Indonesian Court Says No to Prabowo Presidential Bid

With an estimated 50,000 police and soldiers scattered throughout Jakarta, the Constitutional Court on Aug. 21 unanimously put what is presumed to be a final end – whether he likes it or not – to the quixotic attempt by ex-General Prabowo Subianto to overturn the July 9 election that named Jakarta Governor Joko Widodo Indonesia’s next president.

Although the decision can't be appealed, Prabowo's lawyers said they would try other methods to go after the court itself.

“[We] reject the plaintiff’s lawsuit in its entirety,” Chief Justice Hamdan Zoelva said as he read out the verdict.

“As citizens who honor the Constitution, we the Red White Coalition acknowledge the verdict of the court as an institution that handles, tries and rules on presidential election disputes,” Tantowi Yahya, a spokesman for Prabowo's political party coalition said after the verdct. “Although final and binding, the court’s verdict doesn’t necessarily reflect substantial truth and justice to the people of Indonesia, although this substantial justice is an important matter in democracy.”

Nonetheless, the decision is virtually certain to stand. But it wasn't an easy task. As many as 3,000 Prabowo flag-waving supporters surrounded the court despite barricades put out to stop them, chanting and singing as 4,000 police stood guard. President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono urged protesters to stay calm. It didn’t work. As the Chief Justice began reading the verdict, the protesters attempted to storm the court, ramming four trucks into barriers around the building and leading the police to release tear gas and use water cannons to drive them back.

It is hard at this point to gauge the implications of Prabowo’s continuing assault on the system. Indonesia’s young democracy, however, should be able to withstand it despite his backing by a sizable segment of the political elite. Public opinion has swung decisively against the 62-year-old former general, who already had generated considerable unease with his spotty human rights record and his connections to the ancien regime of the strongman Suharto, his father-in-law, who had ruled the country for 31 years.

Prabowo “is not expected to respect the verdict of the Constitutional Court if it rules not according to his liking,” said the Netherlands-based investment firm Indonesia Investments. Prabowo’s team of lawyers “already stated that it still sees other ways to combat the ‘injustice that has been done’. For example, a special committee (pansus) can be established in Indonesia’s parliament as he can rely on the support of over half of representatives in the DPR (the Prabowo-Rajasa pair is supported by a political party coalition that consists of Gerinda, PAN, PPP, PKS and Golkar). This committee can question officials of the General Elections Commission (KPU) as well as Election Supervisory Body.”

However, more experienced political analysts in Jakarta say that despite the fact that political parties in his coalition ostensibly control a wide spectrum of Parliament, alliances in Indonesian politics shift quickly to the winner’s side. Prabowo has actually had little experience in politics or government despite his prominence in the country and his putative position as opposition leader is likely to fade quickly.

Indeed, how deep his support was at the constitutional court is open to question. Many of the demonstrators surrounding the court and attempting to fight their way through the razor wire were said to be paid rent-a-crowd groups or professional protesters brought in to give the appearance of public outcry, according to media in Jakarta. They are expected to fade when the pay stops.

There is also Prabowo’s performance since the election, which has earned him ridicule rather than support. Despite announcing on BBC that he would go quietly if he lost, he has deployed legions of lawyers to attempt to prove that the election, won decisively with a 6 percent margin, was rigged. He vowed not to accept defeat even if the court ruled against him.

Prabowo was fired from the military for insubordination for torturing human rights campaigners in the wake of 1998 riots. He and his businessman brother, among Indonesia’s richest families, are thought to have spent as much as US$400 million since 2009 in his pursuit of the presidency. A mercurial and sometimes tempestuous figure, he appears unable to accept the fact that he was trounced by a modest former furniture salesman-turned-politician whom he helped to win the job of Jakarta governor less than two years ago.

It is now up to Jokowi, as he is known universally, to tackle a growing series of problems compounded by rising economic nationalism. GDP growth moderated to 5.2 percent in the second quarter, down from 5.7 percent a year earlier. Slowing government spending and credit growth and continued weakness in commodity prices are expected to continue to constrain growth. Income inequality is also rising. The fiscal deficit increased to 2.4 percent of GDP, up from 1.7 percent.

“The fiscal position remains vulnerable to any further rise in oil prices or weakening in the rupiah, and the need to improve further the quality of spending and enhance revenue mobilization is becoming critical if Indonesia is to achieve its development priorities,” according to the World Bank’s second-half economic review.

He also faces the problem of starting to clean up corruption in a country ranked 114th of 177 on the global Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index and 25th on a scale of 28 on the global bribe payer’s index.

He won his spurs as a reformer, however, in both the smaller city of Solo, where he first became mayor, and then as Jakarta governor on a relatively simple platform of getting civil servants to come to work to do their job, cleaning up the streets and markets and working on a transit system in a city formerly considered ungovernable. He is expected to pick a cabinet of technocrats and reformers to continue on a national scale the job he started locally. He recently commissioned an online poll to ask voters who he should pick.