Indonesian Authorities Seek to Cool Prabowo Election Protest

Civic and government leaders including former President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono have thrown cold water on plans by losing presidential election candidate Prabowo Subianto to hold a massive protest rally in the center of Jakarta.

Despite a fairly-decisive trouncing in April 17 national elections, Prabowo continued to insist he had won a 62 percent victory over incumbent President Joko Widodo and called on followers to hold mass prayers on April 19, the Friday weekly Muslim day of prayers.

In a statement to his own Democratic party leaders, Yudhoyono said that "our politics and safety" were at stake and that party officials should continuously and closely monitor the situation. He called on party officials and members not to involve themselves in activities "that conflict or contravene the Constitution and laws,” as well as those not in line with his stance as party chairman, according to a Reuters dispatch from Jakarta.

Wiranto, the former general who now serves as security minister, pulled together the chiefs of police and all military branches to hold a press conference on April 18 to warn that security forces will "act decisively" against any threats to order and security.

In addition, Jokowi, as the president is universally known, said on Thursday that he had sent a representative to meet with Prabowo in a bid to cool the political tensions between the supporters of the two following the election.

“People will see that yesterday’s election has ended smoothly, safely, peacefully, and without any issue,” he added.

With a seriously ailing wife, and disappointed by Prabowo’s refusal to name his son Agus as vice president, Yudhoyono and the Democrats largely disappeared from campaigning for Prabowo during the final weeks of the campaign. His decision to seek to cool off the political atmosphere in the wake of Jokowi’s victory was regarded as statesmanlike by political analysts in Jakarta. As he and his forces backed away from the electoral process, the Democrats’ portion of the national vote fell from 10.19 percent in 2014 to about 8 percent today in the quick counts performed by polling organizations. The party, beset by a long list of scandals, has been slipping into irrelevance.

One analyst said Yudhoyono’s move to cool off the political atmosphere was at least partly a strategy to remain statesmanlike and relevant, and to position his son Agus, a former Army major, in the 2024 sweepstakes.

The mercurial Prabowo, who insisted he was the victim of electoral fraud, was said to have called off the rally and instead retreated with his followers to his palatial home. So-called “quick counts” by 10 polling organizations tracking the massive one-day election scored Jokowi at about 55 percent of the vote to 43 percent for Prabowo. He and his supporters held a thanksgiving event in which he told his followers on Friday afternoon that all of the survey companies that declared Jokowi the winner were liars and that they should all move to the South Pole. But there has been no mass mobilization of protesters.

Prabowo in effect is reprising his 2014 performance, in which he also protested his loss to Jokowi, insisting he had won based on a quick count issued by four survey institutions – whose credibility was doubtful – and performed the prostration of gratitude. At that time, several credible survey institutions also issued a quick count which stated that Jokowi and his then-partner Jusuf Kalla had received 52 percent against Prabowo’s 47 percent. The official tallies later nearly matched that. Prabowo sued in the Constitutional Court, vainly accusing the election commission of having committed structured, systematic and massive fraud.

Prabowo is backed by the so-called 212 Rally Alumni organization, an ad hoc Muslim agglomeration that took its name from a Dec. 2, 2017 rally in the center of Jakarta that later proved instrumental in the campaign to drive the former Jakarta Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama from power. The 212 group, urged on by Prabowo, called on its supporters in the wake of the election on Wednesday evening to gather at the Istiqlal Mosque and the National Monument after Friday prayers in celebration of his victory.

The rally occurs on the same day as Jakarta’s small Christian minority celebrates the Good Friday holiday, the day they celebrate when Christ was crucified. Under pressure from authorities, Prabowo’s campaign deputy chairman Slamet Maarif told local media that the mass prayers would be relocated to mosques near Prabowo's residential area in South Jakarta on Friday to avoid confrontation with the Christian observance.

The official count of the votes, in which more than 20,000 seats were contested by more than 245,000 candidates from 16 parties in national and municipal parliaments, as well as regional councils, won’t be completed until May 22. In the national legislative elections, for example, 7,000 candidates competed for only 575 seats, so that competition was predicted to be very tight.