Indonesia's courts to decide on election fraud allegations

Indonesian presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto shows his finger to reporters after voting at a polling station in Bogor, July 24, 2014. — Reuters pic
Indonesian presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto shows his finger to reporters after voting at a polling station in Bogor, July 24, 2014. — Reuters pic

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JAKARTA, July 24 — An attempt by ex-general Prabowo Subianto to overturn the Indonesian vote that elevated Jakarta Governor Joko Widodo to the presidency is set to hinge on nine justices in a test of the highest court for election matters.

Prabowo’s lawyer said the Suharto-era commando will file a suit with the Constitutional Court tomorrow questioning the validity of about 30 million votes after Widodo, known as Jokowi, won by 8.4 million ballots. Prabowo, 62, pulled out of vote counting after calling the July 9 poll “undemocratic” and riddled with fraud.

Prabowo’s last-minute effort to swing the result will raise pressure on the court to issue a decision rooted in the law. Failure to deliver a clean result would be a setback for a young democracy still emerging from decades of rule by dictator Suharto, and may risk street protests that could destabilise Asia’s fifth-largest economy.

“Voters believe the election was fair and from the perspective of the public it’s doubtful there’s been massive fraud,” according to Dodi Ambardi, executive director of polling agency Lembaga Survei Indonesia and a member of Persepi, an organisation of survey companies. A ruling changing the outcome “will result in unrest in Indonesian society because there will be so much evidence showing the election commission’s vote-counting process, which was done in the public eye, is being overturned.”

Alleged fraud

There were questions about voting procedures at at least 59,000 of the nation’s almost 480,000 polling stations, one of Prabowo’s lawyers Didi Supriyanto said yesterday, a day after official results were announced. Proof of fraud would be included in the plea to be filed to the court, which was about democratic fairness and not just about Prabowo becoming president, he said.

“We will not relinquish our push for transparency until the government investigates this evidence,” said Tantowi Yahya, a spokesman for the Prabowo camp. “This is important to ensure a legitimate incoming government and president that will establish political certainty and stability.”

Financial markets welcomed the official results showing Jokowi won with 53.15 per cent of the vote, with the rupiah rising 0.9 per cent yesterday and the Jakarta Composite index of shares gaining 0.2 per cent. The rupiah was 0.3 per cent lower against the dollar at 12.48pm in Jakarta, at 11,543.

US President Barack Obama called Jokowi to congratulate him on his victory and “noted that through this free and fair election, the people of Indonesia have once again shown their commitment to democracy,” the White House said in an e-mailed statement yesterday.


The court would have about a week to decide whether to accept Prabowo’s case, based on court legislation. If it chooses to do so, the judges would hear arguments in August and rule by Aug 24, in time for the next president to take over on Oct 20, when President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s second term ends. The court’s decision, which does not require a consensus, is final.

The court’s justices are appointed to their five-year terms by the president, with three recommended by the supreme court, three by the lower house of parliament and three by the president. Two of the current judges, including the chief justice, in the past were elected members of parliament for parties that have at times been aligned with Prabowo’s Gerindra party.

Life sentence

Since Indonesia returned to democracy following the 1998 fall of Suharto, Prabowo’s former father-in-law, the court has heard hundreds of election cases. That includes one after the 2009 presidential election filed by losing candidate Megawati Soekarnoputri—the chairwoman of Jokowi’s party—alleging millions of ghost votes. The court ruled the irregularities were not systemic and would not have affected the result.

The constitutional court has been tainted by corruption with the previous chief justice, Akil Mochtar, serving a life sentence after being found guilty in June of graft and money laundering in a case the court heard involving a local election challenge.

“So far, it is relatively credible except for the case involving Akil Mochtar,” said Arie Sujito, a political analyst at Gadjah Mada University in Yogyakarta. “I think we have to trust the court to carry out their proceedings because there is public control that watches the court’s actions.”

‘Massive evidence’

After the July 9 vote both candidates claimed victory based on unofficial quick counts—though all the counts by survey companies that agreed to be audited showed Jokowi winning—and called on supporters to guard against manipulation of the formal tally. The burden will be on Prabowo to prove his allegations, said Ambardi, who is also a political science lecturer at Gadjah Mada University.

“He will require massive amounts of evidence,” and it would be “impossible” to prove there were 30 million fraudulent votes, he said. “The court will look at both the evidence and the significance. If it’s too small of a scale in both, it will be dismissed.”

Ambardi said that while it is “impossible to have a 100 per cent clean election,” it was unlikely Prabowo would be able to prove enough fraud to change the outcome.

According to the court rules, evidence can come from witness testimony, experts and parties, as well as documents used, including copies of results from polling venues and election committees at city, district, province and national level.

Risking reputation

A lack of evidence of systematic fraud indicates the court is unlikely to overturn the result, according to Anton Alifandi, a London-based analyst at research company IHS Inc.

“Although the court has in the past been plagued by corruption, it is unlikely that it would risk its reputation on such a high-profile case that has been very closely monitored,” he said in e-mailed comments. “The court must also rule by August, two months before the new president assumes office on 20 October, which means that there will be no power vacuum as a result of the legal challenge, reducing the risk of political instability.”

The fallout from Prabowo’s decision to walk out on the vote count and then plan a court case will give Jokowi, 53, an opportunity to bridge any divide in the nation and build on his current minority coalition in parliament before taking office, said Sujito from Gadjah Mada University.

Pragmatic parties

“If Jokowi quickly takes acts of reconciliation, Prabowo’s efforts to create trouble will be opposed by Indonesians,” Sujito said. “The character of parties in Prabowo’s camp is pragmatic. They will not want to waste energy for something that would not yield results.”

Prabowo’s refusal to accept defeat may lead to a loss of influence, said Hamdi Muluk, political psychology scholar at the University of Indonesia in Depok, West Java.

“Prabowo will not be a problem in the long-term for Jokowi,” he said. “Prabowo will run out of ammunition as the coalition joins Jokowi. Prabowo will be a toothless tiger.” — Bloomberg

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