Since his loss in Indonesia’s presidential election became known not long after polls closed on 9 July, Prabowo Subianto has claimed victory based on bogus quick counts, claimed victory based on his own equally incorrect ‘real counts’, and ‘withdrawn’ from the election on Tuesday in a spectacular dummy spit that would be funny were its implications not so serious for public faith in Indonesia’s electoral institutions. Finally, his team yesterday announced that he was only ‘withdrawing from the counting process’, and not as a candidate, as his campaign originally told the media on Tuesday. As Fairfax’s Jakarta correspondent put it, ‘what does Prabowo Subianto think he’s doing?’
It’s a good question. We came at least a little closer to an answer yesterday when his brother, Hashim Djojohadikusomo, joined campaign spokespeople at a media conference at a Jakarta hotel to unveil what they claimed were indications of ‘massive, structural and systematic’ fraud in the presidential elections to the international media. It’s surely not a coincidence that the only grounds on which the Constitutional Court (MK) may order a fresh election is a finding that an election result has been skewed by—you guessed it—‘structured, massive and systematic’ fraud. It was this particular choice of words, used by Prabowo in his letter to the KPU yesterday and read out by his scrutineers there before their walk out, which made some suspect that the campaign’s intention was to push for the MK to throw out the entire election.
Yesterday, however, the Prabowo representatives present stressed that they are not seeking a fresh election but a re-vote in over 50,000 booths at which they say serious irregularities occurred on 9 July, and they will now have to go to the MK to demand that this occur. Leaving aside the question of what they want, or say they want, the allegations made yesterday were certainly serious. Hashim and the lawyers went further in their statements to the press than did the written materials distributed on the day, with Hashim and campaign spokesman Tantowi Yahya declaring that ’21 million’ votes were in question due to irregularities, specifically pointing the finger at ‘the KPU’ (no names were named) as being part of a deliberate effort to conduct electoral fraud.
Out of a fifteen-page photocopied presentation handed out to attendees, titled Ini Kecurangan (This is Fraud), only one page actually contained anything in the way of actual identification of irregularities:
The five bullet points read:
- Total number of those using their voting rights not the same as the number of ballots used and number of valid and invalid votes, in as many as 28,283 booths.
- Total ballots which were used were not the same as the total number of valid and invalid votes, in as many as 9,617 booths.
- Number of those using their voting rights based on the Additional Permanent Voter Roll/absentee voters greater than total number of those on said lists, in as many as 11,090 booths.
- Number of voters using their voting rights from the Special Additional Voter Roll/those voting with only ID cards, other ID or passports greater than those said list, in as many as 20,158 booths.
- Ticket number 1. [i.e. Prabowo-Hatta] did not get any votes, despite the presence of [their own] scrutineers, at as many as 282 booths.
I’ll make no claims to extensive knowledge of what happened on the ground, or of expertise in the legality or otherwise of whatever did happen. It goes without saying that Prabowo is entitled to his day in court if he wants it. If he has proof that he was wronged, he has a right to legal redress.
But until that day comes, I would treat his team’s allegations with caution. Certainly, even after a quick reflection on what was said yesterday some inconsistencies stand out.
For example, a claim repeated by Hashim and campaign spokesman Tantowi Yahya was that the Jakarta division of the KPU (the KPUD DKI) had ignored a request from their counterparts at the Bawaslu (Election Supervisory Body) to conduct a re-vote at over 5,802 booths at which indications of fraud were found on 9 July. The Prabowo camp suggests that absentee voting took place at Jakarta booths far in excess of what the law allowed, leading to what one of their representatives at the KPU yesterday described as ‘an abuse of the constitutional right [of all Indonesians to vote]’. As Hashim put it in a written statement, ‘BAWASLU made recommendations to hold a re-votes [sic] in over 5,000 polling stations in Jakarta alone, and in six heavily populated counties of East Java. These recommendations were completely ignored by the KPU, even though the law allows 30 days from Election Day to investigate’.
I happened to be at the KPU with some ANU colleagues on Tuesday in time to watch this and other issues be discussed in the recapitulation meeting, in all their tedious glory. The claims of KPU indifference to Bawaslu demands for re-votes was one reason why the KPU took over two-and-a-half hours to get through the Jakarta results. During the meeting, Jakarta’s Bawaslu chief took the opportunity to vigorously deny that the organisation she leads had ever given any recommendation to the KPUD DKI to conduct a revote at the 5,800 booths, as the Prabowo team is still claiming they did. The news site detik.com has what it says are images of the letter sent from the Bawaslu DKI to the KPUD DKI which are in line with what the former said at Tuesday’s count.
I can’t really judge the merits of the team’s claims regarding KPU-Bawaslu disagreements about re-votes at six local government areas in East Java (and neither should Prabowo’s team, really—their scrutineers walked out on the KPU process before it got to the East Java results and thus didn’t confront the representatives of those two institutions who were present at the hearing). But if they’re telling fibs about what happened in Jakarta, why should we assume they’re not doing the same about other provinces?
Another of Hashim’s claims was that votes in Papua had appeared in tabulations despite ‘no voting ever taking place’, which, as the FT’s correspondent pointed out, is common in Papua’s quasi-traditional noken voting system—and in any case benefited Prabowo in some areas. When pressed to be more specific on what he meant by votes ‘appearing’ out of nowhere, Hashim obfuscated rather unconvincingly about the migrant presence in Papua and the lack of proper polling stations. There’s little that can be said in defence of electoral administration in Papua, of course. But, being nothing more than a vague allegation without any evidence to back it up, Hashim’s statements on Papua struck me as a deliberate attempt to conflate the noken system (found to be legal by the Constitutional Court) with the (illegal) practice of ballot-stuffing.
Vague references to ‘foreign’ malfeasance which were a part of Prabowo’s rant on Tuesday were also fleshed out a little, with Hashim dropping the bombshell that ’37 hackers in Central Java’ had been arrested and ‘as I understand it, deported’—a claim earlier made by the head of Prabowo’s ‘struggle team’ Yunus Yosfiah. It just so happens that 33 members of a ‘cybercrime network’, mostly from China and Taiwan and ‘allegedly targeting people in China’, were arrested in Semarang earlier in the week. Yunus claimed, without any evidence, that 37 hackers ‘from China and Korea’ had ‘manipulated’ the votes of four million electors who had abstained on 9 July. (The South Korean embassy went to the trouble of sending a representative to Prabowo HQ to explain that none of their citizens were involved).
Hashim did not make it clear during formal Q&A whether he was referring to the hackers who had appeared in the media. However, during a brief doorstop with local reporters after the foreign media briefing—the only time when most of the Indonesian journalists got a chance to question him—he said ‘whether they are Chinese or not Chinese, I’m not sure’, declaring when pressed by a reporter that he had ‘no proof, these are just allegations’. Indeed. I’ll leave it up to the reader to decide whether Hashim and his colleagues know something about these ‘hackers’ that the police aren’t disclosing, or whether this is an inept attempt to hint at some kind of sinister connection where none exists.
Strange as it may sound, to debate the substance of the claims made may be to miss the point. First of all, we can’t judge the truth of allegations advanced without any evidence. In any case, I think yesterday’s performance illustrates that all this is less an attempt to fight for truth and the integrity of the electoral system than a continuation of the aggressive PR strategy which the Prabowo camp has employed since losing the election two weeks ago. The two things aren’t mutually exclusive, of course, but the fact that that PR strategy rests in part on some blatant untruths (ie Bawaslu’s demand for re-votes in Jakarta) and absurd, xenophobic innuendo (the foreign ‘hackers’) suggests that, at the end of the day, these guys don’t really care whether or not all of what they are saying is true—the claims are merely a means to an end. In other words, they’re bullshitting, and have been doing so for weeks.
Interestingly, Hashim’s media conference was aimed first and foremost at the international media. The presser was held entirely in English. Indonesian-language reporters sat on the floor at the back of the room while we foreigners and the English-language press were treated to over an hour of Q&A with Hashim, Tantowi and two campaign lawyers. The former group had to make do with brief doorstops with the panel members after the event, at which few hard questions were asked.
Why would this be the case? My guess is that Hashim and Tantowi expected that foreign reporters would not ask tough questions (wrong; some of the questions made the panel members squirm with discomfort) and that reporters would have no choice but to report the team’s allegations as news despite an absence of evidence (this has been partially successful). Tantowi insisted that the team had proof of wrongdoing but was not yet disclosing it for ‘strategy’ reasons, and that it would be released in due course.
I don’t know about you, but I think it’s hard to escape the conclusion that they were trying hard to get some outrageous claims of fraud into the media without the burden of having to substantiate them first—with a view to putting a stop to the messages of congratulation to Jokowi which have been coming in thick and fast over the past 48 hours. Hashim pleaded with the foreign journalists to ‘tell your embassies’ that the election was not final, and both he and Tantowi declared in prepared statements that international leaders ought to cease and desist from congratulating Jokowi. (It hasn’t worked: no less than the leader of the free world has now picked up the phone to say ‘apa kabar?’ to Indonesia’s president-elect).
The Prabowo team only further embarrasses itself with performances like we saw yesterday. If they have evidence that there was a conspiracy to steal votes from them, then they ought to let the public see that evidence immediately, or they should shut up until they get to court. Deliberately undermining confidence in the electoral system based on unsubstantiated accusations of serious criminal behaviour by officials is pretty low—even for a campaign which has from its beginning displayed an enthusiasm for lying which went far beyond the truth-bending usually expected from political operatives.
If they take their own claims seriously, then I guess we’ll see them in court.
Liam Gammon is a PhD candidate at the Department of Political and Social Change at the Australian National University’s College of Asia & the Pacific.