Indonesia’s Jokowi congratulates Prabowo, son on election win, as opponents cry fraud

Nazarudin Latif and Pizaro Gozali Idrus
Indonesia’s Jokowi congratulates Prabowo, son on election win, as opponents cry fraud Indonesian Defense Minister and presidential frontrunner Prabowo Subianto greets supporters after visiting his father’s grave in Jakarta, Thursday, Feb. 15, 2024.
[Tatan Syuflana/AP]

Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo said Thursday that he met and congratulated Prabowo Subianto and running mate Gibran Rakabuming Raka – Jokowi’s eldest son – on their win in the presidential election, as rivals claimed widespread fraud in the vote.

While Jokowi dismissed the cheating allegations, his ruling PDI-P party said Prabowo, the winning candidate and defense minister, had used force, misused government materials and influenced the judiciary to get an edge in the election held on Wednesday.

Although Jokowi did not officially endorse any candidates, it was generally viewed that he would go against his party and favor Prabowo and Gibran.

“Congratulations, congratulations. I met them in person, last night,” Jokowi told reporters, referring to Prabowo and Gibran.

Prabowo, a former army general with a dubious human rights record, claimed victory in the election after several pollsters showed him leading with about 58% of the vote. This was his third shot at the presidency, having lost to Jokowi in the 2014 and 2019 election.

Parabowo’s fellow contenders in this year’s race, Anies Baswedan, a former Jakarta governor and Ganjar Pranowo, who was Central Java governor until a few months ago, received 25% and 17%, respectively, of votes cast, according to the unofficial counts.

A preliminary count posted on the website of the General Election Commission showed similar figures. Official results will not be announced until late March, with the new president scheduled to be sworn in on Oct. 20.

Meanwhile, Prabowo on Thursday posted a photo of himself holding a phone to his ear on social media platform X (formerly Twitter), saying that he “received congratulatory phone calls from several foreign leaders” on Thursday morning.

“PM Anthony Albanese, Prime Minister of Australia, PM Lee Hsien Loong, Prime Minister of Singapore, PM Anwar Ibrahim, Prime Minister of Malaysia, and Ranil Wickremesinghe, President of Sri Lanka,” were the leaders’ names he mentioned.

The election was the fifth time that Indonesians chose their president and vice-president directly since 1998, when the country became a democracy. 

Nearly 205 million people were eligible to vote for the president, vice president, and members of the national and local parliaments. The election commission has not announced a voter turnout figure. 

Jokowi’s second and final five-year term ends in October due to constitutional limits.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo (right) is congratulated by the Gerindra Party Chairman Prabowo Subianto, his former rival in the April 2019 election, after his presidential inauguration for a second term, at the House of Representatives building in Jakarta, Oct. 20, 2019. [Achmad Ibrahim/Pool via Reuters]

Meanwhile, as Anies’ camp on Thursday alleged that Prabowo had used underhand tactics to gain a higher vote count, Ganjar, the third candidate, said his party and its coalition partners had launched an investigation into possible fraud. 

Ari Yusuf Amir, Anies’ campaign legal head, said he would verify the evidence he had and then reveal to the public how Prabowo benefited from pre-marked ballots, voter intimidation, voter list manipulation and vote buying.

“This was the real tactic employed on election day. Polling station workers received instructions from village heads to sway the voters towards a particular candidate,” Ari told a press conference in Jakarta.

Another Anies campaign team member said there were reports of discrepancies between the vote results recorded on forms filled out by election workers at each polling station and the data entered on the website of the election commission.

Such discrepancies were reported from 181 cities in 36 provinces across the country, Amin Subekti, Anies’ campaign spokesman said.

Ganjar called it “anomalous” that the counts showed him receiving the lowest amount of votes, while his party, the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), was projected to have the highest number of votes in Wednesday’s legislative elections. 

“Today we discuss, document and try to verify with the regions to ascertain if this [alleged fraud] was structural, systematic and massive,” Ganjar told reporters.

“There are complaints, but our principle stands, we will wait for the election commission’s decision and whatever they decide later, we will comply with and respect the process.”

The secretary general of Ganjar’s party, Hasto Kristiyanto, accused the Prabowo camp of resorting to legal manipulation, various forms of coercion, and abuse of state resources to gain an advantage in the contest. 

“The legitimacy of the election has been affected by the various irregularities. That is why we have set up a special team to do a forensic audit,” he told reporters.

Prabowo’s alliance with Gibran, 36, has raised concerns among some Indonesians about dynastic politics and nepotism.

Gibran, the mayor of Solo, benefited from a controversial ruling by the Constitutional Court in October, which revised the minimum age for presidential and vice-presidential candidates from 40 to any age for those who have served as regional heads.

The court’s chief justice, Anwar Usman, who is married to Jokowi’s sister, was dismissed from his post in November by ethical violations linked to the ruling.

Indonesian Defense Minister, who won the country’s presidential election on Feb. 14, 2024 according to unofficial vote counts, speaks over the phone in a photograph he posted on his X (formerly Twitter) account, saying he received calls from several countries’ leaders congratulating him, Feb. 15, 2024. [Via X/@prabowo]

Critics, including faculty members from more than a dozen universities across the country, have accused Jokowi of straying from democratic principles and attempting to create a political dynasty by advancing his relatives.

Jokowi has also been accused of using populist measures, such as early handing out of social aid early, raising salaries for civil servants, police and the military, which critics say were aimed at boosting Prabowo’s chances.

The president refuted any manipulation of the judiciary or favoring a particular set of candidates.

On Thursday, he harshly denied fraud claims, saying the election process was watched by many people, including representatives of the candidates, the election supervisory agency, and security personnel.

“I think the layered supervision like this will eliminate the possibility of fraud,” Jokowi told reporters. 

“Don’t scream fraud. If you have evidence, take it to the Election Supervisory Agency. If you have evidence, take it to the Constitutional Court.”

Maria Catarina Sumarsih, {second from left), whose son was killed by security forces during an anti-government protest in 1998, stands near a banner with portraits of Indonesian Army generals accused of committing human rights abuses in the past – presidential front runner Prabowo Subiant is one of them – as she takes part in a 'Kamisan' rally, outside the presidential palace in Jakarta, Feb. 15, 2024. [Dita Alangkara/AP]

A political analyst and Islamic scholar at Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), the country’s largest Islamic organization, argued that Prabowo’s win reflects the popular desire for continuity rather than change.

“Like it or not, we have to listen carefully to this popular wisdom,” NU’s Ulil Abshar Abdalla wrote in Kompas, an Indonesian daily.

“Is the narrative of democratic decline really a concern for the wider public, or, on the contrary, only a concern for the middle class educated group? The people may have different priorities than the issue of democratic decline.” 

Ulil was referring to critics’ claims that Jokowi has eroded democratic institutions and norms during his tenure.

The Jakarta Post newspaper, arguably Indonesia’s most well-known news source, said in an editorial on Thursday that Prabowo’s next challenge would be to prove his critics wrong. He should shed his authoritarian image and show that he can be a unifier.

Prabowo’s decisive victory, the Post said, means that “the electorate has apparently voted to allow for the continuation of President Jokowi’s agenda, with the bonus of having a strongman leading the country for the next five years.”


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