by Juan L. Mercado

MARNURSURO TI tunggal kaaruba,” an Ilocano proverb says. “Each neighbor is a teacher.”

Next-door Indonesia provided a tutorial when 187 million voters, in 17,000 islands across three time zones, elected Jakarta Gov. Joko “Jokowi” Widodo as the country’s seventh president. Voters handed Widodo a 6-percentage point victory, or 8 million votes, over ex-general Prabowo Subianto

US President Barack Obama led the queue of those who called Widodo to offer congratulations.

“Through this free and fair election, the people of Indonesia have once again shown their commitment to democracy,” he said.

Indeed, “the outcome defines the thrust and direction, over the next generation, for a 250 million-strong country,” said The Jakarta Post, reprinting a July 15 Inquirer column. “It’s the first election to see power transferred from a directly-elected leader to another in what was once a dictatorship.” It bucks disputed polls in Malaysia and Cambodia and the military junta rule in Thailand.

“Jokowi is a different animal,” wrote Elizabeth Pisani in her recently published book: “Indonesia, Etc.: Exploring the Improbable Nation.” She compares Widodo with previous presidents and concludes: “He’ll be embedded within well-formed contours of Indonesian politics—one of the most transactional political systems in the world.”

Loser Subianto claimed “an estimated 52,000 polling stations have reported irregularities.” Subianto’s wealthy tycoon-brother, Hashim Djojohadikusumo, vows to press a legal challenge.

A tarred human rights record during the Suharto dictatorship haunts Subianto. He married into power, his former wife being a daughter of Suharto. He failed to shuck off charges of human rights abuses while in the army where he led Indonesia’s special forces.

Many Indonesian activists morphed into desaparecidos allegedly on Subianto’s orders. Most were victimized during the 1998 protests that toppled Suharto. This is his third unsuccessful bid to bag the presidency.

A challenge of the 2014 election is unlikely to succeed, analysts say. “That would not prevent Widodo from taking office in October,” predicted David Hill of Asia Research Center at Murdoch University in Perth, Australia. “The Constitutional Court will politely hear any formal challenge, but it will find no major corruption of the election occurred.”

Indonesia is one of Asia’s more stable democracies. Its political system is mired in murky money deals that hobble economic growth. “The election of a relative outsider, with no connections to the Suharto era, represents an important opportunity to get the country back on track,” Capital Economics, an independent research firm, said in a note released Tuesday.

Widodo assumes office with less than 40 percent of lawmakers backing him, writes Simon Roughneen, the Irish journalist long based in Asia. He’ll need to emerge from the shadows of the old guard. That includes former President Megawati Sukarnoputri, a key campaign supporter. Vice President Jusuf Kalla’s party backed Subianto.

“I’ll see your election victory proclamation, and raise an unbreakable 5-year parliamentary coalition plan,” Roughneen quotes Subianto as saying. Subianto meant a “permanent” amalgam of parties in Indonesia’s incoming parliament. The bloc corrals over 60 percent of its seats. “This is an overall coalition in the national and the regional and district legislatures,” declared Subianto.

Subianto’s coalition will make it difficult for Widodo to govern. They fired a warning shot across the bow even before the first ballot was cast in the presidential election. It is more democratic to make the post of parliament speaker an elected role, Subianto’s supporters argued.

Currently, the job goes to a member of the biggest party in parliament. That would be Widodo’s Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDIP). But, with a majority of seats, Subianto’s coalition can aim at least to win the house speaker gig in the next parliament.

Will it hold firm? Or will defectors abandon ship to join the winning party? Philippine experience shows mass defections occur and parties cross over to whoever occupies the Palace.

That is likely to fragment Subianto’s coalition. It is currently backed by Golkar, a self-styled “party of government.” It is the second-largest party in parliament after PDIP, but Suharto’s death left a vacuum.

Kalla, Widodo’s running mate and incoming vice president, remains popular among Golkar members. Some are already pushing to oust current leader Aburizal Bakrie, a prominent Subianto backer. Even before Widodo is sworn in, Golkar—or a bloc of the party—could already scramble to scram fast.

“Anyone wishing to join us to build the nation will be accepted,” Widodo told Antara. An alliance reduces Widodo’s vulnerability to opposition filibuster, Roughneen writes. But it courts interest groups he would have to appease. And they’d constrict Widodo’s intent to be his own man.

What is it about Subianto twisting in the wind that resonates here?

He is the face of a generation seeking to recover what Suharto’s dictatorship squandered. That’s like Sen. Ferdinand Marcos Jr. trying, a generation later, to reenter Malacañang after the Marcos plunder.

Younger Indonesians barely recall the massacre of dissidents. In Suharto’s hometown of Godean, they see him as a Javanese sultan. Younger Filipinos have amnesia about Ninoy Aquino’s assassination. And the Ilocos, which pretends that People Power never occurred, displays a dictator’s mummy.

Suharto’s wife Tien was dubbed “Madame Ten Per Cent.” Marcos’ widow has been called far worse. Indonesians this year voted against a return to sleaze. Does that tutorial hint at the Filipino electorate’s choice come 2016?

* * *

E-mail: juanlmercado@gmail.com

You may also like

Leave a Comment