Prabowo Subianto’s eleventh-hour decision to challenge the outcome of the 9 July presidential election in the Constitutional Court is unlikely to alter the overall result, given the margin of victory enjoyed by Joko “Jokowi” Widodo.
In a dramatic turn-around, unsuccessful presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto will now challenge the election result, his team’s chief lawyer said Wednesday. Late on 22 July, it had looked as though the 62-year old, who lost the election by about six percentage points, or roughly 8.4 million votes, would reject the results altogether and withdraw his candidacy (discussed here in this week’s Strategic Weekly Analysis). But, by midday Wednesday, Prabowo’s team confirmed that an appeal would be launched in the Constitutional Court. Any challenge is unlikely to alter the overall result given the sizeable victory margin but, as fresh details begin to emerge, confusion may continue in Indonesia for some weeks yet.
Prabowo’s decision to review the vote comes less than 24 hours after the Gerindra party leader dismissed the electoral commission’s results, claiming that he would be withdrawing from the process. It was initially thought that Prabowo had withdrawn his candidacy, a move that would have seen him exhaust his right to launch a constitutional challenge. That does not seem to have been the case, however, although quite what inspired Prabowo’s late turn-around is still unclear.
The former military strongman may have realised that he has few other options available. His decision to reject the commission’s vote was widely interpreted by analysts as an attempt to delegitimise Jokowi’s win and the overall voting process. But most Indonesians were happy with the way the election was run and saw it as legitimate, with a recent survey finding that 93% of respondents wanted Prabowo to concede. Clearly, then, possible plans to mobilise his support base in a bid to incite protests and unrest, perhaps with an end goal of forcing a new election, would have fallen flat, especially with a high police presence around much of the country.
Yet, any constitutional challenge will also be unsuccessful. Prabowo has said that the recent election was tainted by widespread fraud and instances of voting irregularities. That may well be the case: Indonesian elections are frequently hampered by voting irregularities and constitutional challenges are common. But, barring any sensational revelations, a new election will not be called. Moreover, even if Prabowo does win on some claims, he will not be able to get enough votes recounted to alter the overall result; 8.4 million votes is simply an insurmountable lead. The Court will have until 24 August to reach its final decision, though it may well do so before.
A constitutional challenge may not necessarily be a bad thing for Indonesia, however. While confusion will surround the appeal for at least a few more weeks, the final outcome of the election is not in doubt; indeed, leaders from around the world, including Prime Minister Tony Abbott and US Secretary of State John Kerry, have already called to congratulate Jokowi on his win.
Rather, an appeal should offer the Court a vital opportunity to repair its reputation, with its integrity and impartiality being called into question of late. In June, former chief justice, Akil Mochtar, received a life sentence for accepting bribes to influence election disputes, while current chief justice Hamdan Zoelya once belonged to a political party that is now part of the Prabowo coalition. Much attention will therefore be focussed on its decision-making process. The Court, however, is likely to seize the opportunity to improve its standing while showing observers that Indonesia’s nascent democracy functions successfully.
The same cannot be said for Prabowo. Despite advice from his campaign leader and former Chief Justice of the Constitutional Court, Mohammad Mahfud, to not proceed any further, he has pushed on with a desperate legal challenge that he has almost no chance of winning. Already, his supporters are abandoning him and this latest challenge will be unlikely to win him any new ones.
Indian Ocean Research Programme