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INDONESIA POLLS: Turning that Joko magic to hard reality

Publication Date : 11-07-2014


Joko Widowo's fairytale journey from furniture factory to presidential palace now seems complete, opening what most Indonesians
hope will be a new chapter in their country's democratic development that until a year ago had been a closed book.

Six usually accurate quick-counts show the Indonesian Democratic Party-Struggle (PDI-P) candidate beating Great Indonesia Movement (Gerindra) leader Prabowo Subianto by a comfortable 52 per cent to 47 per cent in Wednesday's presidential election.

While three other obscure survey companies narrowly favoured Prabowo, two by a hair's breadth, Joko's nearly 5 per cent edge - if confirmed - is enough to get him beyond the point where his victory could be open to serious challenge.

But with a glum Prabowo refusing to concede and his dominant coalition pushing through an election-eve amendment denying PDI-P automatic control over the speakership, it may be a rough few weeks before the official result is announced on July 22.

The two-horse race was closer than anyone had predicted, suggesting that when Joko's new coalition administration takes power in October, many Indonesians will be looking to him for a lot firmer leadership than they have now.

Prabowo, a retired general with a famously hot temperament, was always seen as the man who would deliver that in spades.

Joko clearly got so sick of hearing it that in one presidential debate, he exclaimed: "You know, I can be tough too."

So where to from here? The PDI-P's coalition includes only the National Awakening, National Democrat and People's Conscience parties, giving it a minority 207 seats in the 560-seat House of Representatives.

But with maverick Golkar Party stalwart Jusuf Kalla as Joko's vice-president, it is almost certain the country's biggest political party will now seek to use that bridge to move to the government side, discarding chairman Aburizal Bakrie in the process.

The addition of former president Suharto's political machine, which has been a governing party throughout the democratic era, would give the PDI-P-led coalition 298 seats - and a clear majority in the House.

Bakrie's term had been extended from October to March next year in order to give him a free rein in coalition negotiations.

But after earlier being rebuffed by PDI-P leader Megawati Sukarnoputri, that is hardly likely to happen now.

"The party is at the lowest point it has ever been," says a lifelong Golkar member. "The need is for change, and Joko's victory will make it easier for us to change the party leadership." But even then, it is unlikely to enjoy the leverage it is accustomed to.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's former majority Democrat Party appears destined for five years in the opposition after he surprisingly abandoned his avowed neutrality and joined the five-party coalition of Prabowo and running mate Hatta Rajasa.

No doubt seeking protection for his family, the president told friends he tried very hard to hook up with PDI-P in the months before the election.

But Megawati, still embittered over his perceived betrayal in 2004, was having none of it.

As for Megawati, for all the talk of her pulling strings behind the scenes, the PDI-P's failure to run an effective campaign must surely have robbed her of her own leverage with a struggling candidate who had to rely on friends to pull him through.

Sitting alongside her, Joko looked almost stony-faced when Megawati emerged at a press conference after the quick counts became conclusive to thank volunteers and declare his victory to be "a monumental phenomenon of democracy".

He only forced a smile when she said "I have also given my support, even though I have been in hiding" - a reference to her prolonged absence from the campaign, apparently to not give the impression that Joko is her puppet.

Analysts have found it difficult to explain the ups and downs of a campaign which pitted Prabowo's well-oiled, well-funded political machine against a disorganised team of well-meaning greenhorns who almost dropped the ball.

Indeed, by mid-June, the Joko camp was in despair, watching the Jakarta governor's lead melt from an almost unassailable 20 per cent to 2-3 per cent over two months. Then, for no obvious reason, he seemed to arrest the slide.

Quick counts aside, it will take a while to determine whether it may have been something as simple as the voter turnout itself which worked in Joko's favour in the country's closest-ever presidential race.

His supporters were enthusiastic and committed, willing to donate time and money - 300 billion rupiah (US$26.55 million) in small-scale donations at last count - to someone who is so simple and transparent it is often difficult to see him as a politician.

Prabowo's constituents, on the other hand, shared nowhere near that level of excitement.

Many of them only wanted to see a stronger hand at the helm after a decade under President Yudhoyono's wavering administration.

Predictably, the battle was won in populous Java, home to more than half of the country's 190 million eligible voters. But what may have helped Joko nationwide was a June poll showing rural support running at 47 per cent to 38 per cent in his favour.

Although the rural-urban population divide in Indonesia is now about 50:50, rural voters generally register a higher turnout than their urban counterparts, a trend that is even stronger in Thailand.

Age-wise, Joko's heaviest support came from voters 55 and over. Men were almost equal in their support for the two candidates, but women went for  Joko by 55 per cent to 44 per cent.

The higher the education, the better it was for Prabowo.

In Java, Mr Joko lost by significant margins in West Java and Banten, the bedrock of Muslim conservatism.

He won only narrowly in East Java - where Prabowo's smear campaign did the most damage - but came out well ahead in Yogyakarta, Jakarta and Central Java.

Joko swept most of Kalimantan and Sulawesi, doing a lot better than expected. But perhaps the biggest surprise was in Sumatra, where he picked up North Sumatra, Bengkulu, Lampung and Bangka Belitung, all provinces he had been tipped to lose.

He took his heaviest defeat in West Sumatra, falling by 80 per cent to just 19 per cent in a province where secular nationalism is a dirty word.

But he lost only narrowly in Aceh, a genuine surprise given Megawati's opposition to the province's special autonomy status.

In many ways, that can only be put down to the power of the Joko magic. Now he has to put it to constructive use.

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