INDONESIA underwent a uniquely complex democratic process on Wednesday of last week, when about 190 million citizens cast their votes in national elections at both presidential and legislative levels of government.
The presidential election was a repeat of the 2014 race for the presidency. The incumbent, Joko Widodo (known as Jokowi), was standing against a former army general, Prabowo Subianto. Each was supported by a coalition of political parties represented in the national parliament. Jokowi’s support came from both nationalist and moderate Muslim parties, the largest party being the multi-religious Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), which is led by Indonesia’s first female President, Megawati Sukarnoputri, who held office from 2001-2004.
Prabowo, as the former general is commonly known, was supported in his bid for the presidency by a coalition of activist Islamic parties, as well as more notorious community groups, such as the Islamic Defenders Front. During the six-month campaign period, Prabowo emphasised Islamic themes, painting Jokowi as weak on Islamic issues. To counter this, Jokowi chose a senior Muslim cleric, Ma’ruf Amin, as his vice-presidential running mate.
The elections also required Indonesians to cast their votes for candidates standing for the 575 seats of the national People’s Representative Council, as well as for provincial and local councils. In all, some 240,000 candidates competed for these multiple levels of government, posing a massive challenge for election planners both in terms of logistics and in ensuring free and fair processes.
Official results for the presidential election will be released on 22 May, and results for the various legislatures will not appear until mid-September. The Indonesian electoral commission, however, authorised several dozen agencies to monitor exit polls and release “quick count” provisional results.
Most of these agencies have called the presidential election for the incumbent, Jokowi, by 55 to 45 percentage points. He has issued subtle claims of electoral success, while Prabowo has issued three counter-claims of victory, accusing the agencies of lying, and claiming massive electoral fraud.
Prabowo and his supporters held mass prayers in Jakarta, and several Islamist activist groups have moved to apply “people power” pressure before the official declaration of the election result. This probably represents Prabowo’s last tilt at the presidency, given his age of 67.
Unofficial quick-count results for the legislative elections suggest that Megawati’s PDI-P party will retain its place as the largest party in Parliament. There are signs of further polarisation of the population between the conservative Muslim regions of Sumatra, Sulawesi, Kalimantan, and West Java on the one hand, and Central/East Java and the religious minority regions of the eastern Islands on the other.
The 24 million Christians in Indonesia, representing some ten per cent of the population, seem to have supported Jokowi en masse: heavily Christian regions such as East Nusa Tenggara, North Maluku, and Papua and West Papua have voted for him by as much as 86 per cent in some areas.
Professor Peter Riddell is Vice-Principal Academic at Melbourne School of Theology, and professorial research associate in history at SOAS, University of London.