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Elections in Indonesia

July 12, 2014

Jakarta, July 9, 2014

Sentiments on view at Bunderan HI

Sentiments on view at Bunderan HI

Indonesia conducted its presidential elections the day after I arrived in Jakarta this week. In the world’s third largest democracy, with 183 million registered voters and polling stations across 7,000 islands, this is a huge affair. But not just in scale – it has also been billed as the first Indonesian presidential election that could push it past its ties to Suharto’s authoritarian 32-year reign that ended in 1998.

The election offers stark differences: Joko Widodo (popularly known as Jokowi), the current governor of Jakarta, a populist in style and tone and reformer, against ex-general Prabowo Subianto, once Suharto’s son-in-law, who was dismissed from the military for abducting and torturing pro-democracy activists at the end of the Suharto era.

(To me, even with some valid criticism of Jokowi, there hardly seems to be a choice here! Jokowi’s governorship in Jakarta, hardly two years old, has already shifted and opened up the relationship between citizens and government. To do this on a national scale could bring about a real sea change in Southeast Asia – pun completely intended.)

I felt particularly privileged to witness this historic event in person. Walking around two kampungs (here, loosely, semi-formal urban villages) along the notorious Ciliwung River, where I am conducting research on community design in the face of climate change, I saw a number of polling stations handle their duties quietly and efficiently. Voters were eager to display their ink-tipped fingers showing that they had voted.

Voting station, Bukit Duri, Jakarta

Voting station, Bukit Duri, Jakarta

Voting station, Bukit Duri, Jakarta

Ballot box

Voting station, Bukit Duri, Jakarta

Finger inking

The political persuasions in the kampungs were, like the country at large, mixed. A group of young men enthusiastically declared their support for the former military leader Prabowo, saying he was berani (brave) and tangguh (strong). Nearby one could see banners and posters promoting Jokowi as a man of the people, proclaiming that he spent just about 100,000 IDR (approx. US$8.50) on each item of clothing.

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Flyer proclaiming Jokowi the people's choice for president

Flyer proclaiming Jokowi the people’s choice for president

Later in the day, I was in a taxi (frequent place to find one’s self in in Jakarta) when the announcement came over the radio that Jokowi had won the “quick count” vote tally. My taxi driver expressed surprise and nervousness at the speed of the announcement, saying that he himself preferred Jokowi, but that they needed to do this right.

Jokowi asserts his (presumed) victory

Jokowi asserts his (presumed) victory

Three days later, the results are still not clear. Both candidates have proclaimed victory, citing conflicting count tallies. Most legitimate sources appear to show a Jokowi win. Final results will be announced on July 22.

Jokowi supporters celebrate at Bunderan HI the evening of the election

Jokowi supporters celebrate at Bunderan HI the evening of the election

Police assemble after quietly dispersing celebrating Jokowi supporters at Bunderan HI in Jakarta

Police assemble after quietly dispersing crowds at Bunderan HI in Jakarta

Other views on the election:
Economist, pre-election
New York Times, post-election
Guardian, post-election
“Jokowi meets foreign press as fraud fears loom,” Jakarta Post, July 11, 2014

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