Indonesia’s fresh-faced president-elect Joko Widodo, aka Jokowi, is being urged to prepare his own legal action to counter his nemesis Prabowo Subianto, who has unwittingly succeeded in portraying himself as the villain of recent national elections.
Prabowo’s behavior since losing the July 9 poll was likened with Darth Vader by one analyst. He has refused to accept the result and launched legal action in the Constitutional Court claiming that “irregularities” in the voting process might have cost him the presidency.
It’s an argument that analysts say smacks more of a sore loser than any real indication of improper behavior in the Widodo camp. This was underscored by the resignation of Prabowo’s campaign chief, Mahfud MD after Widodo clinched the election with a convincing 6.3 percent margin.
Greg Barton, an academic with Monash University and a senior advisor at the Australia-Indonesia Centre, said Prabowo would struggle to win the votes needed to spoil the party for Widodo and his running mate Jusuf Kalla.
“That fact that Mahfud was so quick to quit Prabowo’s team and wash his hands of any attempts at a challenge speaks volumes,” he said.
Prabowo and his running mate Hatta Rajasa were backed by powerful Indonesia families whose connections are wrapped tightly around the political elite – like the Suhartos – and who have been blamed for much of the corruption which has plagued the country. Widodo has vowed to put an end to all that.
This includes issues with the Constitutional Court, created in 2001 to hear disputes in local and national elections, where Prabowo has launched his legal challenge..
“Given the life sentence handed down to former Constitutional Court head, Akil Mochtar, it is highly unlikely that any of his colleagues will be prepared to risk getting caught taking bribes,” Barton said.
“Moreover, given Prabowo’s campaign promise to return the 1945 Constitution to its original state — stripping off earlier reforms and amendments – it means that a Prabowo victory would threaten the closure of the Constitutional Court,” he added.
These comments were echoed by U.S.-based Indonesian expert John MacDougall, who said Prabowo was a “mini Darth Vader, he is not going to give up his dream without a tantrum.”
The former army general has admitted to the abduction of pro-democracy activists in 1998 – which he justified as legal – as 32-years of rule by the former dictator Suharto was coming to an end. Thirteen victims remain unaccounted for. Prabowo was also once married to one of Suharto’s daughters.
Widodo’s five-year term as president of the world’s third-largest democracy will begin on October 20, assuming he survives Prabowo’s court challenge. His immediate challenges include a potential naval stoush with China, which is challenging Jakarta’s sovereignty over the Natuna islands.
Relations with Australia are also on edge, again, amid a Victorian Supreme Court hearing involving “regional leaders,” which the Australian media has been barred from covering.
Keith Loveard, a risk analyst with Jakarta-based Concord Securities, said media reports from more than 200 sources had clearly shown there were more allegations of cheating by the Prabowo/Hatta camp than by Widodo/Kalla.
“Neither side was spotless but the number of cases involving Prabowo and Hatta certainly outweighed those of their rivals,” he said.
“In a number of regencies of Madura Island in East Java for instance not a single vote was cast for Widodo and Kalla, even though they had scrutineers at the polling stations and it is highly unlikely that they would have voted for the opposition.”
Nevertheless the Prabowo/Hatta camp insists there were numerous violations that worked against them, including candidates without sufficient identification being allowed to vote, polling booths in Papua that were never opened and that the number of votes for Jokowi had increased without explanation.
Faults, according to Prabowo’s spokesman Tantowi Yahya, were also found with the indelible ink used by authorities to ensure people only voted once.
Despite all this, messages of congratulations have flowed in since Widodo’s victory with Australia, Japan, Britain, the United Sates, Singapore and Malaysia ignoring a recommendation from the Prabowo camp to hold off on recognizing Widodo as the president-elect until after the legal wrangling has been resolved.
Loveard also noted that Widodo had preferred to call for unity and to put the past behind him in the interests of more placid relations than those that prevailed during the campaign, “with all of the dirt that was thrown in his direction”.
“It’s a commendable view but it is unlikely to convert his many enemies into friends, as I suspect we will see once the new parliament sits, with the House likely stacked against him in a particularly aggressive manner,” Loveard added.
Meanwhile, Barton said Widodo’s team would be well advised to prepare themselves to mount a series of counter challenges, should they be needed.
“But even more important is that Jokowi continues on his magnanimous path of reconciliation and build a broad and robust coalition with his new cabinet. This appears almost certain, and with it the effective curtailing of Prabowo’s power to block, spoil and sabotage.”
Luke Hunt can be followed on Twitter @lukeanthonyhunt.