Elections are growing more and more troublesome, divisive, and consuming these days. Much so that some question the wisdom of democracy, while more than a worryingly loud few are rushing to abandon it completely for authoritarianism or its variant. If anything, this is one way to interpret the rise of right-wing populism.
Indonesia is not immune to this global epidemic. The largest democracy with a Muslim demographic-majority had one of the most polarized presidential elections in April and is still recovering from this seven-month long 2014 rematch. The good news is, the Trumpian candidate, Prabowo Subianto and his running mate, Sandiaga Uno, lost – again. President Joko Widodo has won reelection with a decisive 55.5 percent majority and will serve his second term with Professor Ma’ruf Amin, a Muslim scholar in his golden years , as his vice president.
The bad news is the fight isn’t over as the defeated, it appears, has no intention of conceding. Prabowo’s team has called the election a massive fraud, offering no convincing evidence and the matter will be decided by the Constitutional Supreme Court later this June. The next few weeks mark a decisive moment in Indonesian political history.
Following the footsteps of Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil, Narendra Modi in India, Victor Orban in Hungary, Recep Erdogan in Turkey, and Benjamin Netanyahu in Israel, Prabowo has led a campaign filled with falsehood and dog-whistles, delivered by an army of social-media propagandists . His camp fast-tracked Indonesia into the era of post-truth politics that Donald Trump perfected in 2016.
True to Trumpian tactics, the Prabowo campaign has been persistent in its attempt to delegitimize the General Elections Commission (KPU) prior to and immediately following its announcement of the election results in the wee hours of May 21. Trump would be very proud to learn that his election-rigging rhetoric has found a willing disciple in Prabowo. Ironically, the Prabowo campaign relies on anti-west sentiments to rally his alt-right supporters; some allegedly with financial ties to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) .
Constitutional democracy is still in its infancy in Indonesia, but it is already showing signs of reversing the global epidemic of right-wing populism. Citizens and leaders of the democratic world have every reason to be concerned about how this youthful and vibrant democracy, with upward of 80 percent voter turnout, is coping with the unholy alliance between Trumpism and alleged ISIS sympathizers – the strangest of bedfellows and yet here they are. But for now, this chapter of Indonesian democracy should offer an important lesson to the world, and to the US no less: Trumpism can be defeated.
A dignified solution
Indonesia as a nation needs to come to a dignified solution. The concept of a cohabitation government, a popular approach to democratic compromise, has been much discussed as a way forward. In the Indonesian context, cohabitation may take form in including the defeated in the next cabinet. An equally important concept worth considering is concession – it is imperative to the success of any democracy. In my view, concession must come first and never in the opposite order.
Let me be clear; free-and-fair elections, the first pillar of democracy, are not to be taken for granted. However, stirring-up riots and death threats have no place in a democracy. Nor can it ever be justified as a way to voice dissent. Instead of pursuing the constitutionally prescribed means of resolving election disputes peacefully from the get-go, the Subianto campaign, with ranking members that can be traced back to Suharto’s prolonged authoritarian regime two decades ago, (re)turned to racketeering .
Some people don’t change.
It doesn’t take much to connect the Prabowo campaign with authoritarian tendencies and militarism. The twice-defeated once-disgraced general has repeatedly voiced his anti-democratic views and has been caught saying that he regretted not staging a coup while he was still in command . He is not a fan of the media either . Evidence indicates that the riots and the tragic deaths that followed the official announcement of election results were premeditated.
I will say this; an inclusive and just democracy should not function on the basis of “winner takes all”. On the other hand, it must never operate on the basis of “loser coercing the winner to betray the voters’ wishes” – not ever.
Both camps must come to terms. The 44.5 percent deserves to be heard, just as much as the 55.5 percent deserves to be represented and governed by a leader of their choosing. More importantly, the 100 percent deserves to live harmoniously without fear. Democracy can never function without the consent of the governed. Absent of rule of law, nations are doomed to an endless cycle of violence.
Better late than never
In an ideal world, the Prabowo camp would have conceded on election night six weeks ago. Alas, the ultra-Trumpian elements of the campaign got the better of him. In a surreal turn of events, he declared victory in complete denial of reliable quick-count data, a clear attempt to rub salt on post-election wounds . The losing camp relentlessly called for a media boycott and instructed supporters to seek information only from the campaign team . To make matters worse, one of the pollsters has been marked for assassination .
The time to heal cannot start any sooner.
While Indonesian democracy is undoubtedly precocious, it is clear that it still needs the time to fully take root. For now, it has endured Trumpism – no small feat from a democracy with only four presidential election cycles under its belt. A concession from the defeated challenger would have propelled Indonesian democracy to maturity. Only then can we expect the winning Joko Widodo to even consider consenting to cohabitation. Nonconsensual cohabitation is rape. A coerced cohabitation is undemocratic. It sets a dangerous precedent for the hegemony of racketeers and therefore must never be encouraged.
Hope springs eternal in Indonesia. I am certain that Indonesia is not alone in fighting monsters of fear and hatred. Let us all, Indonesian voters, put our political differences aside and call for a consensual cohabitation; a government for the 100 percent.
But first, concession.
The writer earned his doctorate at the University of California, Irvine, and is a Fulbright scholar (2009). He can be reached at email@example.com.