'Revolution' in Indonesia

As the night wore on after Indonesia’s 2014 presidential election, it looked more and more like Jakarta Governor Joko Widodo and his running mate, Jusuf Kalla, had pulled off a historic victory despite the fact that they were outspent, out-generaled, faced their own organizational problems and were hit with a ruthless mudslinging campaign.

That probably is an indication of how much the nation of 240 million wants change. With 90 percent of the vote in, Joko and the coalition headed by his Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle, or PDI-P, had won by a relatively comfortable margin of 53.3 percent to 46.78 percent, according to quick count tallies. That would mean a plurality of 7 million to 8 million votes. However, his opponent, the 62-year-old former Gen. Prabowo Subianto, was refusing to concede, saying he had his own unnamed quick count polls saying he had won, and asking his supporters to protect the ballot boxes. The official tally won’t be available until on or around July 22.

The big worry appears to be keeping Prabowo in his stable. Many people in Jakarta were worried that the mercurial former general might use his declaration of victory to seek to establish his own administration although in past elections, the quick count has proven accurate and reliable. Some local analysts were warning that Prabowo might use his old Special Forces troops and the government’s intelligence services might try to rig the vote count.

American journalist Allan Nairn said earlier that he had “documentary evidence” that Prabowo would try to rig the outcome. Prabowo claimed victory based on quick counts conducted by pollsters hired by TVOne, a news station owned by one of his party backers, the tycoon Aburizal Bakrie, who could face his own severe headwinds from a corruption-free administration.

Nonetheless, if Joko’s win does stand up, the implications are dramatic. He has proven so far to be arguably the cleanest politician the country has ever seen, first as mayor of the city of Solo, and then as Jakarta governor. His own party, PDI-P, is filled with about as many crooks as the rest of them. But the choice was stark. In Prabowo, the voters had someone whose stated goal was to circumscribe democracy and possibly take the country back to the authoritarian past of the strongman Suharto, his one-time father-in-law, who ruled for 31 years until he was finally toppled in 1998. He even adopted the safari suit and pillbox cap that Indonesia's original strongman, Sukarno, favored long ago.

Although Suharto was pushed from power 16 years ago, the way of doing business established by his dictatorial and kleptocratic rule has remained in place despite the early reformasi promise of the current president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who was elected first in 2004. That promise has since soured. The country’s major institutions – the legislature, the judiciary, the police, the military, the tax authority – all need a thorough housecleaning before Indonesia can establish itself rightfully as a major Asian power. The Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index ranks Indonesia 114th in the world for corruption.

If he means to clean up, Jokowi, as he is known, probably faces as big a job as Xi Jinping in China, whose battles to put corrupt officials in jail have become epic. Arrayed against Jokowi could be some of the strongest forces in Indonesian society including interests like the Bakrie empire, which has long-benefited from political deals. The fact is that there is almost no facet of Indonesian life that is not in some way tainted by hands out for bribes.

If the past is any prologue, the signs are not encouraging. Bakrie, the head of the opposition Golkar Party, managed to drive Sri Mulyani Indrawati out of Indonesia and into the World Bank after she attempted, as Yudhoyono’s Finance Minister, to force the coal and resources conglomerate to pay its taxes and she refused to countenance government bailouts at the onset of the global financial crisis in 2008. Attitudes similar to Bakrie’s permeate much of the country’s business community.

The House of Representatives is regularly raided by the fearsome Corruption Eradication Commission, known the KPK, to haul lawmakers off to trial. The KPK so far has a 100 percent conviction rate in its own courts and it is rated one of the country’s most corruption free institutions.

When Yudhoyono came to power, he brought along with him a flock of young, bright reformist lawmakers who depressingly turned out to be much like the rest of Indonesia’s politicians. Anas Urbaningrum, the party leader, Andi Mallarangeng, the sports minister, and others were ensnared in a huge scandal involving the construction of a sports complex.

Yudhoyono, who made common cause with Prabowo and Bakrie in the current election, is rumored to have done so because he may have received assurances that members of his family would not face possible prosecution from his time in office.

The win, if it stands up, represents remarkable chapter in Jokowi’s political career that some compare with the come-from-nowhere rise of US President Barack Obama. He was elected Jakarta’s governor in September 2012. At age 53, he is one of the country’s newest faces. Beyond calling for a “new era for Indonesia and the Indonesian people” and adding that the country wants “a better, smarter, healthier and more prosperous Indonesia,” his policies remain pretty much a blank slate. But neither his education nor his experience are very broad in international terms. He was educated in local institutions, unlike Prabowo, who spent the early part of his life overseas.

Joko has told investors that he will pursue market-friendly policies and make bureaucratic reform and infrastructure-building his priorities. But as far as can be seen, he will remain fairly close to the economic nationalism that is slowly squeezing down on foreign investment.

"Investors should be given enough room to broaden their investments," Joko was quoted by Reuters as telling a crowd of domestic and foreign investors. Beyond that, he has remained vague on how he would accomplish infrastructure construction. The current government, under the economic tutelage of Hatta Rajasa, who ran as Prabowo’s vice president, two years ago precipitously stopped foreign bids to modernize the country’s biggest port, and said the country could do it itself. Multinational resource companies seeking oil and minerals are continuously seeing their operations circumscribed.

Whether Joko can assemble a team that will clean out decades of corruption remains to be seen. With him in charge, the country is in for an interesting ride.