Indonesia elects a new president

For the time I was in Indonesia, I wrote in this blog (though not often enough) about my experience and shared some stories. I’d like now to share some current and historical events in Indonesia, specifically relating to the recent presidential election and subsequent challenge.

On July 9, just a week before I left the country, there was an election for president. Skipping through some history, a previous leader Suharto’s 30-year authoritarian rule came to an end in 1998 after mass protests called for democracy. Some of those protesters were kidnapped and killed. In the mix came horrendous riots aimed directly at the ethnic Chinese Indonesians.

I give that history, to say that one of the candidates in Indonesia’s presidential election, Prabowo Subianto, is a former general under Suharto, who has been implicated in the kidnapping and killing in 1998. After running a well-funded campaign during which he attacked his opponent, he nearly won the election.

Indonesia’s present problem of corruption is endemic and a cause of great sadness to many in the country. Despite people’s resignation that their country is still under a great weight of corruption, people came out to vote, and many of my friends were very proud to do so. Many of them voted for Jokowi; some of them voted for Prabowo, believing that he was the strong leader Indonesia needed. And that’s ok.

The winning candidate, Joko Widodo (known as Jokowi) is a former furniture salesman born into a poor family. He was elected mayor of a city in Java, and then was elected as governor of the special district of Jakarta. During his time as governor of Jakarta, he would make surprise visits to slums and talk to the people.

His deputy governor will take over his position–quite the historic moment on its own, considering the new Jakarta governor-to-be is an ethnic Chinese Christian–a double minority. Ethnic Chinese Indonesians still face discrimination, and they remember well the riots and violence against them in 1998.

As it is a sprawling archipelago of thousands of islands and the world’s 3rd largest democracy, it took several weeks for the election commission to count all the votes. Jokowi won the election with 53.2% of the vote. Although it is probably true to say some irregularities existed, and both sides could be culprits, Prabowo immediately insisted that the election commission’s data was wrong and alleged widespread systematic fraud. This claim was repeated, although he gave little in the way of evidence to support this claim. He gave his own result and took the case to the Constitutional Court.

Last week, the court gave its ruling and rejected Prabowo’s claim, citing that he did not sufficiently prove his claim of widespread systemic fraud.

Although he has publicly stated he will accept the court ruling, his political party has a coalition in the legislature that could obstruct Jokowi’s governance.

I hope that doesn’t happen. I hope and pray that this be a new beginning for Indonesia.

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