“Indonesians are not idiots!” I proclaimed in my final post before the election, waxing lyrical about the common sense of the Indonesian electorate. They wouldn’t, I predicted, be swayed by Prabowo Subianto’s bluster. By election day I was getting very nervous indeed. Then the Quick Count results came through. “I told you so” is never a pretty sentence, but I was inordinately happy to be able to pronounce it.
It appears, though, that I was wrong about a large minority of the population. And from his subsequent actions, it seems Prabowo himself is prominent in that minority. In this astonishing interview with the BBC World Service, aired two days after a majority of Indonesian voters chose Jokowi, Prabowo also claims that Indonesians are not idiots.
Here, at around minute 6.55, is one gem: “I am leading a coalition which represents nearly two thirds of Indonesian voters. How, how do two thirds of the Indonesian people, how can they be fooled, how can they be so stupid to be, to be, to support someone who is, what all my rivals accuse me of being?”
Indonesia did come bottom of the international league table in maths, but even primary school students know that 48% (roughly the percentage of Indonesians that voted for Prabowo according all reputable counts) is smaller than two thirds, as well as being smaller than the 50.01 percent that he would need for the victory he is claiming.
Prabowo is both idiotic, for thinking that the Indonesian people might be turned from their democratic course, and horribly clever in how he might do that. Ed Aspinal and Marcus Meitzner have given a fascinating account of how Prabowo is likely to try to usurp the vote before the final count (Indonesian translation here).
His hypocrisy knows no bounds. He rails at unnamed “Imperialists” (sooooo 1950s) for plotting against him, he accuses the Western press of unfairly backing his rival. And, in the BBC interview, he claims: “My rival is the product of a PR campaign, he is actually a tool of the oligarchs.”
All this from a man who has hired US campaign consultant Rob Allyn to orchestrate his own attack on the polls, and on Jokowi. Rob Allyn, a fundraiser for George W Bush cut his teeth (or perhaps smeared them) first on the campaign that sought to undermine Senator John McCain’s military record. For someone so resentful of non-Indonesians meddling in national affairs, Prabowo seems to be listening closely to Allyn. Indeed there are many things about his current approach that echo the US presidental vote in 2000. That was the election in which victorious Democrats allowed scheming Republicans to steal the presidency from under their noses. To this day, I’ve never understood why U.S. citizens sat on their hands and witnessed this hijacking of the democratic principles that they are so keen to promote overseas (if somewhat selectively, witness Egypt and Palestine).
Americans are a lot more apathetic about their democracy than Indonesians are. And there was frankly a lot less difference between Bush and Gore in 2000 than there is between Prabowo and Jokowi in 2014. I applaud Jokowi and his supporters for staying calm and allowing the increasingly ridiculous-looking Prabowo to burst himself with his own bluster. But don’t stay TOO calm, please. If it comes to it, the majority of Indonesians who want to defend democracy may have to take a slightly more proactive approach.