Is it time for the general to get on his polo pony and ride off into the hills back to his ranch?
On Monday, The Jakarta Globe thought so. “Indonesia has decided“, screamed its headline. By adding up the results from 33 provincial election commissions, it calculated that Joko Widodo had received 53.2% of the national vote.
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Infamous former special forces commander Prabowo Subianto, the paper said, had received only 46.8% support after almost 133 million Indonesians cast a valid vote on July 9 — a difference of more than 8.4 million ballots.
But the result is still not official, and Prabowo will not make the call to his opponents to concede defeat. The election commission must finish its public review and certification of the results from 33 provinces today before making a formal announcement.
Prabowo’s camp has alleged fraud and manipulation, and it is true Indonesia does not run flawless elections. All political parties try to buy votes; they even steal them from their own members. But research suggests this is an expensive and ineffective way to get elected. Indonesians are also comfortable with their imperfect electoral system. After the April legislative elections, one survey found 88% of Indonesians said they were satisfied with the way the polls were organised.
To succeed in a legal challenge, Prabowo will need to show any violations to be “structural, systematic and massive”. Election observers and the media have found lots of minor and scattered problems, but in an electoral event this big, none appear to be able to reach this high standard.
Despite these problems, The Globe and others have had the confidence to make the call in favour of Jokowi because of a remarkable and spontaneous crowd sourcing effort to tally the presidential election result. This is a different Indonesia to the usual cast of incompetent or corrupt characters portrayed in stories about Bali, boats and bombs. It is young, idealistic, tech-savvy and entrepreneurial.
Bound by law to tabulate votes on paper, the commission in 2014 made a half-hearted effort to computerise the process for adding up votes from 478,685 polling stations. From the legislative election in April, it started to scan and post on its website the results forms from each booth. Just when the election seemed threatened by dirty tricks and black ops, hundreds of anonymous contributors rallied on Facebook. They shared the burden of downloading the forms and collectively tabulated the results. Their bottom line matched the credible election day quick counts. As the official tabulation inched forward, the crowd sourced numbers have also tracked with official results from villages, districts, regencies, and provinces. Media websites soon followed the lead of this “election guard” movement.
If he was listening to the chorus, Prabowo would have long ago conceded, but he is seemingly remains unconvinced by the data.
It was never a secret that he was behind. The national broadcaster, Radio Republic Indonesia, had forecast his defeat with a 52.5% -47.5% split in its election night quick count. Seven other reputable pollsters made the same call.
“Admitting defeat is noble”, outgoing president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said on Monday. Only a few weeks ago the notoriously indecisive president, in an unsubtle gesture, sent his son Edhie Baskoro Yudhoyono, dressed in white, to stand on stage behind Prabowo. Edhie, who is the Democrat Party’s secretary-general, represented the outgoing king, the same man who sat on the military honour council that recommended Prabowo’s dismissal in 1998 for the unauthorised kidnapping of activists.
This week SBY was playing peacemaker, inviting the two candidates to the palace to break the Ramadan fast together. To reassure a jittery nation, he encouraged everyone to play nice. His son is now tasked with explaining away the apparent about-face of the party founded by this father. Indonesia’s promiscuous political class is preparing once again to change sides. “Our position was neutral from the beginning, not siding with any faction,” said Edhie Baskoro Yudhoyono. “But the Democrat Party did not want to abstain, so we gave our vote to [Prabowo].”
Meanwhile, riot police protect the election commission and the constitutional court in Jakarta. Troops are guarding the main gateways to the capital. The police and military commanders have urged supporters not to misbehave and citizens not to be afraid.
“If [Jokowi] is certified as winning fairly, then I will concede,” Prabowo told the BBC on July 11. Indonesia is today waiting to see what kind of loser he will be.
*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