By Edward Aspinall and Marcus Meitzner
Let’s be clear about one thing: Joko Widodo (Jokowi) has won
Indonesia’s 9 July presidential election. If the formal vote counting
and tabulation process concludes without massive fraud, he will be sworn
in as the country’s new president on 20 October of this year.
The reason we can be sure of this despite the absence of an official
announcement by the Election Commission (KPU) is the availability of
quick counts carried out by Indonesia’s credible survey institutions.
Quick counts occur when a survey institute places field workers in a
sample of polling booths and, when the formal counting of the ballots at
the polling booth is complete, those workers convey the results
(usually by telephone) to a central collation centre. If the sample
polling booths are properly selected and sufficiently great in number
and the count is administered correctly, well-organised quick counts can
predict the final outcome of the formal count within a very narrow
margin of error.
On voting day, within hours of the polls closing, eight of these
institutions released their results showing that Jokowi had won the
election by a solid margin:
Critically, most of these organisations are widely respected for
their integrity, professionalism, and technical skills in survey
methodology—a reputation they earned by producing highly accurate quick
counts since 2004, when direct local and presidential elections were
introduced. Even RRI (Radio of the Indonesian Republic), the country’s
state broadcaster—a relative newcomer to the business of quick
counts—had drawn praise for its performance in the 2014 legislative
elections; indeed, its quick count came closest to the actual result.
The fact that all of Indonesia’s credible survey institutions coincided
in finding a Jokowi victory, and by a broadly similar margin, means it
is all but a statistical impossibility that Jokowi will not emerge
victorious in a properly conducted formal KPU count.
On the basis of these quick counts, Jokowi yesterday claimed victory
in the election (though he used typically casual language in doing so)
and he called on his followers to closely monitor the formal counting of
ballots in the next two weeks. However, at the same time, four
organisations produced quick counts of their own that showed a Prabowo
Subianto victory, albeit by narrower margins.
On the basis of this smaller number of quick counts, Prabowo Subianto
has also claimed victory. Consequently, Indonesia is now set for a
period of significant political confusion, uncertainty, and even
instability, in the weeks leading to the formal announcement of the
results by the KPU on 22 July.
How can this confusion have arisen? We wish to be very clear that
this is not a matter of a range of equally credible quick counts showing
a wide range of potentially legitimate results. Rather, the confusion
is part of Prabowo Subianto’s strategy to steal the election, a strategy
that evidently has been long in the making. Reportedly, one of
Prabowo’s chief campaign strategists, Rob Allyn, has been known not only
for his expertise in negative campaigning but also for producing surveys which create the impression that an electorally weak candidate is competitive,
and using the subsequent confusion among the electorate to manoeuvre
this candidate into a more favourable position. Allyn has been known for
this strategy in Mexican elections. It seems Indonesia is fertile
ground for the same method.
Step 1. Muddy the statistical waters.
Over the last decade or so, as well as an array of highly
professional survey institutes, it is widely recognized that many
organisations have arisen that are willing to tailor their survey
results to favour their clients, and even to falsify surveys altogether.
They typically do so when producing voter surveys, in the belief that
some Indonesian voters are more likely to back a winner and that falsely
high survey result will thus boost a sponsor’s chance of being elected.
Though we have no direct evidence that the organisations producing
the quick counts favouring Prabowo were paid to falsify their results,
their track records give us every reason to be highly suspicious—indeed
to be certain—that manipulation of some sort has taken place. For
example, one of the organisations mentioned above, LSN (Lembaga Survei
Nasional; National Survey Institute) has a consistent record of
producing survey findings that show results for Prabowo and his Gerindra
party that are much higher than the findings of established pollsters.
As early as 2009, LSN predicted in the parliamentary elections then that
Gerindra would get 15.6 percent of the votes—it eventually ended up
with 4.5 percent. In the 2014 parliamentary elections, LSN issued a very
early quick count even before polls had closed—stating that Gerindra
would come first with 26.1 percent, obviously hoping that last-minute
voters would bandwagon. At the end, Gerindra finished third with 11.8
percent. Two days before the presidential elections, LSN issued a poll
that showed Prabowo leading by 9 percentage points—although other,
credible pollsters had Jokowi leading by between 2 to 4 percent.
Puskaptis, another pollster whose quick count saw Prabowo ahead on
the evening of 9 July, has a similarly questionable history. In 2013,
the head of Puskatis, Husin Yazid, had to be rescued from an angry crowd
protesting against his manipulation of a quick count in the
gubernatorial elections in South Sumatra. JSI (Jaringan Suara Indonesia;
Indonesia Vote Network), for its part, has almost no track record,
except for falsely predicting Governor Fauzi Bowo’s victory against
Jokowi in Jakarta in 2012, and for claiming in the same year that 64
percent of Indonesians thought that Prabowo was the most suitable
candidate for the Indonesian presidency. Finally, IRC (Indonesian
Research Center) is reportedly owned by Hary Tanoesoedibjo, a media
tycoon aligned with Prabowo. In June 2014, IRC predicted that Prabowo
would win the presidency against Jokowi with 48 to 43 percent—using a
thus far unheard-of methodology: it combined the polling numbers of all
presidential candidates into an index and redistributed them based on
whether they now supported Prabowo or Jokowi. It is hard to think of a
less professional approach to opinion polling.
It is unsurprising, then, that these organisations came to the quick
count results that they published on 9 July. And it is equally telling
that all these organisations released their findings on tvOne—the
television channel owned by Prabowo ally Aburizal Bakrie which has
produced blatantly pro-Prabowo coverage throughout the election. In the
lead-up to the presidential elections, tvOne had signed an exclusive
contract with Poltracking, a new but relatively reputable institution.
On the morning of voting day, however, Poltracking was told by tvOne
that other institutions would join the quick count coverage of the
pro-Prabowo station. Knowing about the questionable reputation of these
institutions, Poltracking resigned from the contract with tvOne at 10am
on 9 July. It later announced a quick count result that, like other
credible survey institutions, saw Jokowi as the winner. The others, as
explained above, followed tvOne’s very obvious preference and published
the quick counts that falsely declared Prabowo to have won.
Step 2. Steal the results.
Why produce fake quick results? Votes have already been cast, so the
intention cannot be to influence voter behavior. The purpose is clear:
to buy time and sow public confusion about the election result, while
preparing other methods to produce a victory in the formal count.
There are two ways through which Prabowo could potentially win at
this stage. The first would be to wait for the formal announcement of
the result and then challenge it in the Constitutional Court. The margin
of Jokowi’s victory, however, means that even if the Prabowo camp can
find examples of maladministration in the count here and there—it will
almost certainly be able to do this because Indonesian elections are far
from flawless in their execution—it will not be able to overturn the
result through a formal challenge. Jokowi’s current advantage is an
estimated 6.5 million votes; thus, Prabowo would have to swing around
3.3 million votes to draw even with Jokowi or gain a slight lead. No
Constitutional Court decision, whether on cases at the local or national
level, has ever shifted this amount of votes from one candidate to
another. In rare cases, the Court agreed to move a few hundred or few
thousand votes—but nothing of this magnitude. Similarly, the Court has
ordered re-votes in some cases, but mostly in individual voting stations
This leaves one other option: manipulation of the formal counting and
vote tabulation process. We know from other Indonesian elections—most
recently the April legislative election—that vote ‘trading’ in the
counting process is widespread. Candidates can and do bribe election
officials at every level—from the individual polling booths up through
the various levels of village, subdistrict, district and then provincial
level commissions that collate the results—to shift votes from one
party or candidate to another, to enter votes ‘on behalf’ of voters that
did not turn up at the booth, or engage in other forms of manipulation.
In the April legislative elections, fraud was massive but likely had
little effect on the overall share of the votes attained by different
parties because candidates from all parties engaged in such practices in
highly fragmented and uncoordinated patterns.
It will be unprecedented in Indonesia’s democratic experience for a
candidate to try to steal the presidential result. But it is highly
likely that Prabowo’s camp will make the attempt. Particularly
vulnerable are areas (such as the island of Madura) where Prabowo
supporters dominate local power structures and where Jokowi or his PDI-P
had few scrutineers at the polling booths to record the results as they
were counted (exit polls on voting day showed that Prabowo had
observers at 88 percent of all voting stations, against Jokowi’s 83
percent). It’s also especially likely that such manipulation will occur
in areas where governors are district heads are Prabowo supporters, and
where they will be able to exert pressure on local officials to
intervene in the count.
Where to now?
During the election campaign, Prabowo Subianto posed as a democrat.
In fact, he protested regularly against being portrayed as a
“dictator”—even in his last Facebook message to supporters before the
election, he complained about the non-democratic image given to him by
unspecified forces. Now, however, he delivers the final piece of
evidence that he truly is a would-be autocrat who has no respect for the
will of the people and would stop at nothing to win power, even if he
has to lie and cheat his way to the presidency.
We think that it is likely that Prabowo will fail in his efforts. The
scale of Jokowi’s victory is such that too many votes would need to be
shifted to Prabowo’s side of the ledger in order to steal the result.
However, we cannot be fully confident about this prediction: what we
know about Prabowo’s ruthlessness, past experiences of widespread fraud
in vote counting, the weakness of the PDI-P’s monitoring apparatus, the
strength of the Prabowo’s political networks in the regions, and the
vast material resources they have at their disposal all suggest that the
Prabowo camp will be able to make a concerted effort to overturn the
result. Doing so, however, will not be easy. The scale of the
manipulation required means it will be relatively easy to detect, and it
will invite massive resistance from Jokowi’s supporters. A major
escalation of political conflict is possible.
Indonesian democracy is not out of danger. In a series of previous posts (here, here and here)
we have warned that Indonesia’s post-Suharto democratic system would be
endangered should Prabowo be elected president. He now looks prepared
to destroy it in order to gain the post.
Edward Aspinall & Marcus Mietzner conduct research on Indonesian politics at the Department of Political and Social Change
at the Australian National University’s College of Asia & the
Pacific. They have been in Indonesia observing the 2014 legislative and
presidential elections. This article originally appeared 10 July in New Mandala.