The World’s Third-Largest Democracy Votes

Indonesia Awaits Results Of 2014 Presidential Election

Kate Lamb previews today’s presidential elections in Indonesia, in which 190 million voters are participating:

There are many concerns voters could focus on in the election. While Indonesia’s economy has grown steadily in recent years, economic growth has slowed to 5.8 percent in 2013 and some 32 million people still live below the poverty line. Indonesia’s constitution largely protects religious freedom, yet in recent years attacks on Christians and minority Muslim sects have been on the rise. The country also faces significant environmental concerns, failing to properly regulate and police its logging, fishing, and extractive industries.

Yet the ballot, the third direct presidential election since the fall of longtime military ruler Suharto in 1998, has largely been framed in the context of a potential revival of Indonesia’s authoritarian past. Though the country is now a functioning democracy with a free press and strong civil society, its political institutions are still steeped in the personnel and politics that defined the old order.

Yenni Kwok profiles the candidates, who “stand in stark contrast to each other, and make this a showdown between political outsider and political patrician”:

The outsider is Joko Widodo, 53, a onetime furniture entrepreneur who has charmed the public with his down-to-earth demeanor.

Joko, popularly known as Jokowi, grew up poor, living in a riverside slum in Solo, Central Java. He cut his teeth in politics as mayor of Solo, where his blusukan (impromptu visits to constituents) and his push for clean governance set him apart from aloof officials in a country plagued with graft scandals. He even won recognition as one of the world’s best mayors. Riding on his immense popularity, Jokowi teamed up with a maverick Chinese-Christian politician to run in the Jakarta gubernatorial election in 2012 and won.

The outsider Jokowi has also drawn comparisons to a famous former resident of Indonesia:

A look at his rival:

The patrician is Prabowo Subianto, 62, a former military general dogged by allegations of past human-rights abuses. Prabowo comes from a privileged background: his father, the late economist Sumitro Djojohadikusumo, was a minister under Indonesia’s first two Presidents, Sukarno and Suharto. His brother-in-law is a former central banker, while his brother, Hashim Djojohadikusumo, who bankrolls his presidential campaign, is a billionaire with a global business reach.

Prabowo himself pursued a military career, and after marrying Suharto’s daughter (the two are now divorced), he quickly climbed up the ranks and took part in military operations battling rebels in East Timor and Irian Jaya. He went on to lead elite army units: the Special Forces and later the Army Strategic Reserve Command. His career ended abruptly after he was discharged from the military in 1998, months after Suharto’s fall, over his role in the abduction of pro-democracy activists.

If Subianto wins, Malcolm Cook notes, it will fit with the recent pattern of electoral victories by “realist conservatives” in democratic countries throughout Asia:

From Netanyahu and Modi in West Asia to Park, Abe and Ma (less so) in Northeast Asia, Aquino and Najib in Southeast Asia, and Abbott and Key in Oceania, the territory covered by this political trend is truly continental. Modi, Abe, Park and Najib are also stronger conservative nationalists than their party predecessors (Vajpayee, Fukuda, Lee and Abdullah respectively). The same trend is noticeable among East Asian non-democracies with Kim Jong-un and Xi Jinping seemingly more conservative and nationalist than their predecessors. The coup in Thailand is clearly inspired by conservative and nationalist goals and forces. Will the next generation of Vietnamese Communist Party leaders in 2016 follow suit?

The diversity of Asian societies and political systems and the fact that there are few if any exceptions (I cannot think of one) simply adds to the power of this political phenomenon and the need to try to understand it better beyond looking to the unique intricacies of each state. … Looking from India eastwards, I would hazard that the worsening external security environment is a contributing factor to the trend and one that is unlikely to change in the foreseeable future.

Lydia Tomkiw solicits some insight from Indonesia experts, who don’t all agree on how consequential the vote will be:

While the two candidates may be complete opposites on paper and in person, [Northwestern University professor Jeffrey] Winters argues that the media portrayal of a stark choice between a charismatic reformer and an old guard candidate isn’t accurate. “These two individuals are very different. But the constellations of social and political forces backing them are remarkably similar. Both have major business interests in their camp. Both have controversial military figures involved in their campaigns,” Winters said. “Whoever wins, this is not a revolutionary moment for Indonesia.”

Kevin O’Rourke, writer and editor of Reformasi Weekly, a newsletter about Indonesia’s political climate, sees it differently. “This is as stark as it can possibly be,” he says. “Indonesia has had a patronage-style government for centuries and now there is a chance for change. Widodo is a democratic figure. He’s the product of the new democratic system that just started taking place in the last decade.”

The latest on the voting:

Official results may take two to three weeks. Unofficial quick counts showed a slight edge for Widodo. One survey group, Lingkaran Survei Indonesia, showed 53.3% for Widodo and 46.7% for Prabowo with 99% of its data, and another group, Center for Strategic International Studies reported 52% for Widodo over 48% for Prabowo, with 95% of its data. Another independent survey group, Saiful Mujani Research and Consulting indicated 52-53% for Jokowi over Prabowo’s 46% with 99% of data.

Quick counts in Indonesia are usually accurate with a slim 1-2% margin of error, said Kevin Evans, a political analyst. Unlike previous Indonesian elections though, this race is a tight one.

(Photo: Supporters of Indonesian presidential candidate Joko Widodo declare victory, although the vote counting is not complete, the race is very close, and the other candidate, Prabowo Subianto, has also claimed victory in the race on July 9, 2014 in Jakarta, Indonesia. By Oscar Siagian/Getty Images)