Bails of razor wire. Street blockades. Thousands of police officers and military troops with weapons at the ready. On Tuesday evening, downtown Jakarta looked ready to repel a small invasion. Electoral officials in Indonesia’s capital city wanted to be careful on the day they announced the nation’s next president.
Two weeks after 134 million Indonesian citizens cast their ballots in a direct, democratic election, Joko “Jokowi” Widodo won a two-ticket race with 53 percent of the vote. His rise to office comes 16 years after the end of a bloody dictatorship in the nation of 240 million people, and he is the first of Indonesia’s five subsequent presidents without ties to Suharto, the former dictator.
Widodo, 53, has served as governor of Jakarta since 2012. He began his political career in 2005 as the mayor of a city in Java. He grew up the son of a villager and first made his living as a furniture salesman. The new president drew attention for visiting slums in the capital city, wearing casual plaid shirts on his campaign trail, and professing love for American heavy metal bands like Metallica, Megadeth, and Napalm Death.
“There’s a large group that saw in him themselves or their own personal potential, that basically an ordinary guy could become president of their country,” said Paul Rowland, a Canadian-born political consultant who has lived in Indonesia for 11 years. “He put himself through university, which is extremely unusual here.”
Hours before the official results came out, Prabowo Subianto, 62, the losing candidate, announced his withdrawal from the contest while accusing the General Elections Commission (KPU) of widespread fraud. Once a commander in Suharto’s army, as well as the dictator’s son-in-law, he previously admitted to abducting democratic activists in the last days of the authoritarian regime. He has until Friday to appeal the election results to the Constitutional Court.
“There is really no evidence for any kind of systemic fraud,” Rowland told me in reference to Subianto’s accusations, though he suspected at least some local corruption. “It’s hard to conceive of a situation in which he can make up 8 million votes.”
Rowland called the election the best he’s seen since Indonesia embraced democracy in 1998. On July 9, voters visited 470,000 polling stations on thousands of inhabited islands all belonging to an archipelago the width of the United States. Instead of tapping buttons on a touch screen, voters punched holes in paper ballots with a nail. Officials at each polling station invited the public to watch them count the ballots afterward.
The Election Commission kept a running tally from the polls on its website. It also listed the number of campaign donors behind each candidate. Subianto had between 40 and 50, Rowland told me. Jokowi had 40,000. That count included average citizens giving just a few dollars.
“For people who are low income to make that kind of decision … it’s unheard of here,” Rowland said. While they gave away small sums to Widodo, Subianto billed himself as a provider for the people. The ex-general, worth $140 million, “didn’t shy away from the fact that he had polo ponies and large amounts of land.”
By Oct. 20, Joko Widodo will begin a five-year term leading the world’s fourth most populous nation. As Jakarta’s governor, he worked to expand access to healthcare and education. Scaling those efforts to a national level, as well as addressing Indonesia’s growing income inequality and declining revenue, will be challenging. Rowland called the election a step in the right direction: “There’s just a sense of relief that it’s over, and a sort of cautious optimism about the future.”