Indonesian Civil Society takes Ownership of 2014 Elections

“This time, there is a clean, good person worth fighting for. That’s why I’m guarding the polling station; for the future of a better Indonesia.” (The Guardian, 10 July 2014). Is it possible that the right person at the right moment is all it takes to change Indonesian elections for the future? Our senior development officer weighs in.

This year’s Indonesian elections saw a change that could be meaningful for promoting fairer proceedings and increased levels of trust among the huge electorate. Following Parliamentary elections in April 2014, presidential elections were organized in Indonesia on 9 July. This huge logistical challenge – more than 500,000 polling stations across the 13,000 islands of the archipelago, receiving about 133 million votes – was uniquely exciting as the two competing candidates reflected a juxtaposition between the old and the new.

Prabowo Subianto, the 62 year old ex-military represented the old school of Indonesian elite. He was strongly committed to Suharto’s regime and after he retired from the military he became a wealthy entrepreneur owning 27 companies, in oil, plantations and fishery. Joko Widodo, or Jokowi, stands for the younger generation, rooting for change. Born to a furniture trading family in Java, Jokowi worked his way up to become the Mayor of Solo and Governor of Jakarta, and with his down-to-earth attitude and campaigning for the poor and vulnerable, he rose to levels of unprecedented popularity in a short time.

The rise of Jokowi didn’t come at a random moment: Indonesia is ready to step into a new era. People are done with vested interests, old networks and incapable government. Although the current president, Susilo Bambang Yudoyono, started out with a promising program and vision, he proved to be less effective than hoped. Looking at the series of presidents since the fall of Suharto’s government in 1998, this is a recurring pattern – presidents failing expectations after two or three years in office.

Disruptive as it may seem, such turn of events is to be expected. Indonesia has been changing rapidly after the economic, political and governance crisis in 1998. The dynamics in society were so fast and so encompassing; it would have been strange if one president could have been able to manage it for a long time. New expectations require new leadership. And in Indonesia this process has been peaceful, through elections, instead of violence or military coups.

An important element in this changed situation is the role of the population, civil society, before, during and after elections. Boosted by the possibilities of social media, the Indonesian people are getting involved in elections. Not just to position themselves outside and in contrast to government (NGO vs. Government), but in support of the candidate of their liking, affiliating themselves and volunteering to campaign actively.

For this year’s elections, it was the huge popularity of Jokowi amongst large groups of ‘ordinary’ people that caused him to be nominated as presidential candidate for the PDI-P, surpassing former President Megawati Sukarnoputri as the party’s nominee. His popularity was also a reason for many people to get active.

During elections, especially during the counting of the votes, the population was involved in monitoring, observation and checking the outcomes like it was never before. A Movement of 2 Million Volunteer Witnesses was launched by university alumni organizations, encouraging people across the country to use a mobile phone app designed to monitor voter’s registration and the vote counting procedures, to be witnessed and published online for all to watch. Other online initiatives to facilitate the public’s watchdog function were in place, such asKawal Pemilu, and Mata Massa. The expectation is that such initiatives have diminished the occurrence of irregularities this time, and it will prevent irregularities in the future; a major step in the democratic process.

On 22 July, the National Elections Committee KPU announced the results of the final counting in 33 provinces. Jokowi and his candidate Vice-President Jussuf Kalla were announced winners, with a 53% majority of the votes. Just before the announcement Prabowo decided to step down from the race, and turned to the Constitutional Court to contest the outcome of the elections due to alleged manipulation of votes. We have to see what this case will bring, but chances of success are slim. Indonesia again proves to be able to keep its calm, while transforming further into a democratic society, with a mature population claiming its right to vote and demanding fair and just processes. Now we have to wait and see if Jokowi can satisfy the huge expectations he raised, as it won’t be an easy task ahead.

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