Last week’s rioting in Jakarta following the formal results issued after Indonesia’s April 17 election have overshadowed what has been a peaceful and productive process. Demonstrations over two days that left eight dead and hundreds injured sent shivers up the spine of the business community and reignited fears of ethnic violence targeting the Chinese-Indonesian minority.
With a Constitutional Court challenge to be heard in the coming weeks, both the government and opposition are calling for calm. Investigations into antagonists are continuing. As we move into the next phase, here are some initial thoughts about the riots as well as how they factor into future post-election developments in Indonesia.
It’s Not Like 1998 — Except When it WasEnjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
Unsurprisingly, the heavy rioting in Jakarta inevitably brought comparisons to 1998, when protests toppled then-Indonesian President Suharto and ushered in democracy in the Southeast Asian state.
Largely, such comparisons are usually dismissed quickly, since the scale of more contemporary events has often not nearly approximated what we saw in 1998.
But dismissing them entirely in this case would be unwise, if only for how frequently Indonesian millennials themselves made the comparison in a specific sense. Of course, the stark difference is that it was over a democratic election and the state and a majority of the voting public were ostensibly on the same side. Still, the agitation among young Indonesians that the same key players — Prabowo Subianto and now Coordinating Minister for Security Wiranto — were maneuvering for power 21 years on is important. The Reformasi period has made Indonesia one of the more vital democracies to the world order. A generation is itching to continue that project.
Reflecting on the Early Announcement
The decision from the General Elections Commission (KPU) to announce the official win of incumbent President Joko Widodo and Ma’ruf Amin was initially welcomed as savvy. While the deadline had been set at May 22, the early morning May 21 move was seen as a way of deflating the power of the protests planned for the following day.
In retrospect, this was short-sighted. Confusion over May 22 as the decided date rather than the final deadline fed into a conspiracy that the KPU and the administration were in cahoots to pull one over on the opposition.
While the KPU and other watchers are correct in maintaining what it did is not wrong, with so much at stake, reevaluating if the decision was a smart move is apt. Results should not be held ransom to fear of unhappy voters, but it possibly inflamed violence the night prior to the planned demonstration. To its credit, state security did anticipate this and heavily deployed officers well ahead. Still, an early morning announcement on Wednesday could possibly have confined heated protesting to one day.
Dim Prospects for the Constitutional Court Challenge
As expected, the losing ticket filed a challenge with the Constitutional Court late Friday. “The 51 pieces of evidence consist of some documents and testimonies. There are fact witnesses and expert witnesses,” lead lawyer Bambang Widjojanto told media Friday evening. This evidence will almost certainly fall short of what is needed to overrule the loss. The camp will be required to produce evidence that at least half of the votes within the margin were fraudulently acquired by the winning ticket or a result of KPU error. Constitutional law expert Feri Amsari told Tempo the challenge would “need a miracle.”
Writing in Indonesia at Melbourne, Dave McRae lays out a clear case for why the challenge is surely doomed. With a huge 17 million votes between the winners and the opposition, claims of a mass cheating scheme which somehow took place across the country without being noticed by anybody is farcical. Likewise, a massive conspiracy existing between polling agencies and the General Elections Commission (KPU) and the Elections Supervisory Agency (Bawaslu). Crucially, McRae notes, public perceptions of trust in the electoral institutions remains high.
A Photo-Op for Anies Baswedan
Jakarta Governor Anies Baswedan had been out of town for much of the rioting, returning to the city after a planned visit to Japan early on Wednesday. His time at the helm of the capital after winning the heated 2016 election which saw predecessor Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama turfed from government and jailed for blasphemy, has had mixed reviews. Much of his major successes can hardly be claimed by him, including the long-awaited launch of the first MRT line and the hosting of the Asian Games. And he has been heavily hit for failing to prevent disastrous flooding throughout the city.
His response to the rioting has been widely panned. Photo opportunities throughout the clean up with the much-loved Pasukan Orange, the orange-clad city street cleaners, and firefighters were somewhat neutralized with footage of the governor being embraced by demonstrators. Calls from within the crowd of “Anies 2024!” highlight the difficult position the governor is in, given many of these groups brought him, and running mate Sandiaga Uno, to power.
What’s Next for Sandiaga Uno?
Vice-presidential candidate Sandiaga Uno finds himself in a sticky spot. Transparently using the 2019 campaign to establish a national name for a likely 2024 run, he now runs the risk of having alienated himself from Jokowi-Amin voters who would potentially support him on a Subianto-free ticket. If he moves to quell those concerns, he risks losing those supporters in Jakarta who got him to City Hall as Vice-Governor to Baswedan or indeed those in the 13 provinces picked up by the presidential ticket.
Uno’s politicking is near admirable in its openness. If a candidate is happy to utilize all political avenues, as is the strategy here, at least he’s obvious about it. But what he does next is unclear. He has committed to seeing out the court challenge, but has been widely ridiculed for dodging his campaign team in the immediate aftermath of the vote. The door is still somewhat open for him to return to his unfilled seat in Jakarta but he appears unlikely to do so. With coalitions so fluid in Indonesian politics, the idea of Uno joining the government in some capacity has been floated but we will not see any action on that front until well after the challenge.