IO – Not since the ending of Suharto’s New Order in 1998 and the beginnings of reformasi has Indonesia experienced so many setbacks to its democracy. This is a big disappointment since most of Suharto’s successors—B.J. Habibie, Abdurrahman Wahid, Megawati Soekarnoputri and Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono—all played pivotal roles, to varying degrees, in advancing and safeguarding democracy. As a result, the larger community of democratic nations found good reason to praise Indonesia for its accomplishments in advancing civil liberties and ridding itself of the vestiges of authoritarian rule.
Twenty-one years later, Indonesia’s democracy now finds itself at serious risk. Instead of moving forward, the country has unmistakably been headed in the opposite direction for the past five years under the leadership of Jokowi. The evidence is damning and plain in sight, even for those who even take a cursory interest in Indonesian politics.
To wit, The Economist newsweekly recently pointed out Jokowi has used “dodgy tactics” to suppress his critics. None of his predecessors had done so, but for Jokowi it has become a regular practice. For example, his administration has blocked numerous marches by pro-opposition groups, using flimsy excuses that they did not possess the proper permits. Prominent critics have either been harassed or criminalized. Many are sitting in jail. Minority groups are under attack, as well.
This authoritarian turn raises fears of a return to a Suharto-type New Order. Such fears are not unfounded: the president’s closest advisors include unsavory figures from the Suharto era that were known for using brutal tactics to keep in place a regime that ruled Indonesia for over three decades.
Hence it should come as no surprise to our readers that the president and his men are now trying to serve the most serious type of harm to Indonesia’s democracy by manipulating the electoral system as a means of staying in power. If they succeed, we see little hope for the country’s future as a democratic state. Democratic backsliding would surely get worse if Jokowi gets his way and stays in power for another five years. Elections, as we have seen in many other countries where democracy is under siege, would become nothing more than a sham.
What happens next, over the coming weeks and months, will prove to be crucial. There are now mountains of evidence that the vote tallies recorded in the original summary forms, or C1s, which were collected at each of the 800,000 polling stations, have been and continue to be systematically altered to favor the incumbent. Hundreds of thousands of photographs of C1s taken by election observers at polling stations on Election Day are now being compared against the National Election Commission’s database in the on-going real count—in numerous cases votes for Prabowo Subianto have not been recorded, or they have been changed in Jokowi’s favor. The National Elections Commission claims these are merely human errors and not part of a larger conspiracy to steal the elections. But when these so-called errors occur on such a large scale and consistently show a bias in favor of Jokowi, these claims completely lack credulity.
Once the Prabowo team will have finished its task of sorting and cataloguing the evidence and shows beyond any reasonable doubt that large-scale fraud did in fact occur, there is a risk the Jokowi administration will ignore the findings and insist the Commission’s so-called real count is valid. Any attempts by the Prabowo team to have its case heard in a fair and impartial manner will more than likely stymied.
Resolving rigged elections and finding an elegant solution will not be an easy matter. If the National Elections Commission and the justice system colludes with the incumbent regime (which is more than likely), then there will be no other recourse left for Indonesians than to exercise their right of assembly and peaceful protest.
Protests, especially on a large scale, could force the hand of the government to come clean and meet the demands for fair elections. This could mean the government arranging for a new election, only this time to be overseen fully by internationally respected bodies, such as the Carter Center, to prevent fraud from happening again.
There is another scenario, and much worse. As the Jokowi administration has done in the past, it could attempt to ban protests by claiming they are unlawful. This would be a huge miscalculation by the government, inflaming the peoples’ sense of injustice and being cheated out of their democracy. Indonesia has come a long way since those days of May 1998 when people across the country protested and then finally celebrated their hopes for democracy finally coming to fruition. It is a moment in history nobody can afford to forget, especially Jokowi as he ponders what he should do next.