Prabowo's moves will affect public opinion: Observers

Based on 50 per cent of the ballots tallied by KPU, President Joko Widodo (in white) is 12.4 percentage points ahead of Mr Prabowo. PHOTO: EPA-EFE Presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto, a retired army general, at celebrations marking the 67th anniv
Presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto, a retired army general, at celebrations marking the 67th anniversary of the Indonesian Army Special Forces in Jakarta last week. His campaign team claims that the recently concluded election was rigged.PHOTO: REUTERS
Based on 50 per cent of the ballots tallied by KPU, President Joko Widodo (in white) is 12.4 percentage points ahead of Mr Prabowo. PHOTO: EPA-EFE Presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto, a retired army general, at celebrations marking the 67th anniv
Based on 50 per cent of the ballots tallied by KPU, President Joko Widodo (in white) is 12.4 percentage points ahead of Mr Prabowo. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

Ex-general's allegations of election fraud could undermine the incoming government

Presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto's persistence in casting doubts over the results of Indonesia's recent election has led to fears about the long-term implications of his action.

Observers say it could lead to the delegitimising of the General Elections Commission (KPU), as well as distrust of the next administration.

But, on a more optimistic note, signs have begun to emerge that the tensions between the two competing camps may start to ease.

President Joko Widodo won re-election with a comfortable margin in the April 17 polls, according to major pollsters who have him ahead of his challenger by around 9 percentage points. Quick counts by the pollsters have proven accurate in the last three elections.

The official count also has Mr Joko ahead, by a bigger margin. Based on 50 per cent of the ballots tallied by the KPU, the President is 12.4 percentage points ahead of the retired army general. Mr Joko has 56.2 per cent of the votes.

Official results are due by May 22, at the latest.

Maintaining their stance of questioning the polls' outcome, Mr Prabowo's campaign team last week floated the idea of forming a fact-finding team to prove what they allege to be "a structured, systemic and massive network of fraud" in the recent election.

Ms Titi Anggraini, executive director of the Association for Elections and Democracy, an election watchdog, told The Straits Times that Mr Prabowo's claims could shape public opinion about the election process, leading to questions about the KPU's legitimacy.

USE COURTS TO CHALLENGE

Irregularities should be resolved by a legal process. The problem is that they don't use available legal procedures.

MS TITI ANGGRAINI, executive director of the Association for Elections and Democracy.

"Irregularities should be resolved by a legal process. The problem is that they don't use available legal procedures, but only spread the views (of election fraud). Amid the fanaticism and militancy of his supporters, people at the grassroots may finally believe the election is tainted with fraud," she said.

This could lead to lasting divisions in society, even after the commission improves on its performance in later polls, Ms Titi added.

"For supporters of the elected government, whatever it does will always be right, while for supporters of the opponent, it will always be wrong. Under such a situation, the mechanism of control will not work properly... It will result in unhealthy politics," she warned.

Ms Titi challenged Mr Prabowo's team to be more transparent about its vote-counting method and to provide the locations of polling stations on which their data is based.

Another analyst, Mr Wawan Ichwanuddin, a political expert from the Indonesian Institute of Sciences, said Mr Prabowo's actions were part of a political strategy to achieve his goals, and that the KPU had to take his allegations seriously to retain its reputation as a neutral election organiser.

Mr Wawan noted that debate over the commission's involvement in so-called election fraud remained a hot topic on instant messaging apps - more than two weeks after the polls closed.

"With discourse circulating in the media, including social media, the public believes in the alleged fraud. So the challenge for the KPU is to allow the public to access its data openly," he said, adding that the KPU should invite campaign teams from both sides to check on the allegations of false data.

Amid the tensions, though, there are signs of cooler heads.

Last week, Mr Zulkifli Hasan, head of the National Mandate Party, which is part of Mr Prabowo's coalition for the election, met Mr Joko and proposed a meeting among all parties at the end of the long polling process, which kicked off late last year.

The National Mandate Party was also part of Mr Prabowo's coalition when he first contested the presidency in the 2014 polls, which Mr Joko eventually won.

Mr Prabowo also questioned the result of the 2014 election, and his campaign team filed a challenge with the Constitutional Court, alleging that the ballot was rigged. The court turned down the petition, ruling that the claimed vote-rigging was minor and did not affect the overall result.

In what many have read as another sign of a move towards reconciliation, Mr Prabowo's running mate in the latest polls, Mr Sandiaga Uno, has said that he wants to meet his counterpart in Mr Joko's team, Dr Ma'ruf Amin.

Mr Sandiaga, a former Jakarta deputy governor, also responded by saying that the interest of the country remained "first and foremost" when he was asked in an interview with Bloomberg if he would accept a Cabinet post should the official count confirm Mr Joko's re-election and the President made an offer.

Ms Titi saw the moves by Mr Zulkifli and Mr Sandiaga as good signs in averting an escalation of the issue, saying political elites must take the lead in reconciliation efforts so the public could regain confidence in the election result.

This would also allow Mr Joko to move forward with his vision for Indonesia, she added.

"The election is the way to gain power intended by the Constitution. Despite their disappointments, the elites must respect people's aspirations. Our priority is to reunite and look forward."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 30, 2019, with the headline 'Prabowo's moves will affect public opinion: Observers'. Print Edition | Subscribe