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Voters look to have opted for open society over ‘strong man’

This election was a crucial moment for Indonesia. Former general Prabowo Subianto’s campaign rhetoric made it clear that voters were faced with a stark choice between consolidation of the democratic reforms…

Election workers add a touch of World Cup colour to the process as a women casts her vote in Surabaya. EPA/Fully Handoko

This election was a crucial moment for Indonesia. Former general Prabowo Subianto’s campaign rhetoric made it clear that voters were faced with a stark choice between consolidation of the democratic reforms that Indonesia embraced after the fall of Soeharto in 1998, and the open society they created, or the possibility of a return to the authoritarian system that prevailed for 32 years before that.

Joko Widodo, popularly known as Jokowi, faced a “black” campaign of smears and innuendo of a kind not seen before in Indonesian elections. He also had to overcome a sophisticated grass-roots campaign bankrolled by Prabowo’s huge family wealth. This and the Jokowi campaign’s wooden performance turned his convincing lead into a knife-edge margin.

But if the official “quick count” numbers are right, then it appears that in the end Indonesians opted by a small margin to keep “muddling though” rather than put their faith in a “strong man” again.

This is good news for Australia’s relationship with Indonesia. Australia would have faced real difficulty in dealing with Prabowo, given his dark human rights record, including in Papua and East Timor, to say nothing of his volatile temperament.

It will not be all plain sailing, however. We can expect a period of political turbulence before results are confirmed in a month’s time, as Prabowo and his supporters won’t give up easily. A swathe of disputed returns is likely to be lodged with the courts.

Even if he is indeed sworn in on October 20, the new president Jokowi will be under huge pressure to win legitimacy from almost half the population - particularly by demonstrating nationalist credentials. We can therefore expect tougher responses on issues of Indonesian territorial integrity than has been the case when Australia’s “best friend in the region”, outgoing president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, was in the palace.

How the Coalition government works with Indonesia’s incoming administration over the next 12 months will likely decide how the bilateral relationship fares for years to come.

A Jokowi victory offers the chance for a re-set that can put the wire-tap tensions of the last eight months behind us, and get the relationship back on track. And clearly, finalising the “roadmap” agreement on military, intelligence and people smuggling that Jakarta requires to lift our diplomatic relationship from its current officially downgraded status will be a vital part of this. This needs to be signed off before Yudhoyono steps down in October.

The good news is that Jokowi has repeatedly made it clear that negotiation and dialogue are his preferred first options in resolving international disputes. In the case of Australia, he has emphasised government-to-government links, business-to-business links and, best of all, people-to-people links. If he is serious about this, then that gives Australia plenty to work with.

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14 Comments sorted by

  1. Mark Harrigan

    PhD Physicist

    "How the Coalition government works with Indonesia’s incoming administration over the next 12 months will likely decide how the bilateral relationship fares for years to come."

    Given the Abbot/Bishop/Coalition track record pre election and since of various forms of megaphone diplomacy (playing more to fear mongering and encouraging a sense of us and them domestically) this statement does not fill me with optimism.

    I can only hope that by the time the new Indonesian president assumes his role our Coalition government will have learned a bit more nuanced approach to dealing with our important and closest large neighbour

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    1. Neil Dawkins

      Consultant

      In reply to Mark Harrigan

      I believe it is impossible for this government to change.

      These are absolutely desperate times and not everyone has recognised it yet!

      It can't be spelled out often enough that this government in more than one way is a total disaster.. I sincerely hope many more in the "responsible" media will finally play their part!

      PETER FREY on another thread summed it up very eloquently:

      I thought it worth repeating. I hope he approves.

      Here it is:

      There's a pattern to this sort of ideology and politics…

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    2. InnoFuture

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Neil Dawkins

      "These are absolutely desperate times and not everyone has recognised it yet!"

      This sentence together with Peter Frey's "We are not a year into this regime yet and already so much damage is being done. It horrifies me to think of the permanent damage that will be done within 3 years."

      As a professional trying to evangelise business innovation and competitiveness of Australian business - so that we do not become a banana republic or another Greece - i have similar concerns.

      With decisions being…

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  2. Ben Rose

    Environmental Consultant

    If Jokowi has won then we can all thank God. My impressions on visiting Bali and Timor a few times are these:
    Indonesians are a peaceful, orderly and civilized poeple.
    There is a stark contrast between Indonesians and Kopassus - their corrupt and brutal armed force that Prabowo has close links with, and which is still committing its brutality in West Papua, as it did in Timor for so many years.

    Unfortunately Indonesia appears to be greatly influenced by a corrupt media as we are here in Australia (with the Murdoch media). It will have been a case of money buying lies, so many will have been misinformed about Probowi and his' intentions', as we were about Abbott. Liars, like leopards do not change their spots

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    1. Hassan el-Muhammed

      logged in via email @gmail.com

      In reply to Ben Rose

      "Unfortunately Indonesia appears to be greatly influenced by a corrupt media as we are here in Australia (with the Murdoch media)."

      You have a strange view of corruption. The only organisation that has had journalists convicted of hacking is Fairfax Media. The only organisation that has had paedophiles convicted is their ABC.

      Meanwhile, News Corp provides unbiased news, ulike Fairfax or the ABC, like for example, reporting on the royal commission into corruption.

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    2. Henry Verberne

      Once in the fossil fuel industry but now free to speak up

      In reply to Hassan el-Muhammed

      I will take your comments as a joke as a factual claim is unsupportable.

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  3. William Boeder

    Conservation inclined and wizened ex-serviceman.

    Let's hope like all get-out the pre-announcement is full of factual substance, the irony here is that the military strongman who would not stop at any forms of intimidation or whatever other distractive tools he held in his war-chest to nab voters to achieve his leadership goal, was ultimately halted by the slimmest of margins. Fingers still crossed.

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    1. Neil Dawkins

      Consultant

      In reply to William Boeder

      Let us hope for a Jokowi victory. I see strong similarities with our situation here in OZ.

      "Joko Widodo, popularly known as Jokowi, faced a “black” campaign of smears and innuendo of a kind not seen before in Indonesian elections. He also had to overcome a sophisticated grass-roots campaign bankrolled by Prabowo’s huge family wealth."

      The Gillard government also faced a “black” campaign of smears and innuendo of a kind not seen before in Australian elections.
      She had to overcome an unrelenting and vicious "regime change vendetta" orchestrated by vested interests, NewsCorp/IPA/LNP!

      Australia's un-sophisticated, misinformed and largely somnambulist voters believed the lies that were told.

      We are now paying the price!

      I sincerely hope Indonesians were smarter!

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    2. Georgina Byrne
      Georgina Byrne is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Farmer at Farming

      In reply to Neil Dawkins

      Hear hear Neal. It is great to hear that a people far more lacking in opportunities of education and other social benefits can make a thoughtful and sensible decision to elect a man whose platform includes the implementation of universal health care and the provision of universal education whilst we, as a nation far wealthier and with far more opportunities have gone the other way! Fingers crossed it's true and peace and persuasion does triumph over aggressive bullying in our near neighbourhood.

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    3. Neil Dawkins

      Consultant

      In reply to Georgina Byrne

      Yes, let us hope Indonesia can succeed where we have failed.

      I am deeply concerned, as you and many other enlightened contributors here, about the direction in which we are heading as a nation!

      How insular are we in Australia? How informed are we? Are we interested what other nations think about us?

      These are some questions we should be asking ourselves.

      I have made it a regular habit to stay up-to-date with current events through the eyes of a, in my opinion, more honest overseas media.

      Australia's abysmal, captured mainstream media again failed to properly report on a variety of issues.

      Alan Austin, reporting from France, created a handy and helpful summary of how Australia is seen by outsiders.

      I found it extremely interesting, why not check it out:

      http://www.independentaustralia.net/politics/politics-display/abbott-continues-to-trash-australias-international-reputation,6652

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  4. Ken Alderton

    PhD student, former CEO

    This article ought to be posted on the Bulletin Board in Tony Abbott's office. Just above the "It's the Boat People, Stupid" sign.

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  5. Alex Njoo

    Architect/academic (ret.)

    It is interesting to note that, while Indonesia's national trajectory takes a "kinder path" under the possible election win of presidential candidate Joko Widodo , Australia's gathering momentum to return to a Neo-colonialism era with her harsh attitude towards asylum seekers and a socially divisive national agenda. In the year to come how will Indonesia, the world's third largest Democracy, perceive us as a close regional neighbour?

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  6. Ross Taylor

    Chairman, Indonesia Institute Inc at Indonesia Institute (Inc)

    Ben Rose (see below) expressed concern at the role of social media in this election. In some ways it was social media that 'saved' Jokowi when the polls were showing that Prabowo was going to storm past him. Either way, social media has been a real 'winner' in this campaign and it is a sign of things to come.

    The ongoing concern for Indonesia over the next few months will be how Prabowo supporters accept the result, if in fact Jokowi is announced the formal winner and becomes the next president. I fear these people may not accept the verdict well. I hope I am wrong.

    In the meantime, as Tim Lindsey has articulated, the election process has been a triumph for democracy. It is perhaps easier to get democracy established, than to actually retain it, and then make it work. Well done Indonesia, and all Australians should give a large sigh of relief!!

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    1. Ken Alderton

      PhD student, former CEO

      In reply to Ross Taylor

      Social media is the main means that Indonesians these days get information. The use of social media in Indonesia is astronomocal. As far back as 2011, some authors were claiming that Indonesians were the largest users of social media in the world. It was inevitable that it would replace TV as the main medium for electioneering. Both sides in this presidental election put out most of their election material via this medium. Almost one on one contact. One of the reasons for the huge takeup of social…

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