Published daily by the Lowy Institute

Indonesian election: Time for SBY to step in

Indonesian election: Time for SBY to step in
Published 16 Jul 2014 

There is a joke going around Jakarta this week that Indonesia currently has three presidents: incumbent Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and the two presidential candidates Prabowo Subianto and Joko 'Jokowi' Widodo, who both claimed victory after last week's election. Official results from the presidential election are expected to be released by the General Elections Commission (KPU) next Tuesday.

It's not unusual for the count to take this long — vote-counting for the 10 April legislative elections took until early May. What is unusual is that the quick-count results by reputable polling bodies are being so openly contested by the candidates. Prabowo had no problem with the quick counts from pollsters such as Saiful Mujani Research & Consulting (SMRC) and Indikator back in April when they showed strong results for his party, Gerindra, and its strongest coalition partner, Golkar. But after last week's direct presidential election, Prabowo rejected the estimates of SMRC and Indikator, which found him losing the election with about 47% of the vote compared to Jokowi's 53%.

Prabowo's camp claims those results are reversed, with Prabowo taking more than 50% of the vote, leaving Jokowi a fraction behind. The basis for this claim comes from a handful of polling bodies with questionable backgrounds, several of which are connected to Prabowo's campaign team. Some of the polls showing a Jokowi win are connected to Jokowi's campaign, though they are also respected institutions known to provide accurate results. On Prabowo's side, the results claiming his victory do not come from well-known or respected institutions. One body, Puskaptis, reportedly does not even have an office where audit letters can be sent. [fold]

The KPU is now compiling and verifying the final results under the watchful eye of civil society groups as well as a crowdsourcing platform called Kawal Suara, or 'guard the votes'. The crowdsourcing initiative allows users to submit results from their polling station, as counted before the community and compiled in a publicly displayed tally, to ensure that the figures do not change on their journey from the polling booth to the KPU.

Meanwhile, tensions are growing over how each of the two new 'presidents' and their supporters would handle a potential defeat. Prabowo's stubborn refusal to acknowledge the mainstream quick count results suggests he is still determined to take the presidency by any means at his disposal. In Jakarta, rumours are spreading about the nervousness of Chinese Indonesians, who remember becoming the targets of unrest in 1998. Last Friday, Prabowo addressed a rally at a 'Pray for Gaza' event, which blocked the central Hotel Indonesia roundabout in Jakarta with crowds including members of the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), a hardline group notorious for violence.

On the other hand, a Prabowo win would be hard to swallow for Jokowi's supporters, especially with reports of vote-counting irregularities continuing to emerge. The most important step now is to ensure that any challenges to the results are pursued through the appropriate legal channels. Now would be the time for the actual president, Yudhoyono, to step in and ensure a peaceful transition, no matter what the results announced by the KPU on 22 July.

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