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The countís not over in Indonesia

By Duncan Graham - posted Monday, 21 July 2014

As foreshadowed in On Line Opinion earlier this month, Indonesians are facing a potentially explosive situation with no clear winner from the 9 July direct vote for a new president.

But thank God for Ramadhan.  Literally.  The Islamic fasting month is the principal reason volcanic chaos hasn’t erupted following the keenly contested result.

It’s not easy seething over statistics when hunger gnaws and the mind is supposed to be concentrating on matters pious, not political.


The liberal - progressive’s poster boy, mellow Joko Widodo (Jokowi) remains in front by about five percentage points according to exit polls labelled ‘credible’ by Western observers. Not so says his rival, former three-star general and tungsten-tough Prabowo Subianto.  He stoutly asserts his polling reverses Jokowi’s reported lead.

The disputed figures are the result of the so-called ‘quick counts’, not the official result which should be released on 22 July.  Whatever the determination, appeals to the Constitutional Court are expected - so no winner declared till late August.

Even then a settle down is unlikely should Prabowo lose. Few believe that the alleged human rights abuser discharged from the army for exceeding his authority will shake the winner’s hand, then gracefully retire to breed Portuguese Lusitano warmbloods.

Prabowo, 62, campaigned with foam-flecked intensity for a nostalgic return to the simple and certain era of his former father-in-law, the kleptocrat dictator Soeharto who ruled Indonesia for 32 years till toppled in 1998 by pro-democracy students.

Prabowo’s grandstanding campaign style, which included reviews of his uniformed ‘troops’ from the saddle of a high-stepping stallion, reminded historians of Il Duce, the Italian fascist dictator Mussolini. One French journalist cleverly dubbed him Putin van Jawa.

Admitting defeat won’t come easy for a patrician who believes only he was born to rule the world’s fourth largest nation, not some provincial pleb.  Jokowi, a former furniture salesman and small town mayor turned Jakarta Governor, campaigned on a ‘mental revolution’ platform. This included reforming the bureaucracy, embracing modern business practices, eliminating nepotism and responding to the voices of ordinary Indonesians.


He appealed because he was seen as a clean break from the corrupt and incestuous Jakarta oligarchy that’s long controlled an archipelago of 250 million people, most of them Muslim.

Prabowo has already formed a coalition that dominates the Legislative Assembly (DPR).  It includes the hard-right Islamic parties and could frustrate a Jokowi-led attempt to advance reform policies even if he’s given the people’s mandate to do just that.

So far the protests have been verbal because voters are more concerned with their religious and cultural duties. These include mudik, visiting families in distant villages, journeys that are already constipating the highways.

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About the Author

Duncan Graham is a Perth journalist who now lives in Indonesia in winter and New Zealand in summer. He is the author of The People Next Door (University of Western Australia Press) and Doing Business Next Door (Wordstars). He blogs atIndonesia Now.

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