By: Ainur Rohmah

A so-called “quick count” in Indonesia’s general election, in which 193 million voters went to the polls in a single day, appears to be giving the race to incumbent President Joko Widodo, who came into office five years ago as a reformer and has survived growing attempts turn the race into a referendum on Islamization of the country.

Six months of divisive campaigns between the presidential candidate camps, one led by Jokowi, as the president is universally known, and the other by former general Prabowo Subianto, seem to have hardly moved the needle despite millions of dollars spent on both sides. Jokowi has led the race by a 10 to 20 percent margin for months.

The usually reliable quick count gives Jokowi’s team a comfortable lead of 56 percent to 43 percent for Prabowo and his running mate, businessman Sandiaga Uno. With more than 50 percent of the vote counted at publication time, that is unlikely to change.

Earlier, Prabowo, 67, insisted that his internal polls showed him strongly in the lead. Buoyed by large and enthusiastic crowds, he insisted he would instruct his followers to file court challenges if he was defeated. It was unclear if he would do so, although after losing the 2014 race filed an unsuccessful challenge.

In the face of persistent religious attacks by Prabowo’s camp that he was a member of the communist party and a closet Christian, Jokowi chose a conservative Muslim cleric, the 76-year-old Ma’ruf Amin, the chairman of the Indonesian Ulema Council, as his running mate to boost his own religious credentials. The strategy appears to have worked.  The appeal to the Islamists also appears to have driven the vote in areas where religious and ethnic minorities went strongly for Jokowi’s slate.

Although he built his original appeal as a reformer when he was mayor of Solo in Central Java and governor of Jakarta from 2012 to 2014 before running for president, that crusade, if it was one, seems to have flagged in the face on Indonesia’s deep political and institutional corruption, including the political party whose standard he carried, the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle, or PDI-P. 

As president, Jokowi has primarily focused on infrastructure, aggressively luring Japan and Chinese investment to push through large infrastructure projects across the archipelago including high-speed rail, highways, airports, dams and technological connectivity. In particular, he publicly said he would protect Indonesia’s sovereignty and proved it with spectacular dynamiting of foreign vessels illegally fishing in Indonesian waters.

With the race over and with a comfortable victory under his belt, Jokowi looks likely to follow the same governing strategy that got him reelected, emphasizing infrastructure development, allowing the ferocious Corruption Eradication Commission, known by its initials KPK, to nip at the heels of corrupt politicians. His own efforts at reform, strong during his mayoral and gubernatorial positions, now appear halfhearted at best. He is certain to try to keep Indonesia’s rising Islamism at bay.

Prabowo’s persona was inseparable from his background as the ex-son-in-law of the former strongman Suharto and his involvement, as an Indonesian special forces general, in allegations of human rights violations. An ultra-nationalist, he repeatedly criticized the government for infrastructure projects that he said don’t benefit people. His collaboration with hardline Islamist groups such as the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) and the Islamic Community Forum (FUI) to garner support in mosques, partly said to be a campaign tactic he turned to because his campaign was so chronically short of money, pushed Jokowi to the right.  

Besides the presidential and vice presidential posts, 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. In the national legislative elections, for example, 7,000 candidates competed for only 575 seats, so that competition was predicted to be very tight.

In addition to appealing to the fundamentalists – although he is hardly one himself – Prabowo and his allies repeatedly charged the election would be rigged, alleging carloads of pre-marked ballots were held all over the country’s islands. 

A survey conducted by the polling organization Charta Politika conducted on April 5-10 for 2000 respondents spread across 34 provinces found that seven parties will meet the threshold of 4 percent to be able to occupy seats in the house of representatives. They are the PDI-P, Prabowo’s Gerindra Party, Golkar, the National Awakening Party (PKB), the National Democratic Party (Nasdem), the Democratic Party (PD) and the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS).

Golkar, which dominated the political landscape during the Suharto years, is predicted to slip badly, the first time out of the top two parties with the most votes since the reform era in 1998. PDI-P and Gerindra are predicted to occupy the top two positions. The Democratic Party, headed by former President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, played almost no role in the campaign after Prabowo turned down Yudhoyono’s son as his vice presidential running mate. The party, wracked by a long series of scandals, has lost most of its influence.

The Threat of Money Politics

As the campaign wound on, candidates for legislative seats or campaign teams were arrested or investigated for allegedly “money politics.”  Bowo Sidik, a candidate for a seat in the House of Representatives, was arrested by the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) recently for his involvement in a bribery case. He was said to have stuffed Rp8 billion (US$569,000) into 400,000 envelopes, allegedly to be distributed to his constituents before the election.

A legislative candidate in Polewali Mandar, West Sulawesi, known with initials HSL also was caught by a polling station officer for distributing money on April 15. The case is now being investigated by the local election supervisory body. In East Lombok Regency, West Nusa Tenggara Province, a local legislative candidate from the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) Muhammad Ali Akbar was detained by residents for distributing money to residents in two hamlets on Monday night.

By April 16, the Election Supervisory Board (Bawaslu) announced that it had found at least 25 cases of alleged money politics in 25 districts and cities. The amount was obtained from surveillance patrols during the calm period on April 14-16.

“Election supervisors caught the election candidate and the campaign team allegedly giving money to the public to influence their choices,” said Bawaslu member Mochammad Afifuddin.

“Every election supervisor will follow up the findings by gathering evidence and clarifying each party suspected of being involved and witnessing,” Afifuddin said. The election board found a number of additional instances in which money and basic necessities were distributed to voters. Money politics perpetrators who are proven guilty face a maximum jail term of four years and a maximum fine of IDR 48 million.

A researcher at The Royal Netherlands Institute of Southeast Asian and Caribbean Studies (KITLV) at Leiden, Ward Berenschot estimates that the turnover of money to bribe voters in the 2019 election is greater than in 2014. “If before (prospective regional leaders) gave money to each prospective voter of around Rp20,000-50,000, the amounts now have risen to around Rp100,000. There is always an increase because there is competition between candidates,” Berenschot said in a seminar on “Money Politics in the 2019 Election” in Jakarta on April 4.

He said the money politics, nicknamed the “dawn attack”, has increased massively over the past last 10 years. It has been difficult to stop because candidates who want to take part in a fair election must face other candidates who are willing to give money to the public so that encourage unfair competition.

Berenschot said that the practice of money politics is inseparable from the mistakes of political parties that cannot establish effective rapport with the community, making it necessary to buy votes.

He explains that if politicians spend large amounts of money during elections, they will try to return “their capital” in various ways after being elected, including corruption. In fact, they have a big role in determining economic policy. This ultimately resulted in a negative impact on development in Indonesia.

“It is very possible (money politics) encourage or create a domino effect in the form of corruption when these officials occupy their positions,” said KPK Spokesperson Febri Diansyah.

At least 166 members of regional legislatures and 72 members of the House of Representatives have been caught in corruption cases since the KPK was established in 2002.