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Podcast #112: Prabowo wins in Indonesia

February 19, 2024 - 07:00 -- Admin

Ben was joined by this week by Marcus Mietzner from the Coral Bell School of Asia Pacific Affairs at the ANU, and the author of The Coalitions Presidents Make, to discuss Prabowo Subianto’s clear victory in the first round of the Indonesian presidential election.

We discuss how Prabowo won, the shift in votes between 2019 and 2024, and the implications for how Prabowo will govern, as well as Prabowo’s relationship with outgoing president Jokowi – past, present and future.

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Ben: Welcome to the Tally Room podcast, I’m Ben Raue. Indonesia has elected a new president. Prabowo Subianto has succeeded in taking the country’s top job on his third attempt with the support of his former opponent Joko Widodo.

Despite earlier expectations that Prabowo would fall short of a majority and thus have to move on to a second round, the polls picked up in the last month and he’s won a clear majority. No second round will be needed.

My guest today is Marcus Mietzner. Marcus is an Associate Professor at the Coral Bell School of Asia-Pacific Affairs at the Australian National University. He is an expert on Indonesian politics and the author of the recent book The Coalitions Presidents Make. Hello Marcus.

Marcus: Thanks for having me.

Ben: We’re recording this podcast two days after the Indonesian election. Early results have now reported and show Prabowo Subianto well out in front with about 57% of the vote. Anies Baswedan is trailing on about 25% and Ganjar Pranowo on just 18%. Prabowo polled about 44.5% in 2019, when he last contested the presidency. What do the results tell us about where Prabowo boosted his support to win this time around?

Marcus: Yeah, so it’s not that difficult to read. If you look at the numbers, the polling numbers, we have a very good understanding how the voter migration occurred. And there are two major jumps in Prabowo’s support over time, and that was number one in about February-March 2023. When Jokowi started to move away from Ganjor Pranowo as his preferred successor and started to send signals that he might favor Prabowo. So then you see the first wave of Jokowi’s voters migrating towards Prabowo.

The second and bigger wave of that was in October 2023, when finally the candidates were nominated. And it became clear that now Jokowi had de facto endorsed Prabowo. Voters understood that although Jokowi always said he will be neutral in this election, it was clear from Prabowo’s pick of vice president which was Jokowi’s son.

So you see two things happening then in the polls. The percentage of voters who were convinced that Jokowi supported Prabowo escalated. And it’s now at about 89%, which is remarkable given the protestations of the President that he is neutral in the race.

So that’s the one thing and parallel to that, and as a result of that, more Jokowi voters from 2019 migrated towards Prabowo. So Prabowo now has about half of the 2019 Jokowi electorate. So if you look at the Prabowo electorate now, it’s 50% of Jokowi voters from 2019., and about a little bit more than 50% of his own electorate of 2019. Now, that means Prabowo lost about half of his voters: they went to Anies Baswedan, right?

But the important thing to understand in this context is that there was a very high likelihood that, let’s say there would have been a second round, and Prabowo would have faced Ganjar, that the Anies voters would have returned to Prabowo in the second round, they wouldn’t have gone for Ganjar.

And so we have for quite some time, we had the second round scenarios. And that would have been a landslide in either way had he faced Anies or Ganjar, it would have been the same thing. So it was actually never…for quite a long time it wasn’t a question of if Prabowo would win. It was a question how, it was a question whether one round would be sufficient. And it turned out that it was

Ben: Yes, so in a two horse race, he probably would have been winning by a lot more than the 57% that he has now in a three horse race. And it was interesting to look at those polling figures because if you go back to like mid-January, he was clearly well out in front, but he wasn’t over 50%.

But as you pointed out to me before we started recording, that number had creeped over 50% in the last couple of weeks. So in the end, the polls seem to have done a pretty good job of actually kind of picking where things are going to end up with combos in the 50s and Anies coming second.

Marcus: Yes, and we have a very strong record of polling institutes in Indonesia. You just have to know which ones to look at. There’s about probably by now about eight or nine that have over the years established a very good track record.

There’s also the ones that in the past have falsified polls for Prabowo in 2014 and 2019. Because Prabowo’s initial understanding of polls had always been, well you work with the polling Institute, you pay them and so then you can determine the numbers.

And one of the big strengths of Prabowo in this campaign has been that he changed his attitude. And Jokowi had a role in that and actually training him how to work with polling institutes. That you need to understand your weaknesses, you need to understand your real numbers to know where you’re weak, where you’re strong, where to go and put in an additional effort.

So that’s one of the big changes in Prabowo’s political approach that he now actually does work with credible polling institutes in order to understand where he’s still needs to improve.

Where famously in 2014 on election day, he had simply come up with his own pollsters saying that he had won. And of course, then the count contradicted that. But yeah, so now he actually, with Jokowi’s help, understands that if you want to win, you need to understand the voter and in order to understand the voter, you actually need to believe what pollsters tell you, even if it’s bad news for you.

Ben: Yeah, there’s no point fooling yourself with incorrect polls, even if they look good.

When you look at the provincial results, or even the regional results, there’s still a lot of votes to count. Those numbers might bounce around a little bit, but there’s not huge differences between the main islands. But it looks like Prabowo particularly gained ground in Java. So that sounds like he got a big swing there. You know, that was always a strong area for Jokowi, so that makes sense.

Whether it’s about geography or other demographics, do we know stuff about how particular demographic groups tend to vote or at least some educated guesses about, you know, religious divides or economic divides, or any of that sort of stuff about who made up that coalition that voted for Prabowo?

Marcus: As we discussed earlier, the key element in Prabowo’s success was the migration of former Jokowi voters. And that had political implications. So Prabowo won now in Central Java, which is the stronghold of Ganjar Pranowo and was the stronghold of Jokowi.

So Ganjar Pranowo’s campaign was always based on the belief that he would win in Central Java and in East Java, where the majority of the voters are in Indonesia.

But because Jokowi was very strong there, he pulled those voters away from Ganjar. His son, of course. Gibran, Jokowi’s son, is the mayor of Solo city, Central Java. And so the Central Java voters moved away from Ganjar and lead to a result where now Prabowo won in Central Java too. He won in East Java as well, where again, Jokowi was very strong.

So these regional results, we just have to understand where the Jokowi voters went from 2019, and we can explain that. In terms of a broader demographic profile, you mentioned the religious factor. It’s a very significant turnaround for Prabowo because he twice lost elections in 2014 and 2019 because the non-Muslim voters who make up about 12% of the Indonesian electorate had voted on block against him in 2014 and 2019. And he got about 5% of non-Muslim vote. Jokowi got about 95.

Prabowo won, in both cases, the Muslim vote at about 51% but because the non-Muslim vote went so heavily against him, he lost the overall election. Now this time because of Jokowi’s endorsement, non-Muslim voters went strongly for Prabowo at about, again as you mentioned, we will have to wait for more detailed exit polls, but by around 55%, probably close to 60% they went for Prabowo, which is a very important new development for him. That’s for him a real breakthrough.

So that’s the non-Muslim vote again decisive here. Prabowo did, but that is not new, he did very well with young voters. We’ve always understood that was the same case in 2014-2019. There’s apparently just something about Prabowo’s character, the revolutionary spirit you know the energy he’s bringing to campaigns that young voters feel drawn to.

So that was the case in 2014-2019 as well. This time that was even stronger. And you will have seen some of the reporting. There was a very strong online campaign, a very strong digital campaign. They created these cartoonish avatars of Prabowo where he appeared as a cute overweight uncle who was appealing to the electorate in order to, in a way whitewash his image as a former general under the autocratic regime accused of human rights violations.

So that part of the campaign where they tried to distract from the hardline image of Prabowo and put in a digital cute kind of campaign against that, that also drew young voters. Prabowo generally, and this is, I think, where the two electorates of Jokowi and Prabowo have merged, Prabowo has always been strong under the more educated and the urban electorate, while Jokowi was strong in the villages, and the low educated and low income brackets. Now that has now merged in some way.

Again, Prabowo made these inroads and that explains why he is now sitting at about 58%. Which, by the way, is more in a three-way race is more than Jokowi ever achieved in a two-way race. And we’ve had one result in a three-way race in 2009, where former president Yudhuyono won with 60%. So Prabowo won’t get to that number.

But in a three-way race to get 58% is remarkable, in fact, and not predicted. I mean, we predicted it in the last month. But even four months ago, five months ago, that was far from being predicted. In fact, everybody who asked me at the time, I would say this is going into two rounds. But in that last month with Jokowi’s help Prabowo got over the line,

Ben: I was just looking at the polling numbers before and I know I said they were accurate, but they were all in the low 50s. And right now it looks like Prabowo’s in the high 50s. So, you know, I wouldn’t blame a pollster for getting it that close and not quite getting it perfectly right. But actually, he has slightly over-performed what the polls said in those last few weeks.

Marcus: We work with a number of pollsters and I was asked to comment publicly on some of the latest releases. The last release of one of the key polls, Indikator, actually projected 54% for Prabowo with a possible 56%. The number that they had out of the raw data was 52%. But then they redistributed the undecided voters based on an analysis of those undecided voters and where they were most likely to go based on their demographic profile. And so their prediction was 54 with a ceiling of 56.

So they did come eventually very close, as you say Prabowo’s still outperformed that as well. Obviously, we have in many cases, the bandwagoning effect. And that’s very long in Indonesia. People want to be on the winning side.

I mean, I have been by very ordinary Indonesians over the last few months, if I asked them, “who do you vote for?”, in many cases, they throw back the question at me and they say, “Oh, who should I vote for? Who do you think is going to win?” And I say no, no, no, this is not how it works. I mean, who would you like to vote for.

But they are very interested in not being on the losing side. And so once it becomes clear that a certain candidate most likely is to prevail, then there will be a migration towards those candidates as well. And that’s what has happened here.

Ben: From what my limited experience of Indonesian politics. You know, the relationship to being loyal to a party is quite fluid. You know, if you’re in the US context, or whatever, you can have these close elections, but even when you know someone’s going to win, there’s a large number of people who would rather vote for the candidate, you know, they won’t switch on that basis, although that does happen sometimes.

Whereas in Indonesia, there’s very much someone who’s on a winner…there may be a much larger proportion of the population that is ultimately up for grabs, if they think someone’s on track to win, which seems to be the record we’ve seen for the last two presidents.

Marcus: That’s right. And one of the things that Jokowi has done and he’s been rightly criticized for that. During the election campaign, I mean formally he said he will not campaign but he did travel throughout Indonesia to distribute social assistance in the form of food, in the form of cash.

And while, again he said he was neutral, as I mentioned to you, 89% of Indonesians knew that he would be supporting Prabowo, and so the distribution of social aid to people in the minds of many voters was an attempt to get Praboow’s numbers up.

And so implicitly, there was the fear among many of the poor that if they didn’t vote for Prabowo, they would not be receiving social assistance. So again, this is a major feature of this campaign, and which I think will weigh very heavily on Jokowi’s legacy in the arena of democratic quality.

I mean, he basically, in the last month, the last two months, he didn’t take any prisoners. He didn’t care about the optics anymore. You know, he was pulling out all the stops. He was openly appearing with Prabowo in official events, he was having dinner with him. And he knew the message that would be sent out to the population was “I’m with him”. And he didn’t meet with the other two candidates, and he did it exclusively with Prabowo.

And so him traveling through Indonesia, distributing social aid was very clearly an attempt to tie the provision of social aid to voting choice. And so that also, if you talk about this last push that got Prabowo over the line in one round, that was a big factor in that.

My view has always been, looking at the numbers back in October and November, that Prabowo would win without much pressure, without much intimidation, without much interference, in a second round. Prabowo would probably end up with 45, and so forth. But because of the dynamics of a second round scenario, he would prevail in the second round in June.

But clearly, Jokowi had decided, by probably about December, that he wanted that to be over in one round. And then citing concern of investors’ certainty, and so forth, the outcome would be in a limbo for such a long time, investors would not come to Indonesia. And so he wanted it done.

And that’s when he came out so strongly, and in many ways overstepped the boundaries of democratic norms and values, by mobilizing the state apparatus and denying that he did it. There was clearly as we know, from the reporting of the news magazine Tempo and others, that the police was encouraged to use its influence at the grassroots to implicitly mobilize support for Prabowo.

Again, the President himself did this tour, which was widely understood as a campaign tour for Prabowo. So he was desperate, really at the end to get the ball into the position of president elect in the first round. And he achieved it.

But I think the price Indonesia is paying for that is high in terms of the reputation of its democracy. You already see now, some of the editorials that, you know, international newspapers are writing. The Economist, for instance, had a very hard hitting one that you know, “he will leave Indonesia’s presidency with a rotten smell”. And I think that’s unfortunately rather correct, because he unnecessarily I think, pulled out all the stops to get Prabowo elected. And it shouldn’t have been like that.

Ben: Your last book, that I’m currently in the middle of reading, is all about how Indonesian presidents build their coalitions to support themselves and kind of often turn themselves from a minority position when they take power into a position where they have majority support. And it’s not just about their position within the parliament, it’s also about other institutions as well.

But I wanted to start with the parliament that, again the results are not final, but it kind of looks like the parties that supported Prabowo haven’t got a majority of the vote, they’ve probably got about 45% of the vote. How did the results go in the parliament? And what position does Prabowo find himself in with that new parliament?

Marcus: Yeah, so one of the curious outcomes that was rather unexpected, is that Prabowo’s party didn’t do very well. In fact, based on the projections now it will not even come second. Jokowi’s former party, Jokowi’s position in PDI-P, which came number one is unclear. Nobody knows whether he’s still a member, whether he has been thrown out or whether he’s been leaving the party. But they came number one.

Number two is Golkar, which is the electoral machine of the former autocrat, Suharto. And only then in number three is Gerindra, which is Prabowo’s party.

Normally we would have predicted is what we call in political science a coattail effect. So that a presidential candidate, especially if he’s doing very well, will pull the party vote up. So Gerindra hasn’t really benefited from that, probably explicable by the fact that Prabowo’s coalition was so large, and that Jokowi’s was the main factor in creating this wave of voter migration towards him. And it wasn’t Gerindra that was doing that.

But still, it is remarkable that Gerindra didn’t benefit from it. As you mentioned, if you count all the parties that nominated Prabowo, formally, you will end up with about 43-45%. But as I explained in the book, that doesn’t really matter, because most parties then tend to support the elected president and elected presidents then end up with very large majorities.

Jokowi controlled about 82% of parliamentarians in the last parliament, that was not what this coalition was about. In fact, in his first term, he controlled only 37% of parliamentarians. And he then, within two years, built a super majority. So he was beyond two-thirds of support.

I expect the same to happen here. There’s a number of parties that were in the losing tickets’ coalitions that will migrate towards Prabowo sooner rather than later. So Prabowo doesn’t really have to worry about that. There will be parties, especially I think, out of the Anies coalition. So there was Nasdem, which is chaired by a media oligarch who is very pragmatic, he will go wherever power is concentrated. The other party in that coalition was a party based on Indonesia’s largest Muslim organization Nahdlatul Ulama. That also is likely to migrate to Prabowo because Nahdlatul Ulama itself at the end pretty clearly declared its support for Prabowo and NU people if you look at the numbers voted for Prabowo, it’s very easy for these two parties to migrate.

The one big question is over PDI-P. So the party that was Jokowi’s party, the party that feels betrayed by Jokowi, the party that nominated Ganjar Pranowo who initially everybody thought was Jokowi’s preferred successor, then he dropped him. And so there’s some very bad blood between April and Megawati. Sukarnoputri the head of PDI-P, who now feels betrayed.

But that, again, doesn’t matter. I’m very confident Prabowo will have a parliamentary majority in no time. I mean, that will obviously require some negotiations. But you know, as I explained in the book, that’s standard procedure, people are offered ministries, they’re offered other material benefits. And so they will automatically almost end up in the government’s column.

Now how big Prabowo’s coalition eventually will be we don’t know. It could be close to the 80% where Jokowi is now. It could be slightly smaller or even slightly bigger, because Prabowo has said, I’m the one who will embrace everybody. I will embrace the losers. I will embrace you know Anies, I will embrace Ganjar. And in fact, he had sort of projected that he might be the first president where every single party sits in government, it’s still possible. It will be hard given the bad blood with PDI-P.

Ben: So Prabowo’s the third directly-elected president after Yudhoyono and Jokowi. The two of them had quite different styles in some ways, even if some of the mechanisms of how they govern were similar. Can you predict at all how Prabowo might differ from those two about how he governs and how he runs the country?

Marcus: The first thing to say about that is I’m certain that this alliance between Jokowi and Prabowo will dissolve very quickly and there will be conflict between the two. I think of Philippines scenarios very likely where you now see President Marcos and his predecessor Duterte in a really heated conflict and with Duterte’s daughter as Marcos’ vice-president. So quite similar scenarios that we have here.

I think there will be a grace period in which Prabowo will still honour the contribution that Jokowi has made to his campaign. But then, very quickly, probably after six months, he will establish his own authority. And then will try to sideline Jokowi.

So the big question we all had is what exactly Jokowi thinks he has, in terms of leverage against Prabowo to enforce his loyalty towards him. Because clearly the expectation from Jokowi was that Prabowo will continue his policies. I don’t think that’s guaranteed at all. That’s the promise that Prabowo has made in order to get Jacoby to endorse him.

But now, that’s all over. Now he’s president-elect. He’s got everything he wanted from Jokowi, and now he can be his own man, and especially after the 20th of October, Inauguration Day, all the powers will move to the presidency, not the vice-presidency. Jokowi’s son is now vice-president. But it’s possible that that doesn’t mean anything. The vice-president in Indonesia will only get as much power as the president allows him to have.

So I think Prabowo will use the winning formula of Jokowi, which means running a big coalition, have high spending populist programs, but they have to be his own programs, not those of Jokowi, and then use presidential powers to dish out rewards and punishments. So he will do that.

But he will move away from some of the policy priorities of Jokowi. And the big sort of symbol in the middle of all of this is the new capital, Nusantara, which Jokowi is currently building in Borneo, which he committed Prabowo to continue to build.

But again, my prediction is that everything will be back on the table once that relationship between Jokowi and Prabowo inevitably, will experience at least tensions, if not, will fall apart pretty quickly.

So for me, the elections were over probably half a year ago. So I’ve been sort of redirecting my attention to what comes next. And I think the big story that comes next now is the relationship between Jokowi and Prabowo. So any assumption that this alliance, very pragmatic alliance, between Jokowi and Prabowo will just continue, as Prabowo takes power, I think are misguided.

And some of the reporting has actually been quite good on that. And I look at, for instance, the reports by the business consultancy firms, they are all now basing their assumptions on the inevitable falling-out between the two. And that complicates things a lot in terms of predicting who will get ministries, because I think the tensions between the two will not erupt immediately, they will, like in the Philippines between Marcos and Duterte, they will incrementally increase in at some stage then become public.

So that’s, as Indonesia watchers, that’s what we now need to concentrate on. The elections are done. And again, I think the outcome was predicted in this way for quite some time. But the real story for us is now what happens between these two. I mean, how does Jokowi think that he can retain his influence? And how will Prabowo try to become his own man. A president with his own sources of popularity with his own sources of power. And the cards in this game are with Prabowo, they’re not with Jokowi.

Ben: Yeah, it’s gonna be interesting to watch. Like, is Jokowi able to, if he does have falling out with Prabowo, exercise power in a way that like, because Prabowo will have all the institutions on his side, right, and like, can Jokowi do anything to resist that, with all the influence of his immense popularity? Is it over now that the next guy’s taking over?

Marcus: I mean, one thing to tell your audience as well, which we haven’t addressed here, Jokowi doesn’t even have a political party. He’s always refused to establish one. He in the last minute engineered a situation in which his son, the other son, the young son, Kaesang, became the head of a political party. And Jokowi threw his weight behind that. But surprisingly, actually, for me, that party failed at the ballot box so it will not be in Parliament. It’s below the threshold of four percent.

So Jokowi in terms of institutional influence, he has nothing. I mean, Prabowo, even throughout this period, he’s always had his own party, which was quite strong in Parliament. There’s other political leaders who have political parties. Jokowi does not even have that. So that’s what makes it interesting. Prabowo will have all the institutional powers. Jokowi has none. How will he try to translate his continued popularity into political leverage? And I don’t see it happening successfully for him at this point.

Ben: So that’s about it for this episode of the Tally Room podcast. Thank you, Marcus, for joining me.

Marcus: Thank you for having me.

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