The verdict is in: Prabowo Subianto is a loser.

Indonesia’s Constitutional Court took almost seven hours on Thursday for its nine judges to read the 300-page summary, but the complex decision is politically easy to comprehend. The court rejected the disgraced general’s legal case in its entirety. Joko Widodo is the country’s next president.

Tainted by a corruption scandal involving a  former chief justice who was convicted for taking bribes to fix election cases and sentenced to life in prison in June, the current bench worked hard to be seen as professional jurists and not the former politicians that many of them are.

They have a new goal for this country’s weak institutions: giving Indonesian democracy greater intellectual rigour. Broadcast live on television, the proceedings were tediously transparent, with every word of argument published in transcripts on the court’s website.

Prabowo testified in court, but he did not turn up for the verdict. He brought the incendiary language of his campaign into its chamber. Indonesian elections were worse than those in North Korea, he proclaimed. “Now we are faced with the rape of our democratic rights.”

Indonesians gasped; once again many thought he had stooped too low. But the court was unprovoked. It asked to see evidence of fraud, who organised it, and how it benefited Jokowi. In response, Prabowo’s lawyers produced documents riddled with errors and witnesses who relied on hearsay.

Their case painted a picture of an election with frequent petty fraud and administrative problems, but no evidence of a “systematic, structured, or massive” fraud, the court’s poorly defined standard of proof.

The challenge to the additional voters list shows how the case failed. This was a mechanism created by the election commission to allow voters with proof of citizenship to cast a ballot if they came to the polling station with proof of identity. Enthused by the presidential elections, more than 2 million unregistered voters used this option on July 9. It was a large number but  not necessarily enough to change the result, given Jokowi’s margin of victory of more than 8 million votes.

“With a bloodline that can be traced back to a Javanese prince who opposed Dutch rule, Prabowo believes it is his destiny to lead the country.”

Prabowo’s lawyers first challenged the legality of this temporary list, but the court upheld its validity as a way to protect the right of every citizen to vote. It found the list had not been administered perfectly, but the plaintiff had presented no evidence that those who used these lists did so illegally. When they did find one case of double voting in East Java, the defendant quickly rebutted it by putting on the stand a local election commissioner who testified that the man had been caught, reported to police, and charged with the crime.

With Prabowo’s rent-a-crowd shouting outside the court in their paramilitary uniforms, Thursday was a tense day in Jakarta. After they tried to break through police lines in the early afternoon, they were sprayed with tear gas and water cannons. Those who did not have the option to work from home then left early. Government offices closed and malls were shuttered.

But by the time the marathon verdict reading ended around 9pm, the normally jammed main roads of the capital were quiet and flowing unusually smoothly. The massive mobilisation of the tens of thousands of military and police personnel looked like overkill. The nation did not take to the streets to rally around Prabowo’s cause; they gathered around television sets after dinner to watch the verdict, the party responses, and the talking heads analyse it all.

What they saw was that Prabowo is a bad sport. He did not show up at his own press conference and left a lowly ranked spokesman to read out a statement. While recognising the verdict was final, he said he did not believe it represented truth and justice. Invoking the words of the first president Sukarno, his coalition members pledged to fight on. Unnamed foreign elements were once again blamed.

There will never be a gracious concession speech. With a bloodline that can be traced back to a Javanese prince who opposed Dutch rule, Prabowo believes it is his destiny to lead the country. It probably hurts deeply that he was beaten by a man whom many of his fellow elite regard as a kampung hick.

Rather than “Game over, Prabowo”, as one headline proclaimed on Friday, Indonesia now moves onto the next event in its political heptathlon. The former general is no longer in contention for a medal, but to save face and stay relevant he must try to keep his coalition-for-hire together; Jokowi needs to prise away some of its members to be able to get his job done. The incoming administration needs a majority in the national legislature to get laws passed and defend itself from spurious committee inquiries and threats of impeachment.

The challenges are overwhelming in this country of large numbers. Outgoing President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono presented the 2015 budget to the legislature last week, and it was reported in 72-point font: SBY leaves fiscal mess for Jokowi. The problem is the 433.5 trillion rupiah (A$40 billion) in fuel, electricity, and food subsidies — about 30% of central government spending. Ending fuel subsidies is going to be hard sell to a sceptical public, and impossible if the incoming administration does not control the legislature. Joe Hockey should feel Jokowi’s pain.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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