Author: Alexander R Arifianto, RSIS
Indonesia’s national elections took place on 17 April 2019, after an eight-month political contest that was characterised by some as ‘the most polarised Election campaign in Indonesian history’. This was marked by populist rhetoric and identity politics largely attributed to supporters of Prabowo Subianto who is challenging incumbent President Joko ‘Jokowi’ Widodo for the second time.
By the evening of 17 April, most independent polling agencies that conducted ‘quick count’ surveys to predict the Presidential Election winner were forecasting Jokowi’s re-election. The proportion of votes for Jokowi is predicted to be between 54 to 55 per cent compared to Prabowo’s 45 to 46 per cent. If this prediction holds, Jokowi has slightly increased his margin of victory compared to the 2014 presidential election, in which he prevailed with 53.2 per cent of support over Prabowo’s 46.9 per cent.
Despite earlier concerns that the election results might be close, Jokowi managed to prevail once again thanks to higher-than-expected voter turnout. Turnout was especially decisive among millennial voters between the age of 17 to 35 years. The Jakarta-based Centre for Strategic and International Studies estimated this year’s voter turnout at approximately 80 per cent of all eligible voters — approximately 154 million people. This is a 10 per cent jump from the last presidential election in 2014.
Much of Jokowi’s support was gathered from Central and East Java provinces where he also won with a significant margin in 2014. In addition, he won in provinces with a significant number of non-Muslim voters including North Sumatra, West Kalimantan, North Sulawesi, Bali, East Nusa Tenggara, Papua and West Papua.
Meanwhile, Prabowo won in provinces marked by a growing trend of Islamic conservatism over the past decade or so. A significant number of his supporters are members of religiously observant as well as conservative groups. Many of them participated in the Defending Islam movement against former Jakarta governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama in 2016 and 2017.
The provinces Prabowo is projected to have won in 2019 include West Java, Banten, West Sumatra, South Sumatra, South Kalimantan and South Sulawesi (the latter was won by Jokowi in 2014 thanks to the help of outgoing Vice President Jusuf Kalla).
Prabowo’s indignant response to the apparent Jokowi victory is a repeat of his 2014 election playbook. He claimed to have won the election with 62 per cent of votes, even though no credible polling agencies are backing that claim. He also made allegations that the election was marred by significant irregularities and that polling agencies showed fake quick count results because they were consultants for Jokowi’s re-election campaign.
Like in 2014, these claims are not backed with hard evidence. Yet Prabowo’s supporters have begun to attack ‘quick count’ pollsters from survey companies like Indikator Politik, Saiful Mujani Research and Consulting, Charta Politika and Indonesian Survey Circle on social media, despite these companies’ reputations for producing generally accurate ‘quick count’ results since 2004.
The Indonesian Election Commission is expected to announce the final result of the presidential election on 22 May 2019. Prabowo is widely expected to make a legal challenge against this result. It will be up to the Indonesian Constitutional Court to arbitrate. Its ruling is expected to be issued within two weeks of the announcement.
Members of the 2 December 2016 movement (‘Alumni 212’) who supported Prabowo have issued a warning that they will stage mass protests against the election results in Jakarta and other cities for the next several weeks. But a protest promised for 19 April did not materialise. This was due to warnings from the Indonesian Armed Forces Chief of Staff Hari Tjahjanto that it will ‘crack down on all efforts that will disrupt public order and unconstitutional actions that damage the democratic process’. Still, the group may try to stage the protests in the next few weeks.
Some observers have assessed that a new aliran (‘stream’) politics is emerging in Indonesia, similar to the divisions that emerged between nationalist, Islamic and Marxist-leaning parties during the 1950s. What is different is that today’s aliran politics seems to be based on regional and religious divisions.
The first group consists of Muslims belonging to pro-moderation movements like Nahdlatul Ulama and Muhammadiyah who mainly live in Central and East Java, along with non-Muslims living in provinces outside of Java. The second group consists of conservative Muslims living primarily in the west coast of Java Island, Sumatra Island, South Kalimantan, South Sulawesi and Maluku Island.
While the 2019 Indonesian general election is now concluded, the contestation for the presidency is not over yet. Prabowo refuses to concede defeat and is likely to challenge the election results until a final ruling is obtained from the Constitutional Court. Bitter polarisation between Jokowi and Prabowo supporters might continue through Jokowi’s second five-year term in office. If the elections result in a new form of aliran politics between different groups within Indonesian society, it could last for at least a generation, if not more.
Alexander R Arifianto is a Research Fellow with the Indonesia Programme, S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University, Singapore.
A version of this article was originally published here on RSIS.