Indonesian Election: Jokowi Victory, but Risk of Civil Unrest Looms
Indonesian riot police on a street of Jakarta. (Photo: AP)
By Ross Darrell Feingold

Indonesian Election: Jokowi Victory, but Risk of Civil Unrest Looms

May. 27, 2019  |     |  0 comments

Indonesia’s presidential election result announcement on May 21, 2019 marks the end of a relatively peaceful campaign season but the beginning of a post-election period with the risk of unrest. In a rematch of the 2014 presidential election, incumbent president Joko Widodo and former general Prabowo Subianto again competed against each other. In a significant change from 2014 that introduces a greater likelihood of post-election instability, simultaneous elections were held for seats in the two houses of the People’s Consultative Assembly (Majelis Permusyawaratan Rakyat, MPR), the more powerful People’s Representative Council (Dewan Perwakilan Rakyat, DPR) and the upper house Regional Representative Council (Dewan Perwakilan Daerah, DPD), along with elections for local legislative bodies.

Investors appear to favor a Jokowi second-term and will be happy with the result. However, corporate executives considering travel to Indonesia in the near term should consider the post-election security risks that arise from what some observers referred to as the world’s biggest single-day polls.

The recent arrest of dozens of terror suspects is a reminder of these ongoing risks.

Jokowi was backed by a majority of political parties in the DPR, including parties associated with the business and military establishments such as Jokowi’s Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) and former ruling party in the Suharto era, Golkar, along with Islamist parties United Development Party (PPP) and National Awakening Party (PKB). Prabowo’s coalition included his own party, Gerindra, along with past president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s Democratic Party and two Islamist parties, the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) and National Mandate Party (PAN).

With Indonesia’s economic growth exceeding expectations recently, it is no surprise that the election result is consistent with campaign season polls that indicated Jokowi would win a second term. Notwithstanding the international stamp of approval for Indonesia’s electoral processes, the previous presidential election result announced two weeks after polling day gave Prabowo and his supporters sufficient time to organize their opposition to the result, with Prabowo preemptively announcing his withdrawal from the election shortly before the winner was announced. This was followed by an unsuccessful court challenge.

Perhaps in anticipation of losing a second time, prior to the election Prabowo warned of unrest and threatened not to accept “an election that is stolen”. In recent weeks Prabowo has questioned to both local and foreign media the legitimacy of the election, though the election authorities have rejected initial complaints filed by the Prabowo campaign.

Adding to the risk of violence is the use by both candidates of paramilitary style groups accused of intimidating the opposing candidate’s supporters. One such group that supports Jokowi is accused of a history of violence that dates to the purge of communists in 1965, in which tens of thousands died.

The extended period of time between polling day and results announcements gave losing candidates and their supporters time to plan rallies and legal action to protest election results.

Previous MPR and local council elections were not held simultaneous to the presidential election. Disputed results at the local or national level are inevitable with so many thousands of seats to be elected. At the national level, the presidential candidates have sought the endorsement of as many political parties as possible, which might result in voters selecting candidates for the DPR from the presidential candidates’ party rather than DPR candidates from smaller parties, and these smaller parties might thus fail to win DPR seats. While this means the next DPR might have fewer parties and be more manageable, post-election the losing parties and their supporters might cry foul.


One significant potential source of post-election unrest is the increasing role of Islam in Indonesian politics. During the campaign, a common criticism by opponents was that Jokowi lacks enthusiasm for religious observance, with some critics going so far as to accuse him of being anti-Islam. His opponents cited events such as the ban he imposed in 2017 on the Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia organization, which advocates a for a global caliphate (though some observers criticized the ban as an abuse of state power for political aims).


In response, Jokowi has taken actions to prove his Islamist credentials. This includes PDI‑P support for shariah law at the local level, the selection of Ma'ruf Amin, the chairman of the Indonesian Ulema Council, as his running mate, and publicly floating a proposal to release jailed Jemaah Islamiah terror group leader Abu Bakar Bashir.


The return of Indonesian fighters from war zones in the Middle East, and the participation of Indonesians in militant groups such as Abu Sayaf and the Maute group in the Philippines, creates an ongoing security risk, whether in the aftermath of the election should their preferred candidates lose at the national or local level, or, in the long term.


As in other recent elections in Asia, both fake news and foreign meddling are a concern. Indonesia has an estimated 130 million Facebook users, which accelerates the spread of inaccurate information despite Facebook’s recent attempts to address the mis-use of its platform by political actors.


The politicization of religion and the use of fake news often overlap, with self-exiled Muslim cleric Rizieq Shihab, leader of the hardline Front Pembela Islam (FPI) party which endorsed Prabowo, claiming in a video that overseas voting stations are susceptible to inappropriate influence by government officials (130 diplomatic posts served as overseas polling stations for expatriates). Indonesia’s Foreign Affairs angrily rebutted the claim.


Another potential point of tension is Jokowi’s accusations that Prabowo hired “foreign consultants” and used “Russian propaganda” in his campaign. Prabowo’s campaign had accused of Jokowi of being too welcoming of workers and investment from China, which for some has once again raised questions about Prabowo’s meetings with groups involved in the violence against Indonesia’s ethnic Chinese community in 1998.


In order to maintain the military’s neutrality and in acknowledgement of its past domination of Indonesia’s politics, military personnel are not allowed to vote. However, concerns abound that Jokowi was able to “triangulate” among competing power centers (government, religious organizations and the military) by appointing current or retired military officers to government positions. The arrest earlier this year of a university professor who sang an anti-military song in public as a protest against the military’s role in government indicates that the military retains a significant influence over arrest and prosecutorial decisions by civilian agencies.


The extended period of time between polling day and results announcements gave losing candidates and their supporters time to plan rallies and legal action to protest election results. Inauguration of lawmakers and the president is scheduled for October, which also introduces the instability that comes from losing incumbents who remain in office for a lengthy lame duck period. The United States travel advisory for Indonesia recommends increased caution (rather than the more serious levels of reconsider, or do not, travel). Until the election results are peacefully accepted by all stakeholders, travelers should certainly heed this advice.



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