just one round of voting, due to there only being two pairs of competing candidates. This peculiarity therefore calls into question whether or not the use of Article 246 would be valid in the context of Prabowo’s sudden bail-out during this year’s first and only round of voting.

The situation is so confusing that it appears many of Indonesia’s politicians have not yet grasped the legal ramifications of Prabowo’s withdrawal – including Prabowo himself and the remnants of his campaign team. In an article comically entitled “Did Prabowo know about Article 246?”, for example, Golkar MP Poempida Hidayatulloh expressed surprise that Prabowo had chosen to withdraw from the election instead of waiting to challenge the result through the established legal channels. Poempida remarked that he was “a little bit shocked by the behaviour of Prabowo-Hatta, because [their] withdrawal from the candidature [means that] they will be hit by criminal sanctions”.

Whether or not Prabowo will be made to feel the wrath of Article 246 remains to be seen, but what we do know for sure is that Jokowi has been declared the winner of this year’s presidential election, the result will stand and the streets of Jakarta have not erupted into widespread rioting as was previously feared by the nation’s security forces.

In this battle between a former furniture salesman and a former special forces commander, we have witnessed a triumph of democracy, reformism and rule of law – over creeping authoritarianism, military pomp and Suharto era impunity. A Jokowi presidency will no doubt consolidate democratic gains made by Indonesia since the fall of the New Order regime, and will hopefully begin to chip away at the ageing political monopoly of Indonesia’s so-called “blue-blooded elites”, who have long enjoyed an almost total subjugation of Indonesia’s electoral landscape. For once a man who came from outside the system has risen to the top, and this is a major achievement for Indonesia and Joko Widodo.

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