Losers whinge, winners rule

Apr 9, 2024
Detail of the national flag of Indonesia waving in the wind on a clear day. Democracy and politics. Image: iStock/rarrarorro

A tip to take a wee shot at understanding the way of doing politics in Indonesia: Suspend rationality. Now imagine PM Anthony Albanese offering Scott Morrison a ministry – choice from five. Not such a smart move for Down Under but OK for next door.

Come May, the Indonesian Constitutional Court should respond to challenges by the two losing candidates following the 14 February national presidential election results. Cashiered former general Prabowo Subianto won convincingly as president-elect on his third attempt at the top job.

The hearing from a parade of outraged witnesses has been making for good daytime TV during the past fortnight, though now on pause for the Idul Fitri religious holiday.

Debate in court is a great improvement on street reactions to the 2019 election result when the defeat of Prabowo triggered riots, torched cars, the killing of ten and the wounding of almost 400. Speculation that it was pre-planned has been rife, though the Prabowo camp denied responsibility.

Readers might imagine this trouncing might have encouraged Prabowo, 72, to slink away from further contests and retire to his equine stud in the hills. Instead a few months later he was welcomed back into the political ring; the man who thrashed him at the polls Joko ‘Jokowi’ Widodo made his prancing rival the Minister of Defence.

This gave the disgraced former soldier an arena to keep going in national politics, access to the public purse and space for another crack at the job he’s long craved. (The Constitution bars a president from more than two terms so Jokowi wasn’t in the circus this year.)

It also ensured Prabowo and his right-wing Gerindra (Great Indonesia Movement Party) would shut up criticising the Jokowi government.

Pearls & Irritations can announce the Court’s most likely decision now: The plaintiffs’ claim will collapse and Prabowo will remain president-elect till he takes over from Jokowi on 20 October.

The near certainty of this result is underpinned by these factual pillars: Prabowo and his running mate Gibran Rakabuming Raka (who by curious chance happens to be Jokowi’s eldest son) won 58.58 per cent of the vote.

Next was former academic and Jakarta Governor Anies Baswedan with 24.95 per cent, then former Central Java Governor Ganjar Pranowo with 16.47 per cent

Even if discrepancies, graft, pork-barreling, nepotism, Jokowi’s meddling and a swag of other charges brought by the complainants are proved, the vote for Prabowo was so overwhelming, that the alleged wrongdoings wouldn’t be weighty enough to negate the result. It would also upset the electorate in no mood for a re-run having made their choice so clearly.

Then there’s the timing. The case opened in the last week of March during the holy fasting month leading to this week’s Idul Fitri celebrations. Though work officially continues up to the big event on 10 April the reality is that an empty tummy takes its toll.

Cameras have caught court officials nodding in the early afternoon though not because they agree with the evidence. Speeches drone through the still air along with the mesmerising hum of air conditioners and fans. Hunger gnaws and nicotine addiction screams.

In the contest of legal arguments versus the imagined evening break-fast meal there’s just one winner.

Another factor: After Idul Fitri comes a two day plus holiday supposedly for earnest prayer and the mudik ritual; this means returning to distant villages to seek forgiveness from relatives for inattention to family responsibilities.

The traffic soup is thick – about 194 million are expected on the roads – so ideal for those of different or no faiths to stay home and fix roof leaks – except the hardware shops will be shut and tradies gone.

As the hearing started Ganjar reportedly said Prabowo should be disqualified ”on the grounds that the way he registered himself had violated election law in addition to ethical problems resulting from nepotism and a coordinated abuse of power”.

This argument pings off last year’s dramatic decision by the Constitutional Court to allow Gibran, 36, to run as vice president even though he was four years younger than legally permitted.

But who needs rules and precedents when you’ve got the Chief Justice on side? Anwar Usman, who has since lost his position because he didn’t recuse himself from the case, was Gibran’s uncle when the controversial decision was made. Sticklers for the rule-of-law expected the resolution to be rescinded. It wasn’t.

Commented one political newsletter: “This trial (the current Constitutional Court hearing) serves more as a national face-saving exercise for Anies and Ganjar by showing the general public that the odds were against them from the start.

“Moreover, the trial provides these two former candidates with a national platform to segue into a new political direction whatever form that may take.”

Jakarta gossip suggests that might include offers of ministries by the President-elect when the court proceedings are over, following the example set by Jokowi in asking not just Prabowo into government, but also his sidekick.

Seeking the Vice Presidency in the 2019 bitter contest was business tycoon Sandiaga Uno. He’s now Minister of Tourism and Creative Economy.

Should Anies or Ganjar get similar invites, will either seize the bribe to stay on the public payroll – or will they take an ethical stand and trash any offers ?

The responses will determine how far principles remain – or have tumbled down the landslip-prone hill of Indonesian democracy.

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