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What next if Jokowi wins presidential race by a narrow margin?

Indonesian pollster Litbang Kompas recently caused a stir when its latest opinion poll on the upcoming presidential election put the electability of President Joko ‘Jokowi’ Widodo and his running mate Ma’ruf Amin at 49.2 per cent, compared to the 37.4 registered by their rivals Prabowo Subianto and Sandiaga Uno.

While most recent polls suggest that President Joko ‘Jokowi’ Widodo is ahead of his rival, the traditionally safe mark of 60 per cent in poll has proven elusive and there is a sense that the election will be a touch-and-go affair.

While most recent polls suggest that President Joko ‘Jokowi’ Widodo is ahead of his rival, the traditionally safe mark of 60 per cent in poll has proven elusive and there is a sense that the election will be a touch-and-go affair.

Indonesian pollster Litbang Kompas recently caused a stir when its latest opinion poll on the upcoming presidential election put the electability of President Joko ‘Jokowi’ Widodo and his running mate Ma’ruf Amin at 49.2 per cent, compared to the 37.4 registered by their rivals Prabowo Subianto and Sandiaga Uno.

This is because other pollsters have consistently placed President Jokowi’s electability at between 50 and 55 per cent.

While most recent polls suggest that Mr Widodo is ahead of his rival, the traditionally safe mark of 60 per cent in poll has proven elusive and there is a sense that the election will be a touch-and-go affair.

As things stand, a repeat of the 2014 presidential elections results - where Mr Widodo won 53.15 per cent of the votes against Mr Subianto’s 46.85 ─ is all too probable.

If so, what does a tenuous victory mean for Mr Widodo?

For a president lionised by his ardent supporters as Indonesia’s “Father of Infrastructure”, the likelihood of a narrow victory against his longtime rival must come as a great anti-climax.

Hailed as a man of the people when first elected in 2014, he was a president who had promised to bring about great changes.

He has since had almost five years to stack up his political capital in his bid for a second and final term. 2019 should really be the moment for the people to cast their vote of confidence in his administration’s achievements.

A lacklustre electoral performance, if it comes to pass, can be interpreted as a statement of censure against his administration, even in victory.

To be sure, things have not gone as the president would have wished for.

With opposition forces dominated by increasingly vocal Islamists, Mr Widodo has had to prove his Muslim credentials, culminating in his choice of a cleric as his running mate.

In doing so, he has also distanced himself from various minority groups he courted in 2014, alienating some in the process.

More importantly, the mega infrastructure projects his administration embarked upon have fallen short of generating the expected economic growth.

In 2014 Jokowi promised 7 per cent annual economic growth but 2018’s growth fell well short at 5.17 per cent. 

External forces, such as the United States-China trade war and the latter’s economic slowdown, have also affected the Indonesian economy.

The rupiah has taken quite a beating during the president’s term. When he took office, it was around 11,000 to the US dollar but in 2018 it fell to around 14,000.

President Jokowi’s camp is aware that the economic numbers are not rosy, even if they tend to be downplayed. The president recently told the press he was “only expecting a 5 per cent increase” in vote share from 2014, adding he was confident that he would garner between 57 and 58 per cent of the votes.

Even if he manages to pull off such a margin, he will remain the Indonesian president with the least winning votes since direct presidential election was instituted in 2004.

His predecessor, Mr Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, better known as SBY, received around 60 per cent of the votes when he first won the presidency in 2004. He successfully maintained the figure five years later when he secured a second term.

Frustration within President Jokowi’s camp has also seen it lash out against Golput (literally the White Camp) voters; that is those who choose to abstain or not vote.

A recent study by Lingkaran Survey Indonesia suggests that the number of abstainers in this year’s elections may be greater than that in 2014, when around 30 per cent of eligible voters failed to cast their votes in the presidential election.

Most abstainers in Indonesian elections tend to be those who face logistical issues, as voters have to be physically in the district they are registered with to cast their vote.

The concern in the Jokowi camp is that a percentage of abstainers in this year’s elections will be those who supported him in 2014 but who have since grown disaffected. They are seen as such a threat that the Coordinating Minister for Politics, Law and  Security Wiranto called them ‘“troublemakers” and that anyone caught to be urging others not to vote on social media will be prosecuted.

Even the government-funded Indonesian Council of Ulema has waded in and issued a fatwa, declaring voting to be “mandatory”.

A narrow victory for Mr Widodo could undermine the president’s political stature and bargaining power with the political parties supporting his presidency.

The fact that he cannot seek a third term could also lead to some of his allies seeing him as a lame duck.

Mr Widodo’s hand is further weakened by the fact that he does not command a political party. To pass any legislative programme through Parliament, he is effectively beholden to the party bosses within his coalition.

By contrast, SBY had the foresight to found a new party - Partai Demokrat (PD) - before launching his presidential bid.

PD was also a beneficiary of SBY’s first term as president as it succeeded in going from the fifth largest party in parliament in 2004 to become the largest in 2009.

Assuming the recent polls are an accurate representation of how Indonesians will vote this month in the presidential election, the country seems headed for a second term under President Jokowi, even if his victory is likely to be narrow.

However, Indonesian voters have been known to defy polls. In the 2016 gubernatorial election in Jakarta, for instance, most pollsters were off-the-mark when they had predicted votes for the current Governor Anies Baswedan to be less than or slightly above 50 per cent.

He eventually won almost 58 per cent of the votes.  

How Mr Widodo may perform could well depend on how the currently 10 to 15 per cent of undecided voters cast their ballot.

Whatever the end result may be, as with the 2014 presidential election, the only certainty this year is how it has divided Indonesia.

If Mr Widodo is indeed re-elected, he may have to resort to extraordinary measures to attempt to unite the nation, such as inviting Mr Subianto’s camp into his new administration, as suggested by MP Maruarar Sirait, a prominent young politician from The Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), the largest party in the president’s coalition. 

Should his rival refuse, Mr Widodo’s last term looks set to be characterised by the same polarising petty mud slinging we have witnessed for the past four and a half years.  

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Johannes Nugroho is a writer and political analyst from Surabaya whose commentaries have appeared in the Jakarta Post and Jakarta Globe since the 1990s. He is currently working on his first novel set around the May 1998 riots in Indonesia.

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