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A clean pair of hands: now the real work begins for Jokowi

Joko Widowo has won the election, but the real battle lies ahead, says Indonesia analyst Jim Della-Giacoma.

Joko Widodo will be Indonesia’s seventh president.

It was hard to get a smile out of him on the day it became official. At one point, he was caught by photographers chatting with his campaign spokesman by a north Jakarta lake looking pensive and staring at water hyacinth.

With certification only hours away, the soon-to-be leader of more than 240 million people must have had a lot on his mind, rising far from his boyhood growing up as the son of a woodworker on the banks of a river in central Java.

The official result, when it finally came, was an anticlimax. Jokowi and running mate Jusuf Kalla received 53.1% of the vote; their opponents, former general Prabowo Subianto and economics minister Hatta Rajasa, only 46.9%.

While maybe Indonesia’s “closest election”, the margin of some 8 million votes was substantial.

The national election commission’s declaration was preceded by some melodrama. Prabowo phoned his scrutineers in the tally room, instructing them to walk out of the count hours before the two-week process had concluded.

“We are going to use our constitutional rights and we are rejecting this presidential election, which is legally flawed,” Prabowo told the world from his campaign headquarters.

His campaign had alleged irregularities in Papua, East Java and Jakarta, but this did not stop the certification by the commission. Party spokesmen promised to elaborate on Wednesday but increasingly fewer people will be listening. The Holy Month is ending, and so is the election season. Eid al-Fitr starts next Monday and millions are starting to embark on the annual city to village exodus that turns Java into one big traffic jam. It will be more than two weeks before they return.

It is unclear whether Prabowo’s team will challenge the result in the Constitutional Court. Some of his lawyers have reportedly said they will not. Under the court’s rules, they have three days to lodge a case; a judgment would come four weeks later.

The intemperate withdrawal marked him as a sore loser. This is not America, and in a public culture that puts a premium of form as much as substance such behaviour could well undermine his support.

When Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono transfers power to Jokowi in October he will hand over many problems voters thought SBY might solve when they elected him in 2004. After he made peace in Aceh, they gave him a second chance with a large majority in 2009.

The opportunity was squandered, with a flurry of corruption scandals cutting the Democrat Party’s vote in half at April’s legislative election. After a decade in office, there is a yearning for a different kind of president, less regal, with a clean pair of hands.

Many Indonesians are still waiting for a solid dividend from the reformasi movement that brought them democracy. While the elite fell in behind Prabowo, more heartland voters in rural Java choose Jokowi’s humble approach over the former red beret’s bellicose nationalistic rhetoric.

Australian voters could easily identify with the aspirations of the Indonesian electorate — better education, universal healthcare, functioning infrastructure and good jobs. In a vibrant but still developing country, they hope children will be better off.

Jokowi’s challenge is to try to make this happen. When he chooses his cabinet in a few months it will become evident whether he has surrounded himself with like-minded reformers or if the coalition of parties that backed him prevailed, promoting more political hacks than technocrats.

He also has to find a way to pay for his promises that won’t hurt voters too much. This will be a complex equation. He will have to cut the middle-class welfare that is the massive $40 billion annual fuel subsidy; he may well have to dial back the nationalist elements in his own camp and consider borrowing money from foreigners.

For Jokowi, the difficult choices are just beginning. If he gets them right, then Prabowo’s political career should become no more than an extended Wikipedia entry. If these reforms fail, the ambitious former general could well try to make a fourth run at the presidency.

*Jim Della-Giacoma is a visiting fellow in the Department of Social and Political Change in the School of International, Political and Strategic Studies at the Australian National University’s College of Asia and the Pacific

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