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Undermining democracy in Indonesia

By Duncan Graham - posted Monday, 6 October 2014

Back in June, just as a televised debate between contenders for the Indonesian presidency was about to start, the cameras caught a telling moment.

The ultimately successful team of Joko Widodo (Jokowi) and his offsider Jusuf Kalla was sitting in the wings when Hatta Rajasa, Kalla's rival for the vice presidency, walked past.

Kalla followed. The two men, both former members of a Cabinet led by outgoing President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (SBY) could be seen conferring in the shadows. Jokowi, a man alone, peered around anxiously, clearly wondering what was happening.


Even though he'll be installed as the nation's seventh president on 20 October he's still in the dark as the old guard closes ranks. These pre-democracy leftovers seem determined to ensure that commoner upstarts like Jokowi, a former small-town mayor and furniture manufacturer, will never again be able to break into their exclusive club.

Prabowo Subianto, the losing contender for the top job by eight million votes and a former general with a dubious human rights record, has opened a guerrilla campaign backed by right-wing Muslims to unseat the people's choice.

If this intensifies expect Hong Kong style street protests as the young voters who put Jokowi into the Presidential palace rise against the dinosaurs' move to drive him out.

In the Dewan Perwakilan Rakyat, DPR(People's Representative Council)Prabowo has mustered a 'Red and White Coalition' (the colours of the Indonesian flag) that controls 353 seats in the 560 member House.

Arguing the change saves money this power block has already eliminated direct voting for regional politicians and returned to the appointment procedure used by Indonesia's second president Soeharto to reward his mates.

Now it's being reported that Prabowo plans to use his muscle in the DPR to knock out direct elections for the presidency. This possibility was first forecast by ANU academics Ed Aspinall and Marcus Mietzner under the memorable heading: Vote for me, but just the once.


Their pre-poll prediction was criticised for its negativity by Prabowo supporters claiming their man was a real democrat who'd changed his ways; but that was clearly just a cloak for the campaign, thrown off once the results showed he'd lost.

Soeharto was another ruthless iron-fisted general who held power for 32 years until unseated in 1998 by democracy activists. Prabowo married his daughter and was part of the despot's inner circle.

If the grace and favour system for public office had been in place a few years ago Jokowi would not have been elected mayor of Solo or governor of Jakarta, the positions he won through open election before standing for the presidency.

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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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Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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