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Commentary: Indonesia’s democratic process gains maturity, whether Jokowi or Prabowo wins

A peaceful polling day was embraced by many quarters as voters showed enthusiasm in exercising their democratic rights.

Commentary: Indonesia’s democratic process gains maturity, whether Jokowi or Prabowo wins

Election officials wearing superhero costumes prepare ballots at a polling station during elections in Surabaya on April 17, 2019. (Photo: Antara Foto via Reuters)

JAKARTA: Freelancer Eko Prasetyo grinned when he showed me a viral photo on Twitter showing polling officials in Surabaya greeting voters in superhero costumes.

“That’s how it should be — a bit of fun in what has typically been a tense situation,” said the 35-year-old based in Jakarta, pointing at “Spiderman” who was pictured speaking into a microphone while “Thor” sat on his left, preparing voting sheets.

“This kind of display encourages people to vote. Definitely easier on the eye than riots and chaos,” he added.

For some young voters, election officials dressed like superheroes and ghouls to bolster the turnout was a highlight of the 2019 presidential elections.

READ: Indonesia lures voters with ghouls, superheroes and tonnes of fun 

Mr Prasetyo noted that moments like these, which epitomise peace during key points in a divisive campaign, should not be taken for granted.

The 2014 polls saw the same two candidates challenge for the presidency — former businessman Joko Widodo and former army general Prabowo Subianto.

But the aftermath of that contest was marred by chaos when riot police fired tear gas into a crowd of demonstrators outside the Constitutional Court after the chief judge dismissed allegations by Mr Subianto that the election was rigged, declaring Mr Widodo the legitimate winner.

This time, the mood seems to be different. Voters chose to focus on policy issues, including the economy and cost of living, rather than partisan and identity politics.

More importantly, it suggests that as an electorate, the Indonesian people are putting more trust in the democratic process and focusing on bread-and-butter issues.


Many voters told me they hoped that the candidate they voted for would help resolve economic issues that have plagued Indonesia over the last five years.

Ahmad, a farmer from Karawang who goes by a single name, said that he voted for Prabowo and his running mate Sandiaga Uno because they intend to remove imports of food produce.

Prabowo promised that, if elected, he would halt the imports of food staples like rice and sugar to help local farmers.

Ahmad said: “I am not a rich man, but after I heard that they promise to halt imports, I resolved myself to follow Prabowo-Sandi until they become the next leaders of Indonesia.”

Another Prabowo supporter, Mr Sandi Wibowo from West Java, recalled how Jokowi struggled to halt the slide in the value of the Indonesian rupiah in 2018, when it fell to its lowest value since 1992.

READ: Indonesian rupiah weakens to 26-year low against Singapore dollar

“That was a real shame for us, the value of our currency depreciating against our neighbouring countries. Our new leader should not let that happen,” he said.

Millennial voters in Jakarta told me they picked the candidate they thought would more likely guarantee stable employment and better career prospects, and would be more willing to develop Indonesia into a regional economic powerhouse.

Voting along these lines, rather than simply based on a candidate’s personality, charisma or even religion, is a sign of political maturity in the electorate.

It shows that the electorate is willing to look at the whole picture, and make a decision that would benefit the country in the long term.

It also shows a willingness to uphold Indonesia’s constitutional ideology of “pancasila”, which signifies religious tolerance and unity in diversity.

During the course of campaigning, both sides were seen to have pandered to the country’s conservative Muslims – with Jokowi appointing Islamic cleric Ma’ruf Amin as his running mate and Prabowo rallying several Muslim hardline groups.

But many Muslim voters told me they cast their ballots on the basis of economic prosperity and development for the country rather than religion. This itself, should be seen as a sign of maturity.


There are other signs that incumbent President Jokowi has taken a more measured approach this time round.

On the night of polling day in 2014, Jokowi claimed victory after sample votes accumulated from exit polls indicated that he won by about 52 per cent compared with about 48 per cent for Prabowo.

"This is the victory of all people of Indonesia," he declared back then.

Five years later on Wednesday, Jokowi found himself in a familiar position. Various pollsters announced that he had a 10 percentage point edge over his rival hours after voting closed.

These pollsters were among more than 40 groups accredited by Indonesia's election panel to conduct unofficial quick counts, based on samples from polling stations nationwide.

READ: Indonesia president Jokowi leads in early election vote count against Prabowo, say pollsters

But this time, unlike in 2014, Jokowi chose a more gracious response, saying: "We have seen the exit polls and quick counts but we need to be patient and wait for KPU's (General Elections Commission) official count.”

The official count will only be announced in a few weeks’ time. 

It was a sensible move by Jokowi, in what may have been an attempt to calm the situation.

In stark contrast, Prabowo claimed victory despite the pollsters indicating that he would lose.

His running mate Sandiaga Uno was not by his side when the 67-year-old gave his “victory speech” on Wednesday evening. His absence was conspicuous, and a possible indication that he does not support the hasty victory assertions.


The 2019 election certainly reflected Indonesia’s political maturity as a country, but polling processes were far from perfect.

Many election stations across the capital Jakarta opened later than the stipulated time of 7am and there were reports of missing ballot papers.

Additionally, due to technical and logistical issues, voters at 38 polling stations, most of which are in Papua, will have to vote again.

Despite these hiccups, Indonesia may have shown the world, for now at least, that it has the capacity to learn from the past and move towards a more robust democracy.

CNA's Amir Yusof was on the ground covering the Indonesia presidential elections.

Source: CNA/aw(sl)


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