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The challenges facing Indonesia's new President Joko Widodo | The World Weekly

Indonesia President-elect Joko Widodo, who official results show won by more than 8 million votes, called for unity after a divisive election that his opponent now plans to challenge in court.

Suharto-era General Prabowo Subianto will lodge a suit on July 25 in the constitutional court, one of the country’s highest, his lawyer said today. Indonesia shares and the rupiah rose on news of Widodo’s win even as Prabowo’s move risks a further month of uncertainty for investors in Asia’s fifth-biggest economy.

“It has never been done before in the history of Indonesia’s presidential election, this kind of dispute in the constitutional court where the margin with the winner is already 6 percent,” said Nasir Tamara, a visiting professor at Gadjah Mada University in Yogyakarta. “It is very, very difficult because it is a clear majority.”

Prabowo, who the General Elections Commission, known as the KPU, said secured 46.85 percent of the vote, will file a suit setting out fraud in the election process and questioning the validity of about 30 million votes, Didi Supriyanto, a member of his legal team, said today by phone.

Indonesia's Rising Economic Nationalism

“The target is to affect the decision itself,” Supriyanto said. “But we are filing a lawsuit not merely to become the president, but more to show an election process that we consider has legal defects due to violations during the process.”

Alongside a court contest Prabowo will seek a parliamentary special commission to investigate the election and ask police to probe the alleged fraud, his spokesman Tantowi Yahya told reporters in Jakarta. Prabowo, who pulled out of the tally after calling the ballot “undemocratic,” has three days to file his case with the court, whose verdict is binding.

‘Not Against’

The result is the closest since direct elections for president started a decade ago as part of Indonesia’s return to democracy following the fall of longtime dictator Suharto in 1998. The campaign between Widodo, known as Jokowi, and Prabowo, a 62-year-old former army commando who was once married to Suharto’s daughter, divided Indonesia between those looking for a more liberal democracy and those nostalgic for a leader who projects strength.

“We’re not against Jokowi,” said Muhammad Mahendradatta, the head of Prabowo’s legal team. “This matter and legal action is not a claim or complaint towards Jokowi,” he told reporters. “Maybe Jokowi will get more votes as a result but this is a case against the KPU for improper and unlawful conduct.”

Jokowi Rise

The victory for Jokowi, 53, caps a rapid ascent for a man who in 2005, as a businessman with no political experience, ran for mayor in his hometown of Solo in central Java and later became governor of Jakarta. His political savvy will be tested as he prepares to take over the presidency in October for an economy that grew at the slowest pace since 2009 in the first quarter.

“Jokowi’s win means a lot because this is the first time an ordinary person could win the election in Indonesia,” said Ikrar Nusa Bhakti, a political analyst at the Jakarta-based Indonesian Institute of Sciences. “Previously all of the presidential candidates were either former military men, or the son or daughters of the high-ranking people in Indonesia.”

During the bruising presidential campaign, rival Mr. Prabowo characterised Mr. Joko as an unsophisticated, small-town politician who lacked the ability to lead a large nation. But Mr. Joko noted that he would be the only president in Indonesian history to take office with prior experience in running a government.

In his victory speech aboard a schooner in Jakarta’s harbor last night, as supporters banged drums, Jokowi thanked Prabowo for being a “friend in political competition.”

‘One Indonesia’

“Let’s go back to one Indonesia,” Jokowi said. “We are strong because we are united, we are united because we are strong.”

The results remove some uncertainty for the market, and the scale of the win suggests it is unlikely a court challenge would succeed, said Alvin Pattisahusiwa, chief investment officer at Manulife Aset Manajemen Indonesia in Jakarta. The Jakarta Composite index gained 0.2 percent while the rupiah was 0.8 percent higher against the dollar at 11,511 as of 3:25 p.m. in Jakarta.

The challenge for Jokowi is “how to tell the people that we are Indonesians, we have to accept the result and we have to unite our energy to develop Indonesia,” Bhakti said. Jokowi said in an interview July 21 that his experience of a close election in Jakarta would help him manage any polarization over the result and that his first priority from today would be selecting a cabinet and assessing the health of the economy.

Constitutional Court

After the July 9 vote both candidates claimed victory based on the findings of unofficial quick counts -- though all the counts that agreed to be audited showed Jokowi winning -- and called on supporters to guard against manipulation of the official tally. Prabowo had previously said he would challenge the official result in the court if his camp gathered the evidence to do so.

If the court were to accept a case, election rules state the nine judges would hear arguments in August and rule by Aug. 24, in time for the next president to take over on Oct. 20, when President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s second term ends. In a country where graft is widespread, the court would be under pressure to deliver a clean verdict.

Indonesia, the world’s fourth-most populous country, ranked 114th among 177 countries in a 2013Transparency International corruption perceptions survey. The constitutional court itself has a history of corruption, with the previous chief justice, Akil Mochtar, serving a life sentence after being found guilty of graft and money laundering in a case the court heard involving a local election challenge.

While there were irregularities in the election, there was no evidence of systematic fraud, said Paul Rowland, a Jakarta-based political analyst and former Indonesia country director for advocacy group the National Democratic Institute.

‘Credible Job’

“It is hard to see how this victory could be overturned,” he said. “The bottom line is that the election commission did a credible job under difficult circumstances. They deserve credit for a good election. The basic fact is that the numbers add up and they have been independently verified by credible polling firms.”

“I think there is going to be a lot of protests if the constitutional court overturns a margin of 6 percent, but you know Indonesia is the land of negotiation and everything is possible,” said Nasir Tamara from Gadjah Mada University.

Between 2010 and 2012 Indonesia’s economy achieved annual growth rates  of more than 6%, mostly thanks to the country’s abundant natural resources and robust domestic consumption.

In an interview on July 21, Jokowi said if there is friction in Indonesia it is among the nation’s elite and he didn’t think any political divide would persist.

“I’m sure after maybe two weeks, after one month it will already be finished and we will start returning to normal, with farmers going to the rice field, and then the fishermen going to the sea and then the workers going to the factory,” he said. “I think we are a diverse and dynamic country and we have unity in diversity.”


He said he planned to meet with the leaders of key political parties, including Golkar -- the nation’s second-largest party -- and Yudhoyono’s Democratic Party of Indonesia, which both backed Prabowo.

Some senior members of Golkar, the party of Jokowi’s running mate Jusuf Kalla, have previously indicated they may swing their support to Jokowi.

“We know that the coalitions will be changed,” said Bhakti. “This is typical of Indonesian political parties. If they lose in presidential elections, they move to the winner’s camp.”

Drajad Wibowo, the deputy chairman of the National Mandate Party, or PAN, said today there is no change to the party’s alliance with Prabowo.

Governing Challenges

Jokowi will face challenges governing a fractured electorate. He will need to provide jobs and education to a growing population spread out across 900 inhabited islands in an archipelago that would stretch from New York to Alaska, at a time when demand for its commodities such as coal and palm oil has slowed.

As  27% of the 2014 budget is spent on fuel subsidies, a litre of petrol costs just $0.50 or 30 pence in Indonesia. 

Jokowi faces increasingly complicated regional relations, including territorial disputes with Chinathat are simmering on Indonesia’s doorstep in the South China Sea and strained ties withAustralia over allegations of spying.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry issued a statement congratulating him on the win, as did U.K. Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond. The leaders of Malaysia and Singapore sent congratulations to Jokowi on their Twitter accounts.

“Challenges for Indonesia are plenty ahead,” said Gundy Cahyadi, an economist for DBS Bank based in Singapore. “I think at some point, we need to understand that we can’t expect things to change suddenly in the short period of time. What’s important is that we’re going to see baby steps, that Jokowi is going to take one step at a time.”

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