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Jokowi's second term: The challenge of legitimacy

Asna Husin
Published:  |  Modified:

COMMENT | On June 26, the daily Republika reported the Constitutional Court's decision rejecting Prabowo Subianto's charge of fraud in the presidential election held in April. I forwarded that report to ten close friends – five of Joko Widodo's supporters, and five of Prabowo’s.

Republika was the first newspaper to publish the court verdict. This is significant since the daily is now owned by Erick Thohir, Jokowi’s 2019 campaign manager, through his Mahaka Media.

Previously, the Indonesian Election Commission (KPU) published the election results on May 21, giving Jokowi a ten-point lead with 85,607,362 votes (55.50 percent), with Prabowo receiving 68,650,239 votes (44.50 percent). 

Prabowo rejected this tally due to what his team termed “structured, systematic and massive electoral fraud.”

Here, I analyse the reactions of both Jokowi’s and Prabowo’s supporters to the court decision, and its implication for Jokowi’s second term legitimacy, as well as possible ways to rectify it.

Deep division

Back to Republika’s announcement: all ten responded to the forwarded report. Two of Jokowi’s supporters said: “We knew since the election day that he is the winner.” 

The third argued: “Prabowo is suffering from the hallucination of winning this case. All in '01' (Jokowi’s camp) knew that he (Prabowo) has no case, and the Constitutional Court would reject it. It is now proven that we are correct.”

The fourth stated: “The court has confirmed that Jokowi has been given the mandate for his second term as the president, whether they (Prabowers, or Prabowo supporters) like it or not. He is our president-elect.” 

The fifth sent me a long message that clearly she did not write herself. Someone wrote that message which is being passed around to support Jokowi’s winning discourse.

This message may be summarised as follows. After quoting a hadith on the notion of responsibility for the accuser to prove his case against the accused in a court of law, the message reads: “The court’s decision should stop the accusers (Prabowo and his followers) from distributing lies based on assumptions and hoaxes they themselves created.” 

The nine court judges studied this case closely, and “it is proven with certainty that all accusations (of electoral fraud) are baseless.”

Her message further states that with the court decision, the accusers, whose hobby is to easily charge others, should stop producing and distributing hoaxes “unless they wish to eat the corpses of their dead brothers due to their hobby of creating and distributing fitnah (civil disorder, sedition) without any proof. (They) live with shame and berIslam (follow Islam) with no akhlakul karimah (no moral character).”

The Jokowers’ responses are matched by those of the supporters of Prabowo. Two Prabowers stated: “This verdict was predicted,” implying that the court is not an independent broker.

A third person responded: “Indonesians acquired their president from the election, full of fraud.” He continued: “Indonesian democracy is dying, and Jokowi killed it to get reelected.”

The fourth person stated: “The court’s decision completed the structural, systematic and massive electoral fraud, allowing Jokowi and his supporters to dance after memperkosa (raping) the rights of voters (who had elected Prabowo).”

The fifth sent me his long response by quoting a pro-Prabowo writer. The sarcastic text reads: “Let’s celebrate (Jokowi’s) triumph on the corpses of some 600 election workers,” with the reminder that “I (Jokower) am the most Pancasilaist, the NKRI (Unitary State of the Republic of Indonesia) is harga mati (non-negotiable); Jokowi is here for two terms, people shall be miserable, and China completes its control of Indonesia.”

He continued: We “celebrate this victory by menghabisi (eliminating) anyone rejecting the court’s decision, through accusing them of makar (treason), terrorism, radicalism and splitting national unity.” 

The message goes on: “They should not just be accused, but must also be silenced, imprisoned or habisi if they continue to question the Constitutional Court’s verdict.”

Besides being a cynical imitation of his opponent’s rhetoric, the last response is loaded with strong criticism of Jokowi’s team. It reminds the public that the 2019 elections witnessed more than 600 deaths of election workers, whose causes have yet to be determined.

The text also ridicules Jokowi’s election slogans of being true followers of the national foundation of the Pancasila and real guardians of the NKRI, while labelling Jokowi’s opponents as traitors, terrorists, and radicals. 

The litany further raises the issue of economic hardship experienced by the people, and popular concern over China’s control of Indonesia’s economy.

The above two sets of divisive responses from friends are not unique. There are millions of Indonesians from both camps who view the situation in similar modes: 55 percent of the country thinks Jokowi was fairly reelected (according to the official numbers), while 45 percent views him to have stolen the election.

Sadly, both camps are not reading and reflecting upon the same pieces of information, since the media outlets, just like the general public, are also on opposite sides of the dispute: the mainstream media are almost totally for the Jokowers, leaving the Prabowers to the social and digital media. 

The two camps are widely divided, and are not talking to each other, creating the most serious political and social division ever experienced in Indonesia.

According to Prabowo’s team, about 20 percent of Prabowo’s supporters “have belum bisa menerima (have yet to accept) the court’s decision,” while the rest have. Our limited sample of 15 people confirms this. 

Thirty percent (five people) are against any form of reconciliation, as one woman stated: “They want reconciliation after memperkosa suara rakyat (raping the voice of the people)? Never.”

The rest accepted the court’s verdict as a fact, but continue to believe in the unfair election. Most in this second group prefers “no reconciliation,” and want Prabowo’s block to be a penyeimbang (balancing force) in the Parliament. 

Yet, one person accepted that “whatever is good for the country, even if Prabowo joins the government.” He quickly added though: “In spite of my conciliatory view, I still believe Jokowi did not win the election, but was dimenangkan (made to win).” 

Understanding such nuances in their views suggests that their acceptance of the court’s decision should not be taken to mean they changed their belief in the electoral manipulation and fraud.

Those convinced of the rigged election are not looking for trouble or endless protests, but their view does undermine Jokowi’s sense of legitimacy. 

The statements and action of Prabowo and his running mate Sandiaga Uno after the court’s decision are important, but are not the most significant factor. 

“Everyone knows that they (Prabowo and Sandiaga) are being pressured to recognise Jokowi’s victory, but we the people also know that this election was full of fraud,” said two of Prabowo’s supporters first quoted above.

Lack of legitimacy

Observing such perceptions of people from both our own contacts as well as digital and mainstream media, it is clearly evident that Jokowi has to pay attention to the issue of legitimacy.

Appearing on the recent ‘Indonesia Lawyers Club’ talk show, the political commentator Rocky Gerung agrees that in spite of having been confirmed as the winner, Jokowi lacks political legitimation. Rocky affirmed that “legitimacy rests with Prabowo” and his followers.

Political legitimacy is based on people’s acknowledgement and acceptance of the validity of rulers and the political systems sustaining them, thereby providing the rulers with the right and justification to exercise power and to make decisions on behalf of the populace.

The German sociologist Max Weber viewed a legitimate ruler as one whose authority and “command is accepted” and to whom “obedience” is directed. 

A modern system of democracy produces what Weber calls “legal rational” authority which is gained through elections. This legitimising authority is sustained by rules, transparent processes and institutions, not by individual charisma or traditional blood ties.

In other words, in a democratic system which Indonesia aspires to be, the legitimacy of a president derives from the popular perception that he or she has been elected fairly, and his/her government abides by democratic principles of good governance and is legally accountable to people.

Now, when a big chunk of the country views Jokowi’s election to his second term as “full of electoral fraud,” one may legitimately ask: Can Jokowi exercise rule effectively, and will his government last?

There are no white and black answers to these questions. On this issue of legitimacy, Jokowi undoubtedly faces a challenge, especially with Prabowo’s staunch supporters. 

These are the core of Prabowers consisting of well-informed educated men and women, Muslim leaders and social activists, as well as the general public who seek Indonesia’s socio-economic independence from foreign encroachment and marketised neoliberalism, while maintaining Indonesian cultural richness and social cohesion.

On the other hand, Jokowi has extremely loyal supporters by his side. Among them are Muslim leaders and activists of the Nahlatul Ulama (NU) – along with its National Awakening Party (PKB), Chinese and Christian citizens, as well as other minorities. 

Jokowi also receives the backing of major political parties including his own Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDIP), the Suharto era Golkar Party, the National Democrats (Nasdem), and several others. 

Two parties from Prabowo’s coalition (Democratic Party and National Mandate Party or PAN) are now being drawn to join Jokowi’s camp.

Further, since taking office as president over four years ago, Jokowi has emphasised social stability at the expense of political freedom in his efforts to silence critics and political adversaries. Jokowi may be advised to renew this same strategy to sustain his regime.

Yet in our age of pervasive social media, it is difficult to completely suppress criticism. Information and news against and for Jokowi circulate quickly and are consumed by even those who stay away from social media. 

The Constitutional Court’s one-week open trial of the presidential dispute opened the eyes of many who otherwise were not aware of Prabowo’s accusations of electoral fraud.

The views of two young ladies cited below are a good reflection of the impact of the court’s sessions upon the general public. 

One of Jokowi’s supporters, a secretary in a major company in the city of Medan, wrote me: “I did not like these open hearings because they did show that some fraud and voting irregularities had taken place against Prabowo. They were not nice to see.”

Her cousin, who is a student at the University of North Sumatra and a supporter of Prabowo, wrote: “I knew Prabowo lost this election due to electoral fraud. Yet, I did not know its nature for in our voting station everything went smoothly. 

"The Court’s sessions confirmed my belief that Prabowo had indeed been cheated by a partisan system through rigged votes, fraudulent electoral manipulations and a biased court.”

Such inclination to give credence to an unfair election process reflects Jokowi’s lack of legitimacy among 45 percent of the population. It may not seriously threaten his second term presidency, for historically many regimes survive when they are deemed legitimate even by a small influential elite. 

Since Jokowi is supported by the majority of Indonesians including many leading political personages, he will survive without any serious electoral challenge.

However, legitimacy is not just about political survival but also involves trust and moral obligations as important ingredients for political stability. Lack of legitimacy due to people’s belief in voting fraud is a thorn in human flesh. If not removed it can cause serious infection, jeopardising human well-being.

Regaining trust

Jokowi should handle this challenge to his political legitimacy by broadening his base, not through coercing every opponent to join his ruling camp, and not even by continuing calls for “reconciliation,” but rather by wise selection of his new cabinet and by implementing a more sensitive populist policy.

Any objective observer could clearly see that certain team members on Jokowi’s campaign were hawkish against political adversaries and at times active in promoting anti-Islamic rhetoric. 

These individuals should be restrained if Jokowi sincerely wants to reach out to those who uphold their belief of unfair election.

Sensible social and economic policies may also alleviate the distrust of Prabowers against Jokowi’s second term. Jokowi’s first-term policy of putting in check his political rivals and social critics should be completely abandoned, and the application of makar laws need not instinctively be applied against his political adversaries.

Most importantly, Jokowi’s inner circle’s anti-Islamic bias and anti-Pancasila labelling of Muslims should also be removed from his political and social discourse. 

Such pejorative scapegoating is most hurtful for Muslims, not only because “Pancasila is the Muslims’ gift to the nation,” but also because Muslims have given their blood and heart to the country since the beginning when their leaders and religious teachers fought the war against colonial forces. 

Fresh economic orientation

Economic policy should be Jokowi’s important door for reducing distrust among supporters of Prabowo. 

It is evident that their major concern is the current neoliberal approach to the economy, the country’s debts, and Chinese and foreign over-involvement in Indonesia’s development. 

Prabowers watch closely how Jokowi reflects and acts toward these issues. The best effort to ease their distrust is by selecting economic ministers who are more inclined toward “people’s economy,” and to restrain Jokowi’s more neoliberal approach of his first term.

Sensible economic programs are essential. At least two issues should form the background of his new economic approach: poverty and inequality, as well as environmental destruction by global corporate investors “pillaging … the country’s natural resources.”

The Oakland Institute, in its 2018 report on Indonesia, details how the country’s neoliberal economic policies guided by the World Bank “have turned Indonesian citizens and forests into casualties.” 

In spite of the Bank’s stated objective of “ending poverty and boosting shared prosperity, its recommended reforms fulfil the interest of (global) corporate investors at the expense” of Indonesians.

Indeed, the government has followed the bank’s recommendations enthusiastically. In its race to reform and attract foreign direct investment, “millions of hectares of customarily managed forests have been handed over to foreign private firms, positioning Indonesia as the third most targeted country in the world for transnational large-scale land deals.” 

It has negatively affected “local communities, peoples’ livelihoods and food security, and the environment,” and pushed millions of poor indigenous villagers into destitution.

Similarly, in 2017 Oxfam reported that Indonesia has the sixth worst inequality of wealth in the world. 

In 2016, the wealthiest one percent of the population owned nearly half (49 percent) of total wealth, and the collective wealth of the richest four billionaires was US$25 billion (RM103 billion), more than the total wealth of the bottom 40 percent of the population – about 100 million people. All four are Chinese Indonesians

Oxfam also showed that over the past 20 years, inequality in Indonesia has risen faster than any other country in South-East Asia.

Thus, in spite of government insistence on a historic single-digit unemployment rate, poverty and job opportunities still remain a serious challenge. 

In fact, the report by the government’s own Central Bureau of Statistics (PBS) demonstrates that in 2017 unemployment among university graduates increased from 5.18 percent to 6.31 percent, and this situation has not improved since.

The problems of Indonesia’s economic orientation under Jokowi and previous presidents were one of the major reasons many Indonesians were attracted to Prabowo’s proposal of “ekonomi kerakyatan” (people’s economy) and voted for him. 

This is an extremely important issue for the followers of Prabowo. Therefore, Jokowi may have a real opportunity of engaging his rival’s supporters by embracing a more populist economic vision.

Thus, if Jokowi is seriously interested in “reconciliation” and seeks acceptance by nearly half of the population who voted for Prabowo, Jokowi’s existing liberal economic orientation has to be augmented by the Pancasila “people’s economy,” which in contemporary terms may be translated as “democratic economy.”

Democratic economy is shifting decision-making power from corporate managers and corporate shareholders to a larger group of public stakeholders that includes workers, consumers, suppliers, communities and the broader public, and replacing “out-of-control financial markets with a more democratic mechanism for handling investment.”

Wise new economic direction and policies, as well as a more generous social and political spirit by his governing team, could open the door to increasing Jokowi’s political legitimacy. 

However, will his financial supporters and corporate contributors permit the President to embrace a wiser policy?


ASNA HUSIN teaches at Ar-Raniry State Islamic University in Banda Aceh. She is currently a visiting researcher at Nonviolence International in Washington, DC.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

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