The election system is "broken"...again
Presidential contender, Prabowo Subianto along with his political coalition, rejected the official presidential election results announced by the General Election Commission (KPU) and filed a lawsuit in the Constitutional Court in May citing that “structural, systematic and massive electoral fraud” had occurred on election day. According to the KPU results, Widodo received 55.5% of the vote while Prabowo received 44.5%. Prabowo called for the Widodo-Maruf ticket to be disqualified and called for a free and fair vote tabulation or in the worst case, redo the entire election.
His decision to challenge the result in the Constitutional Court received quite a bit of attention both in the local/international media and by political observers who believed such a move could escalate political tensions and divide the country.
Despite the hype and media attention, Prabowo’s decision to appeal the presidential election results in the Court is the norm for losing candidates in Indonesian elections. In fact, similar lawsuits were filed in every presidential election since Indonesia’s first direct elections in 2004.
I break down recent elections, past lawsuits, the claims of social polarization and much more on our podcast.
Lawsuits against legislative election results date back at least to the 1999 General Election, since the end of New Order when President Soeharto stepped down.
A different election system was used before 2004. Voters prior to this chose political parties rather than individual representatives and the parties determined later who their representatives would be. The president and vice president on the other hand, were determined by a combination of the Upper and Lower House through voting, not a direct ballot. One interesting note about the 1999 election is that this was also the first time that the newly established KPU was in charge of the election process.
The Constitutional Court wasn’t established until 2003 so they weren’t responsible for handling election disputes as it does today.
In the 2004 presidential election, there were a long list of candidates for president with many familiar names such as retired General Wiranto, Megawati Soekarno Putri, and Amien Rais. In addition to this, you had Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and Jusuf Kalla on his VP ticket and another ticket from the PPP party.
Wiranto is the current coordinating minister for political, legal and security affairs. Megawati is the founder and chairwoman of PDIP party, Amien Rais is the founder of PAN party and now a loyal supporter of Prabowo.
The election went to a second round and was a landslide victory for SBY-Kalla over Megawati-Hasyim, winning 60% of the vote.
Although Wiranto received just 22% of the vote and was eliminated in the first round, he filed a complaint with the Constitution Court disputing the election results claiming that there were voting irregularities in 26 provinces. The irregularities focused on things such as ballots poked more than once, for example. Wiranto’s claim was ultimately rejected by the Court.
Even when candidates clearly lost by huge margins, they still brought claims before the Constitutional Court.
The 2009 election also had election lawsuits filed by some of the presidential candidates.
There were 3 presidential tickets in that election. SBY ran for re-election with a strong coalition behind him. Megawati ran again for president but this time with Prabowo Subianto as her VP candidate. They were backed by the PDIP and Gerindra parties. Finally, you had Jusuf Kalla who ran with Wiranto supported by Golkar.
SBY won by a landslide with 60% of the vote in first round followed by Megawati with 26.7% and Kalla with 12.4% of the vote.
But as with the 2004 election, candidates in 2009 disputed the presidential election results in the Constitutional Court. Both Megawati and Kalla filed separate cases with the Court, with Kalla claiming voting irregularities, allegations of fraud and manipulation of the voter list. His team also claimed that the use of different registration processes for voter registration and that ballots with multiple pokes impacted the election results. Megawati and Prabowo on the other hand, claimed that there were massive irregularities with the voter registration list.
The players who ran for president and brought these cases back in 2009 are pretty much the same faces that we see today but just on different sides/tickets.
The Court rejected all the claims brought against the presidential election results.
Prabowo’s claims in 2014, including the massive, widespread, and systematic election fraud allegations, are pretty much identical to his claims this year. In 2014, Prabowo’s legal team claimed that there was organized systematic manipulation of the vote, that over 52,000 polling stations were impacted by fraudulent voter activity. The Court eventually declared that there was no clear evidence to prove such allegations.
Some may think that the claims made by Prabowo this year sound more serious as he alleged that massive, widespread, and systematic electoral fraud had taken place, but this is not the first time he has used these terms used. In 2004, the Megawati and Prabowo coalition also used the same lingo, as did then candidate Wiranto. In fact, these exact terms and allegations have been used in every election since at least 2004.
Over the years, almost all of the lawsuits using these terms were rejected but there was at least one case where widespread and systematic electoral fraud was proven in a local legislative election.
This was in 2010 in a gubernatorial election in West Kotawaringin, Central Kalimantan, where the Gerindra backed incumbent lost and filed a claim in the Constitutional Court citing widespread and systematic fraud by his opponent who was accused of money politics impacting over tens of thousands of voters and large-scale campaign violations. The case was accepted and the Court decided in favor of the incumbent and he ended up winning a second term.
It’s no coincidence that all presidential candidates who filed lawsuits over the years used the terms “massive, systematic and structural” electoral fraud. Such fraud and manipulation would be the only method that could sway such a large number of votes and potentially affect the final vote result. Candidates would basically have to prove that had the fraud not happen, they would have, without question, won the election. So these terms are crucial when it comes to court cases.
Polarization and Social Divide Fears with the 2019 Election
There have been claims that this year’s election dispute has risen to a new level, with references that the system itself is inherently broken, that Prabowo’s loyal followers are convinced of this and would do pretty much anything for the cause and as a result, there would be a growing polarization and a social divide.
There were only two presidential tickets in this election, so the choice is one or the other and when you look at the candidates’ platforms, they are more or less the same. Both parties have somewhat “nationalist” roots so it’s difficult to support the claims of a “polarization” of the electorate.
Unlike this year’s presidential race, there was some polarization in 2014, not because of the candidate’s platforms exactly, but because of the perception of what the candidates themselves represented. That election campaign became somewhat of a “cross road” for Indonesia. The argument by many was, did the voters need a strong, decisive, Soeharto style leader, Prabowo Subianto, or did they want to take a risk with this new face on the national scene who represented the next generation of leaders in the country, that was Joko Widodo. There were very strong opinions among voters on this, much more than in 2019. Noteworthy is that, Indonesia just came out of 10 years of the Yudhoyono administration. Widodo was this untested guy and not a national player, while Prabowo was on his 3rd election bid, a former 3-star general, former son-in-law of President Soeharto and a powerful businessman. He also had a strong coalition behind him and support of many elites, unlike in the 2019 election. So, in the minds of many voters, the election was not about the platforms and programs but about what type of leader the country needs.
2014 vs 2019
2019 was not an exact rematch of Widodo against Prabowo. This time it was much different. Widodo had proven himself on the national stage and was now an incumbent with a track record. He was able to get out of the shadow of PDIP chairwoman Megawati and consolidated power after a difficult first 1.5 years in office. He was running on his track record as president this time. Prabowo on the other hand, was running once again after being defeated by this local political player from Solo that Prabowo himself supported, both politically and financially, to become governor of Jakarta just two years prior. Prabowo also had a much smaller coalition and less support from the Jakarta elite as he did in 2014. In the last election he had a lot of financial support and a good coalition behind him, but not in 2019. So, the 2014 and 2019 races were very different.
In 2014, Prabowo and his coalition claimed that a massive injustice had occurred as a result of the fraudulent election, that “the people” are at a tipping point and that large-scale violence was on the horizon as result. But what happened? There were no mass demonstrations let alone violence. And, what happened following the 2014 presidential elections? Voters still believed in the election process and participated in the numerous local elections that followed and when it came to the 2019 legislative and presidential elections with Widodo and Prabowo, voter participation was even higher than in 2014.
As I discussed in our previous episode titled, “Appreciating Indonesia’s Elections” there is plenty of room for improvement with Indonesia’s elections but there are still more things that are going right than things that are not.
The rioting that occurred in Jakarta shortly after the KPU released the official 2019 election results was not a grassroots movement but instead included many individuals from organizations that had “certain backgrounds” and the protests were likely intended to instigate a larger event, which it failed to do. (I prefer to leave further comments on this perhaps for a future article as this post is focused on the history of election results lawsuits in the Constitutional Court.)
Hundreds of Legislative Election Appeals to the Court every Year
In addition to presidential claims every year, there are hundreds of lawsuits filed for the legislative elections. For example:
For the 2004 legislative election, there were 273 lawsuits filed in the Constitutional Court against the KPU and only 38 were accepted by the Court.
For the 2009 legislative elections there were 628 disputes with a tiny fraction accepted to the Constitutional Court.
In 2014 legislative elections, there were around 900 lawsuits around 38 were accepted by the Court. Some recounts were ordered, and a number of legislative seats were changed at the local level as well.
For 2019 legislative elections, there are around 263 lawsuits. The Court is currently reviewing these cases and will make decisions by August 9, 2019.
All of the lawsuits mention involved various parties and in some cases the Court did accept lawsuits and ordered recounts and some local-level legislative seats were impacted.
Megawati and Prabowo
As a side note about Megawati and Prabowo to give more context - Although today it may seem that Gerindra is the arch enemy of PDIP and Megawati, we should remember that Mega and Prabowo have had a long relationship and ran side-by-side on the same ticket in 2009. In fact, the two had an agreement that Prabowo/Gerindra would support Mega has president in 2009 and in return, she/PDIP, would support him to run as president in 2014. Mega instead supported Widodo in that election, breaking the agreement they had. That’s politics it seems.
Lack of Party Ideologies
A point that comes up a lot in our discussions with clients is that political parties in Indonesia aren’t based on strong ideologies but instead on personalities and generalized categories like “development” or “nationalist”.
The race between Widodo and Prabowo was based on the individuals, not party ideologies. PDIP and Gerindra aren’t very different at the end of the day. What does the Democrat Party stand for or represent, for example? It represents its founder, SBY, that’s about it.
Looking ahead, there’s no maximum age limit when running for president in Indonesia and Prabowo can run again if he remains healthy, has funds and a political coalition but the next race may be even more difficult for him as the next generation of leaders are preparing to compete in 2024. He actually has run for president four times. His first attempt was when he was a member of Golkar in 2004 but he wasn’t nominated by the party. Four attempts to win the presidency can take a toll on reputation, coalitions and wallets.
All Eyes on New Cabinet in October
Now that the 2019 election has concluded, all eyes are on who will make up the new cabinet in October. The composition of his new cabinet in October will shed light on how much power the president will have in his second term, give hints about his future policies and how much influence his coalition parties have on his decisions going forward. We will have to wait and see.