Indonesia’s post-election conflict is on hold while a court hears the opposition’s election fraud appeal but could easily reignite if disgruntled soldiers are not mollified. John McBeth specially for the Asia Times.
In between flying around the world in his private jet and attending to his many business interests, defeated opposition candidate Prabowo Subianto appears to have no Plan B if the Constitutional Court rejects his appeal over alleged massive fraud in the April 17 presidential election.
The court now has a fortnight to decide whether Prabowo and his legal team have sufficient evidence to justify a fuller inquiry into the election outcome in which President Joko Widodo beat his challenger by a convincing 55.5% to 44.5% of the national vote.
If the country’s highest legal body decides against his appeal, Prabowo’s pride, among other things, makes it unlikely he will accept Jokowi’s offer for his Great Indonesia Movement Party (Gerindra) to join his ruling coalition to smooth over the social schisms the election exposed.
That would leave the third-ranked Gerindra and the Justice and Prosperity Party (PKS), its perennial Islamic ally, on the opposition benches, with their third partner, the National Mandate Party (PAN), showing signs of jumping ship after doing better than expected at the polls.
Two decades after the birth of democracy in Indonesia, the concept of an opposition with alternative ideas is mostly lost on political parties, which have done little to strengthen the country’s now slowly fraying democratic fabric.
Four days after his legal team filed the court appeal, alleging “systematic, structured and massive” election fraud, Prabowo boarded his Embraer 190 jet with seven other passengers, including a member of the Russian Parliament’s secretariat, and flew to Austria on a reported business trip.
It was not the first time he has shown his mind is on other things. He also made an eight-hour, round-trip to Brunei on May 16, six days before election-related disturbances in downtown Jakarta left eight people dead and more than 400 in detention.
When he is home, Prabowo commutes between his two sprawling residences, one in the leafy, up-scale Jakarta neighborhood of Kebayoran Baru, and the other in the cool hills near Bogor, 70 kilometers south of the Indonesian capital.
The president also favors Bogor, spending much of his time in a guest house at the colonial-style presidential palace, which lies in expansive grounds stocked with small deer and adjoining the dormitory city’s renowned botanical gardens.
Both candidates probably need some tranquility after a turbulent few weeks and probably more to come, with Constitutional Court justices due to deliver their verdict on Prabowo’s appeal by June 28 and Widodo wrestling already with the composition of his new Cabinet.
Political sources claim the president wants to have his new cabinet in place before his October 20 inauguration, saying it could be announced in the next few weeks and will not simply involve ditching several ministers currently under a corruption cloud.
The sources also claim Widodo has set aside 17 posts for the five parties that currently form his ruling coalition and 18 for professionals, more than in any previous Cabinet, something investment board chief Thomas Lembong forecast in a speech last May.
Along with Widodo’s poll-topping Indonesian Democratic Party for Struggle (128 seats), Golkar (85), National Democratic (59), National Awakening (58) and United Development (19) parties already give the new government a commanding 349-seat majority in the 575-seat lower house going into the president’s second term.
But that can be somewhat misleading at the level of the eleven parliamentary commissions, which do all the legislative work and do not always vote along party lines when money and self-interest intervene.
Laws are usually passed by consensus when they reach the plenary session of the House, without any of the debate that former president Suharto found highly entertaining while watching the raucous Australian Parliament in action on television.
Parliamentary procedures and its political culture have remained outdated and a significant obstacle to democratic consolidation. In fact, some academics consider it not only a continuation of the authoritarian Suharto era, but of Dutch colonial practices as well.
Distraught over the recent death from cancer of first lady Kristiani, 66, former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has yet to decide whether to keep his Democrat Party in its centrist position, which he adopted after finishing his second term in 2014.
Elder son Agus Harimurti has met twice with Widodo since the elections, but bringing the Democrats into the coalition would mean placating PDI-P leader Megawati Sukarnoputri, who has always accused Yudhoyono of an act of betrayal in ousting her from the leadership in 2004.
Harimurti, 40, is a likely presidential contender in 2024, as is Prabowo’s vice presidential candidate, Sandiaga Uno, 49; insiders claim the latter wealthy financier is being considered for a post in the new Cabinet, even though he is not a member of Gerindra.
The Cabinet is not Widodo’s only concern, with prosecutors pressing ahead with treason and weapons charges against retired army generals Kivlan Zen and Sunarko for allegedly fomenting the post-election violence and plotting the assassination of four leading government figures.
The president may have to pay more attention to the discontent that has spread among senior officers in the Indonesian Armed Forces (TNI), many of whom voted for Prabowo, including significant elements of the special forces and even the Presidential Security Force.
While military academy class affiliations are important, they have never formed strong cliques in the same way as the Thai military in the early 1980s, when ambitious regimental commanders from Chulachomklao Royal Military Academy class seven staged two unsuccessful revolts.
But a lot of pro-Prabowo sentiment stems from the political leadership’s perceived favoritism towards the police, compared to the glory days during Suharto’s long rule, and also the side-lining of officers whose careers flourished under nepotistic General Gatot Nurmantyo, the previous TNI chief.
Gatot, 59, whose term was cut short in early 2018 because of disloyalty and his cohabitation with elements of the anti-Widodo 212 Islamic movement, has been active behind the scenes in rallying military retirees around the Prabowo campaign.
Winning back loyalty in the ranks may depend on how the disaffected are treated in future, and whether new army commander General Andika Perkasa, 54, the son-in-law of palace confident Hendropriyono and heir apparent to current TNI chief Air Chief Marshal Hadi Tjahjanto, manages future promotions.
Andika’s classmates include TNI Inspector Lieutenant General Muhammad Herindra, Education and Training Command chief Lieutenant General Mukti Putranto, and Major Generals Irwan, Benny Susianto and Marga Taufiq, who all hold regional command positions.
The former head of the southern Sumatra’s Sriwijaya Regional Command, Putranto is one of the few officers to survive Widodo loyalist Tjajanto’s methodical campaign to rid the army of his predecessor’s lingering influence after he took over in December 2017.
The so-called de-Gatotisasi purge ended in March 2018 with the removal of Kopassus chief Major General Madsuni, 55, who was posted to the North Sulawesi regional command where he remained for only three months before being shifted into a dead-end post.