What happens next?

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IO – After last week’s elections, The Australian daily newspaper ran the astonishing headline “Loser Prabowo claims victory on Indonesia.”  Local media outlets with close ties to the ruling elite were even less evenhanded in telling readers the election was a foregone conclusion.   Many could not resist the temptation to make disparaging remarks about Prabowo, insisting he is a sore loser.  Desi Anwar, for example, who works with CNN Indonesia, went so far to say that Prabowo’s claim he won a majority of the votes made him into a “delusional” figure and “megalomaniac”. 

   Such lack of civil discourse in our politics in general and elections in particular is not only disturbing, it also defeats the purpose of our democratic elections.  Media commentators should be reminded their job is to educate their listeners and readers about the elections and electoral process, not take sides.  Politicians from the ruling and opposing coalitions must also refrain from harsh rhetoric. Not doing so can only pose the risk that Jokowi and Prabowo supporters will become further entrenched.  There are many examples in other countries where such divided politics leads to unrest in the streets.  This must be avoided at all costs.

   A good first start in safeguarding the country’s stability is for the media to play a more responsible role.  This would begin with stopping debates about the so-called quick count and their reliability in predicting the final winner.  Quick counts are only as good as those who perform them, but trying to debate the objectivity of the companies behind them is a useless exercise since people will only believe what they want to believe.  

   We have frequently highlighted in this column, for example, the fact that most of Indonesia’s survey companies are nothing more than guns for hire by parties that are willing to pay big money to influence our perceptions about winners and losers.   Yet we know constantly making this point will not sway hard-die Jokowi supporters.    Similarly, media’s making the opposite argument, that quick counts are reliable, is not about to change the minds of Prabowo supporters.  Either way, it is a fool’s errand. 

   Then there is the real count.   Indonesia’s elections, which are conducted manually, require a massive effort in recapitulating the results from individual ballot paper at each of the country’s 800,000 polling stations in which over 190 million voters participated.  It is the National Election Commission’s responsibility to collect these results and then present them on its national database.

   One could be lead into believing the real count is the end of the entire matter, that if the KPU reports a candidate as being the winner, there is no more room for debate.  But this, too, is not true:  a real count is no more reliable than the process and people behind it.    There have already appeared to be numerous instances of irregularities, and as evidence mounts that this year’s election may end up being the worse ever in Indonesia’s history, the Indonesian public needs to understand that elections can be an imperfect exercise and subject to fraud.  As much as possible, this is something the media also needs to carefully and fully explain without inflaming passions on both sides of the aisle.

   At the time of this writing, it is still uncertain where the final real count will end up.   Prabowo’s camp has collected huge amounts of evidence on fraud.  If the KPU’s final count still shows Jokowi as the winner of the election, then there is no doubting a serious legal challenge in the Constitutional Court will ensue.  The media and foreign observers should not only expect this—they should also be fully supportive since Prabowo will be exercising his right to contest the results.   To criticize him for doing so would be a disservice not only to Prabowo supporters, but also the principles behind the electoral process.

    If, indeed, the final arbiter of this year’s election is the Constitutional Court, a grave responsibility lies ahead.  Politicians in power and the temptations of money unfortunately, often sway our country’s judges.  Yet they must be reminded that no greater duty is before them than upholding the integrity of our elections.  If sufficient evidence is brought to bear on electoral fraud, then the members of the Constitutional Court must hear that evidence and bring it into full consideration without prejudice when making its ruling.   Anything less will be a betrayal to those who have fought and worked so hard to maintain our democracy.