Indonesia has registered a vote for continuity, a triumph of the incumbent. President Joko Widodo is poised for a comfortable victory over the former special forces commander, Prabowo Subianto, by nine percentage points.
Of course the margin has been indicated by what they call “quick counts”; the final tally will be known only after a month given the National Election Commission’s “mammoth logistical undertaking” in a country that straddles thousands of islands.
Going by Indonesia’s electoral history, a psephological swing is improbable. In his moment of victory, President Widodo has been remarkably gracious ~ “Let us reunite as brothers and sisters of the country after this election, establish our harmony and brotherhood.”
This is the first time that the world’s thirdlargest democracy has held simultaneous presidential and parliamentary elections, and despite some hiccups the process appeared to run smoothly in most areas. Fairly convincing is the margin of the contest which has turned out to be tight; Widodo and his running mate, the Islamic cleric Ma’ruf Amin, have won 54.19 per cent of the votes, whereas Prabowo has fetched barely 45.81 per cent.
As President, Widodo has impressed voters with his commitment to building infrastructure and expanding social welfare, but has incurred criticism for having failed to address past human rights abuses and chronic corruption. Most recently, he is said to have leveraged the state apparatus, including law enforcement agencies and Islamic groups, to strengthen his support base.
In the run-up to the election, there were voters who seemed to be disillusioned with the President; some others were unimpressed with the challenger. Small wonder that a former General, accused of human rights abuses in East Timor, had vowed to abstain from voting. As the born-again President, Widodo will have to contend with a fair measure of disaffection within the country. In contrast to the innuendos and verbal aggression in the subcontinent, Indonesia showcases a celebratory ambience in the season of elections.
A festive atmosphere dominated polling stations across Jakarta, with voters proudly showing off purple-stained fingers, dipped in indelible ink after voting. Polling booths across the capital were decorated in red and white cloth, the colours of the Indonesian flag, as well as flowers and balloons, while personnel in some stations adopted fancy dress attire, with people dressing as superheroes and zombies.
It was an overwhelming mood of jollity, in contrast to the equally overwhelming tension in India. The inbuilt hiccups or the absence thereof are palpable in both nations, presently going through the motions of the democratic engagement.
Opinion on who should lead the country is divided both in the archipelago as well as in India. Arguably, the triumph of the incumbent may yet be the message of the hustings. Yet another critical signal ~ as distinct from what the vote in India might yield ~ is that Indonesia has registered a victory for Widodo’s moderation over the nationalist rhetoric of his rival, Prabowo Subianto.