DUNCAN GRAHAM Last post for the old guard?

Apr 18, 2019

Have Indonesia’s oligarchs performed their final farewell tour? More than two decades after the fall of second president Soeharto’s authoritarian New Order government a commoner has retained the presidency.

The forecasts were close to spot-on; Joko ‘Jokowi’ Widodo, 57, once a furniture factory owner from Central Java, has again defeated challenger former general Prabowo Subianto to win a second five years in office.

Bureaucrats are still thumbing through maybe 130 million or more voting slips from 800,000 booths, but all credible quick-counts show Jokowi with around a ten-point lead. The official result won’t be known till May.

So far Prabowo’s team hasn’t made good on threats to call out the mobs. But it refuses to concede defeat. Dangers lurk.

Hot-tempered Prabowo is a bad loser. He told reporters he expected 63 per cent of the vote. He’s getting around 44 per cent. So the present figures, if confirmed, will eviscerate the hard-liner’s Trump-size ego. Even if the streets stay calm the Constitution Court will be flat tack for months handling challenges.

Overall it seems the issues that kept mild-mannered Jokowi safe were economic, and not religious as anticipated. He also listened. Prabowo shouted.

Yesterday’s show has been a re-make of the 2009 election when sixth President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono scored a further spell in the palace.

As in the US, the Constitution allows only two terms in the top job. So the former general had the opportunity to implement reform instead of handing out sweeteners and incinerating principles to enhance re-election.

He blew it. For half a decade little happened because SBY didn’t want to queer the pitch for his soldier son. Agus Harimurti Yudhoyono was pushed by family to grab the old fellow’s baton, but the pass was fumbled.

Not that it made much difference because SBY’s Democratic Party is waning fast. So far no other mob can see the 45-year old’s leadership potential as paraded by his parents.

Maintaining personal political dynasties has long trumped public service as a driver for power in the world’s third largest democracy. The Republic’s founder was Soekarno.

His daughter Megawati as vice president became the fifth president in 2001 when Abdurrahman Wahid (Gus Dur) stepped down after being threatened with impeachment.

She lost to SBY at the 2004 and 2009 elections and since then has been grooming her daughter Puan Maharani to stand when Jokowi retires in 2024.

At this stage her ambition seems doomed. Puan, 45, Coordinating Minister for Human Development and Cultural Affairs in Jokowi’s first Cabinet (allegedly appointed at the insistence of Mum), is one dull polly. She’s done little of note and is not a public favourite.

It seems unlikely that Prabowo, once Soeharto’s son-in-law, will try again for the top job in 2024 when he’ll be 72, more unfit and less rich.

This means his quest to honor the fame of his late father Sumitro Djojohadikusumo also withers. Dad was minister for the economy, and minister for research and technology under Soeharto. The family claims Javanese aristocracy.

Prabowo’s only child is son Ragowo Hediprasetyo, 34, an unmarried fashion designer and socialite based in Paris and with no interest in politics or the army. Jokowi’s three kids are also staying clear of the dark arts and bang-bangs, so no power hand-downs here.

Will Jokowi now introduce the reforms he promised five years ago but didn’t deliver? These are mainly human rights issues which haven’t ignited the general electorate, so change is unlikely.

The massive road, rail and port infrastructure programme will continue but sometime soon the Chinese and Japanese lenders will start to call in the debts. To boost revenue the tax take needs to improve exponentially.

There are many anomalies. Buy a meal in a McDonald’s or KFC and find a ten per cent levy on the meal, while local restaurants nearby don’t include the impost. Only 38 million people (the population is above 260 million) reportedly pay tax, so most have little idea of the philosophy, and even less enthusiasm.

In the West death and taxes are inescapable. In Indonesia it’s only the grave.

Food costs are rising because much is imported. Java is extraordinarily fertile but farming remains stubbornly manual.

Jokowi has socialist leanings and will give more business to state-owned enterprises, though that last word is a misnomer. Few are slim get-up-and-go outfits.

Corruption continues despite arrests of high level officials and long prison terms. Here’s a chance for the President to make a difference, but so far few signs of the determination needed. Jokowi and his backers don’t have the political will for change shown by the late Lee Kuan Yew in his successful purge of graft in Singapore.

Jokowi has been little interested in foreign affairs. Whoever wins next month’s Australian election will face a tough slog to get the President seriously interested in working with his neighbour.

Education remains a total mess. This is well understood; the system needs a top-to-toe shake-up. If second-term Jokowi can exercise the muscle his legacy will be the generations ahead equipped to handle the future.

Practically it’s payback time, so the next task will be distributing goodies (mainly Cabinet posts) to the nine parties that backed the largely secular Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) (around 25 per cent of the vote), and its candidate Jokowi. Prabowo’s Gerindra Party (12 per cent) had a coalition of four, mainly Islamic.

The worry is that ultra-conservative cleric and new vice president Ma’ruf Amin, 76, will try to enforce even stricter Islamic codes on the nation. Then Bali’s partyland lights could start to dim, forcing Western hedonists to seek other lands to empty their pockets.

It could also put the frighteners under Australian unis keen to help get the nation’s clapped out tertiary sector back on the road. Who’d push if the driver hates gays, liberals and pluralism?

If the left-overs from last century’s non-democratic Indonesia really retreat to their villa verandahs, the names to watch are all middle aged, smart, articulate, cosmopolitan, religious moderates and civilian:

Anies Baswedan, currently Governor of Jakarta, Ridwan Kamil, Governor of West Java, and Sandiago Uno, the megarich businessman who was Prabowo’s sidekick.

If they get the tick in five years, then Indonesia will have really made a break with the past.

Duncan Graham is an Australian journalist living in Indonesia.

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