Indonesia: Jokowi's 'unprecedented' presidential bid

Jokowi's program features democratic reforms, Dr Vannessa Hearman said.
Monday, July 14, 2014

The unofficially successful bid for presidency Joko Widodo (popularly known as Jokowi) is “unprecedented thus far in post-authoritarian Indonesia”, according to Dr Vannessa Hearman, a lecturer in Indonesian Studies at the University of Sydney.

The bid survived a vicious anti-communist smear campaign by supporters of Jokowi's sole contender for presidency — the sacked former Suharto-era general Prabowo Subianto.

Indonesian-born Hearman did her doctoral thesis on the 1965-68 anti-communist repression in Indonesia. About half-a-million members and sympathisers of the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) were killed in the period, so she knows a bit about the power of anti-communist propaganda in that country.

Dr Vannessa Hearman will be the guest speaker at a Green Left forum in Sydney on Tuesday August 5 which will discuss what this election means for the struggle for democracy in Australia's largest neighbour. More details here.

In an article published in The Conversation five days before the July 9 presidential election, Hearman described how Prabowo's supporters first spread “rumours that Jokowi is a secret Christian and of Chinese ethnicity”, then followed this with accusations that he had “communist sympathies”.

Jokowi's party, the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), she wrote, was said to be riddled with “communists”. The fact that Budiman Sudjatmiko, a former leader of the radical People's Democratic Party during the struggle to topple the Suharto dictatorship, is now a PDI-P parliamentarian was used to support the charge.

A visit in May to East Timor by Budiman, at the invitation of the Timorese government, to discuss the role of village councils was painted by Prabowo supporters as an attempt to consult “communist leader” Mari Alkatiri in East Timor, Hearman said.

In another recent article published in New Mandala, Hearman described how a photo of Jokowi standing beside the grave of Boris Yeltsin was circulated on Twitter to accuse Jokowi of having communist sympathies.

The photo was circulated with the question: “Have you finished studying communism in Russia and China, Jok?”

Jokowi has denied he has any “communist sympathies”, but he has promised to resolve past human rights abuses, including the 1965-66 killings. This follows the example of Indonesia's last reform-minded president, Abdurrahman Wahid (popularly known as “Gus Dur”), who invited former PKI exiles to return to Indonesia in 1999, and proposed removing restrictions on open discussion of communism.

Hearman told Green Left Weekly that Jokowi's program was not left-wing, but featured democratic reforms. However, such reforms challenge the political status quo.

“Jokowi's popularity as the mayor of Solo in Central Java, which propelled him to the position of governor in Jakarta in 2012 was what attracted the attention of the PDI-P in the first place to nominate him as presidential candidate.

“Jokowi has captured the imagination of people as to what Indonesia could look like. His program of reforms might have looked modest but these are the basic things Indonesia has needed for a long time.

“Free health and education, a mass transit system, open spaces and parks, assistance for market traders through market renovation schemes, cleaning up the public service to speed up access to services and reduce corruption.

“He has also been the only candidate to promise to deal with human rights abuses under Suharto including the 1965-66 killings. Jokowi’s win itself will be one step of putting the past to rest — and that’s the earlier dominance of former military officers and figures only from the elite running for president.

“Seeing the huge popularity of Jokowi, elite figures, such as retired general Wiranto himself also accused of human rights abuses in East Timor, have associated themselves with the Jokowi campaign.

“With a Jokowi win, it’s time to demand that those in his own campaign be dealt with when it comes to past human rights abuses. There would have been no chance of enforcing any acountability measures under a Prabowo presidency, given his own personal links with human rights abuses.

“If Prabowo had won, there is a danger that many democratic reforms would have been rolled back. He has been quoted as saying democracy is too costly.”

However, Prabowo is refusing to concede the election. He is disputing the method and results of the quick count by seven survey agencies. Media channels in the Prabowo camp are reporting the results of three survey companies showing a Prabowo win.

Hearman said: “Quick count results were good enough in previous elections, but apparently not in this one. This move is designed to sow confusion, doubt and possibly unrest in the country in the next few weeks before the results are available on July. And there is no guarantee that destabilisation of a Jokowi administration will not continue after July 22.”

Jokowi supporters are now on guard for any attempts to tamper with the official result in the process of completing the national tally of reports from polling sites around this large and dispersed country.

On July 13, volunteer groups supporting Jokowi held a demonstration outside the electoral commission offices in Jakarta. The Indonesian media has published a number of photographs of election return forms with discrepancies in the count.

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