It’s Official – Sort of: Jokowi Wins

Although Jakarta Governor Joko Widodo has officially won Indonesia’s presidential election in the bitterest race in the country’s young democratic history, a challenge by his opponent, Prabowo Subianto, could put the election in limbo until mid-August.

The race has been described as the biggest test of Indonesia’s democratic system since the first race in 1999 following the downfall of the strongman Suharto – Prabowo’s onetime father-in-law. If Joko prevails, and most analysts believe he will, it will be a political earthquake, an enormous contrast to the regimes that have run the country since independence.

Assuming Prabowo’s challenge fails, Jokowi will first have to put together a formidable team to straighten out the government tender process, clean up the tax regime, mend a court system in which few decisions are reached on their merits, and reform the national police and attorney general’s office, both of which are among the country’s most corrupt institutions. He is certain to face serious opposition from entrenched interests.

He faces an elected legislature that regularly delivers up a platoon or so of members to be prosecuted for corruption by the country’s formidable Corruption Eradication Commission. To accomplish many of the reforms he envisions, he will have to push them through a body that historically has been for sale to the highest bidder and which passes only a handful of bills each year.

First he must take office. Although the General Election Commission ruled today (July 22) that Joko and his running mate, Jusuf Kalla, had won the July 9 poll with 53.16 percent of the vote against 46.48 percent for his opponent, the 62-year-old former Special Forces general has refused to concede.

Prabowo’s followers are expected to file an ethics charge against the Jakarta branch of the elections commission and also file criminal charges against the commission itself, in addition to challenging the results themselves in the country’s Constitutional Court in an effort to in effect delegitimize the electoral process. Protracted delay raises concerns that confidence in the economy, Southeast Asia’s biggest, could fall, with international investors watching closely.

But political analysts in Jakarta say the magnitude of the win, amounting at least 6 million of the 130 million-odd votes cast, makes it unlikely that Prabowo’s challenge would succeed. Past recounts have only reversed a few thousand votes. Most expect Jokowi, as he is universally known, to take power after the process shakes out.

Nonetheless, there are fears that Prabowo’s supporters could turn violent. Some have threatened to rally outside the electoral commission offices in central Jakarta although no problems have materialized. As many as 250,000 police have been deployed across the sprawling archipelago nation to attempt to keep order in a country where violence has often flared.

On Monday, after it became clear that Joko and Kalla officially had a commanding lead, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who leaves office on Oct. 20, obliquely told Prabowo to sit down and shut up, telling reporters that “accepting defeat is noble.” Later, he urged the loser to “go peacefully the constitutional route.”

However, the worry all along has been that if the outcome was relatively close, the mercurial Prabowo would pull out all the stops in challenging the decision. He now has three days to deliver his challenge and the evidence backing it up to the Constitutional Court, which has 14 working days to decide if the challenge is valid, prolonging the stalemate to as long as Aug. 21, with attendant political tension. However, as political analysts have pointed out, thousands of volunteer poll-watchers kept an eye on almost every ballot counted, making it questionable where Prabowo will find his evidence.

There has rarely been a clearer choice across Asia between the two, Jokowi a soft-spoken onetime furniture salesman who ascended swiftly up the electoral ladder, first as mayor of the relatively small city of Solo before taking on the governorship just less than two years ago. Prabowo is an echo of his old-guard former father-in-law, a fiery nationalist who still bears the scars of his tenure as a special forces general, having been credibly accused of a wide range of human rights violations. Despite his divorce from Suharto’s daughter Siti Hediati Hariyadi, better known as Titiek, he remains tied to the Suharto interests, who are believed to have stolen anywhere from US$15 billion to US$35 billion from the treasury. The family is still prominent and un-arrested in Jakarta.

Once installed in power – assuming he is – Jokowi faces an enormous job, of transforming a country whose longstanding predilection towards corruption defeated Yudhoyono’s fledgling reformasi efforts and stirred concerns that even members of his family could face prosecution. Yudhoyono’s first term was marked by considerable promise, concluding a peace deal with the intractable separatists in Aceh and, through his finance minister, Sri Mulyani Indrawati, putting the country on a sound fiscal base. But in his second term he allowed Aburizal Bakrie, the tycoon who heads Golkar, to push Sri Mulyani out of the government, bringing reform to a stop. His Democratic Party fell into a mire of corruption, with some of its most promising young reformers eventually charged with corruption on a massive scale.

By contrast Jokowi, from the time he took office as mayor of Solo, has been something so rare in Asian politics as to seem exotic, an outsider with no machine connections to deliver him to power. In his stints as a public official in both Solo and Jakarta, he has been a quite capable public official, making inroads in Jakarta’s chaotic traffic and pollution, something his predecessor, place-sitter (and Yudhoyono ally) Fauzi Bowo appeared never to have tried, instituting a public health plan and forcing civil servants to actually come to work.

His economic policies remain vague. He faces a current account deficit expected to exceed 3 percent of GDP, driving the urgency for a cut in the country’s massive fuel subsidies.In meetings with fund managers, he has said he would cut the subsidies, pour funds into the country’s creaking infrastructure, reform the education system and encourage investment in energy to propel the flagging power grid.

But Indonesia has been in the grip of economic nationalism that has actively discouraged eager international investors, with a heavy crackdown supervised by Prabowo’s running mate, Hatta Rajasa, on the resources extraction sector. A measure to ban shipments of a wide variety of ores has caused havoc, for instance, in China’s nickel procurement process, forcing factory owners to go far abroad into Africa to look for substitute supplies. At this point it is unknown where Jokowi’s preferences lie.

Nonetheless the markets have greeted the announcement with relief. The Jakarta Composite Index has risen by 1.1 percent over the past two days. But they could now stall out until it is certain that Jokowi’s victory is assured.