Incumbent Indonesian president Joko “Jokowi” Widodo was officially declared on Tuesday the winner of the election held April 17. His opponent Prabowo Subianto refused to accept the results, alleging “structural, systemic, and massive” vote fraud was responsible for Widodo’s victory.
The vast size of the Indonesian electorate and the difficulty of getting ballots to rural locations requires a month-long voting and tabulation process to determine the final result. According to the Indonesian election commission, known by the acronym KPU, Widodo won by a convincing 11-point margin, taking 55 percent of the vote to Prabowo’s 44 percent.
The agency in charge of investigating election fraud rejected allegations of vote-rigging from the Prabowo campaign on Monday, stating there was no solid evidence to back up the charges.
Prabowo announced on Tuesday that he will exercise his option to challenge the election results in the Indonesian Constitutional Court, as he unsuccessfully attempted to do after losing the 2014 election. His campaign criticized the election commission for announcing the results a day ahead of schedule, giving them less time to prepare for the legal challenge.
Prabowo’s campaign team and officials of his Gerindra Party have made ominous statements that they prefer street action because challenging the election in court would be “useless” because the court is politically biased against them.
Reuters reported on Tuesday that roughly a thousand Prabowo supporters gathered in Jakarta for a “peaceful protest” against the election results. Security agencies indicated they were braced for a much larger and uglier demonstration, but it had not materialized as of Tuesday morning, possibly because the police threatened “severe punishment” for misbehavior and detained dozens of Islamist militants suspected of planning terrorist attacks.
“We are grateful and proud that amid our differences, we have been mature in keeping the peace,” Widodo said in his victory speech, promising to represent all Indonesians during his second term in office.
The New York Times hailed the outcome as good news for Indonesia, which “bucked a global tilt toward strongmen” by choosing the relatively moderate Widodo over hardline Islamist and militarist Prabowo, a former general.
Prabowo’s supporters played the Islam card by accusing Widodo of being a secret Catholic and communist instead of a devout Muslim. There was also an ethnic component to the campaign, as Prabowo’s team strove to link Widodo to his old friend Basuki Tjahja “Ahok” Purnama, the highly successful Chinese Christian mayor of Jakarta who was driven out of office by Islamists with a dubious blasphemy charge.
Widodo was only able to deflect this assault by tapping an elderly Muslim cleric named Ma’ruf Amin as his running mate at the last minute. Amin was one of the Islamist leaders who demanded Ahok’s prosecution for blasphemy charges and testified against him at the trial. The most optimistic take is that putting Amin on the ticket moderated his massive Nahdlatul Ulama organization, which in March encouraged Indonesian Muslims to stop referring to non-Muslims as “infidels.”
The South China Morning Post drew some gloomy portents from the 2019 campaign over the weekend, noting that Prabowo improved his performance in some key districts over his 2014 run, his Gerindra party is poised to become the second-largest in parliament, and his much younger running mate Sandiaga Uno is poised to become a formidable contender in 2024 when Widodo will not be allowed to run again.
“Religious conservatism is currently growing in Indonesia due to years of growth of Salafi-oriented schools, funded by Saudi Arabia. And as shown by the quick count, if Prabowo dominates 14 provinces by framing opposition to Jokowi as a defense of the Muslim faith, then in a wide, open race in 2024, candidates could appeal to religious fundamentalists to garner votes,” the SCMP predicted.