The idea of holding a Presidential, People’s Consultative Assembly (MPR), and all three levels of parliamentary election simultaneously seemed overly ambitious to begin with, and to be honest, flawed. The real essential point was always Jokowi or Prabowo – what each represented emotionally and politically for the future. Everything else seemed an added complication. Surely a subsequent parliamentary election would have made more sense once the dust settled. Here in this Balinese village (Ubud) where I am resident, the thing at the back of most local voters’ subconscious was more like: “Are we going to end up with Islamic law or what?”
As I waited for my polling station to finally open I went over to the information boards – more than anything else just to listen to what the people crowded around them were saying. “Who are these people? I don’t know them most of them?”; “I’m confused, I just want to vote for the president and Bali’s regional representative in the MPR.” ; “Wait, which one is which?” . “Why we have to do 5 ballots?”; “My eyes can’t make out these tiny pictures and the print”. And so it went. Hardly anyone looked at the candidates from the parties in Prabowo and Sandiago Uno’s “Number 2” coalition. A couple of those parties didn’t even field candidates in Bali. If Bali was anything to go by, this felt more like an affirmation of regional affiliation than a simple, personal political choice.
Suddenly the booth was open, and I was the first one called up (I did get there early to watch the proceedings). So the four of us in the first batch ended up behind our individual 60 cm high aluminum booth shields with five folded ballots each. I’m pretty sure that everyone in my group dispatched the Presidential one first. How do I know this? Well, once you opened the MPR ballot, or even worse the parliamentary ones, they unfolded into this giant sheet of paper that you had to struggle with just to bring it down below the shield and curious eyes – before stabbing at it with the six inch nail provided (and tied to a string just in case you ran amuck). Then you had to struggle to fold them all up again, and stick them in the appropriate ballot box.
I’m convinced that in the parliamentary sections most people just voted flat out for the parties they knew supported their presidential and vice-presidential candidates. No time to try and figure out who was who. But once done, and having stuck my little finger in the tiny bottle of purple dye to prove I had voted (actually to stop me from going around town and voting over and over again) it felt good to have participated in democracy again. What didn’t feel good were the hours of waiting till the quick counts were allowed to start. The constitutional court had decreed that they had to wait two hours after the last polling stations had closed in the Western Indonesian time zone.
The tension for Indonesians this time wasn’t just about which candidate they preferred – it really represented a choice between moving yet further away from the country’s inclusive state ideology “Pancasila” towards a more Islamic rule. Hardliners have been baying for more blood ever since Jokowi backed down on the Ahok case.
Finally the first tentative results started coming in, and the TV pundits started chiming in as well. We knew it was going to be close, and I personally never believe in projections – or for that matter in exit polls. But by the evening it was pretty clear that Jokowi and Maruf had taken it with a 10% lead. All the quick counts were within one or so percent of each other, and had been so over the last 30 percentile.
At which point Prabowo held a press conference and declared his team, “number 2”, the winner with 62% of the vote – citing an ‘internal real count’. It was a reminder of the painful scenario in 2014 when he lost to Jokowi the first time, and refused to admit defeat whilst calling for an investigation – before storming off the set and withdrawing his candidacy after the election. The man is not a good loser. While it is true that the real count is far from over, quick counts are pretty sophisticated these days and tend to be on the money. And when ten or so do the same numbers consistently, I know where I’m putting my money.
Conspicuously absent from both of Prabowo’s appearances yesterday was his running mate, Sandiaga Uno. Some of the Number 2 aides let it be known that “Sandi” had an attack of uncontrollable, unstoppable hiccups. Another that he had collapsed, and yet another that he was preparing his own statement to the nation. There’s another making the rounds of the journalists who were supposedly on the ground that Prabowo threw Sandi out when he tried to talk Prabowo out of making a declaration to avoid the embarrasment of the 2014 debacle and to maintain political ethic. We’ll probably never really know what happened, but we do know: 1. that they really should have agreed on one story – and not the hiccup one, that was like throwing aviation fuel on the bonfire of social media; and 2. They need a damage control unit.
It’s a common notion that Sandi is really aiming at his own presidential run in 2024, and that seems very plausible to me (hey I don’t know the guy, so I’m playing it safe) – after all he reportedly spent at least US$40 million of his own money on the campaign (word is he sold off more than 600 billion Rupiahs worth of shares). Distancing himself from delusional or misinformed grandstanding would be a smart thing to do at this point. A well-seasoned Sandiaga Uno with an ace team behind him would be a formidable contestant in 2024. Being too closely associated with the retired general’s tantrums at this point, or, worse, joining Prabowo’s embarrassing contestations, isn’t that good for the record.
However the fact that Sandi really was a big part of what got the Number 2 campaign as far as it did is going to be remembered. He has a lot going for him: he represents a more modern Islam (still conservative but more worldly). He is rich, good looking (not my type but a lot of people tell me so), a purportedly pious Muslim, comes from a “good family”, earned degrees at George Washington University, is smart, and is familiar with the corridors of power and money. He’s smart enough to realize he has to build a solid following and a ‘portfolio’ before he can go it alone. He’s pretty good with the spin too. But most important of all is that in today’s climate of identity politics he represents the ascent of the ‘santri’ (orthodox) type of Muslim over the ‘abangan’ (the more flexible, syncretic Islam) in Indonesia – well, Java particularly.
Which brings us back to the count. As results started coming in, the 10% lead that Jokowi had held. That we know now. But to my mind, the really troubling aspect of the count was the demographics, or more precisely the regional distribution of the votes. Nearly all of Sumatra overwhelmingly voted Number 2. We are talking 80-90%. The only exceptions were Lampung where Number 2 led only by a slim margin (most likely because of the large Javanese and Balinese transmigrant population) and Bangka-Belitung (the home of ex Jakarta Governor, “Ahok”), which went to Jokowi. West Java, as expected, voted overwhelmingly for team Number 2. For the uninitiated the dominant ethnic group in West Java don’t consider themselves Javanese, they consider themselves Sundanese and have their own language separate from Javanese. NTB (Lombok and Sumbawa) were also no surprise: overwhelmingly for Prabowo-Sandi.
Basically the main strongholds (population wise) that went to Jokowi and Maruf Amin were densely populated Central Java, East Java and Bali. Those two provinces of Java are likely also the regions where you’ll find the most abangan people, and predominantly Hindu Bali is clearly not a Muslim stronghold of any kind. Mostly Christian Eastern Indonesia (NTT, Papua) some parts of Sulawesi etc. of course helped. But Southern Sulawesi, Central Sulawesi, and Northern Sulawesi – home to mujahidin strongholds – were dominantly and decisively pro Prabowo. The point of these numbers is how regionally black and white they are. It’s not like the 55% vs. 45% for Jokowi was spread more or less evenly over the archipelago.
Looking at this phenomenon, it really highlights the fact that the big push towards an Islamic State and the countering deep resistance is primarily regional, and now is actually threatening Indonesia’s unity. This country was founded in the midst of tensions between calls for an Islamic State and a finally triumphant Panca Sila inclusivity. Now, almost 7 decades later, elements of West Java’s long association with Darul Islam have been resurrected in the 212 movement that deposed Ahok. Sharia law (or versions thereof), first established in Aceh, has crept into other regions. Prabowo’s post-election tantrums in 2014 were embarrassing but laughable. Today they are potentially far more dangerous.
Much of Jokowi’s initial appeal in 2014 has worn off. His decisions and dealings where the Islamist movement is concerned have been highly questionable and wavering, especially after he threw Ahok under the bus. His hold on the country is weak – he is perceived as backing down on his 2014 election promises, and as being on a tight leash held by Megawati. In this condition, if Prabowo goes on to really raise hell over the results rather than sit tight and wait for the election committee’s final real count, it could set off serious conflict by reigniting the 212 fuse.
UPDATE: since this article was originally written yesterday, Prabowo and his team once again announced their victory, this time with Sandiaga Uno present
Rio Helmi
April 18, 2019
lead photo: polling booth officials in Ubud being sworn in.
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