VICE Votes

Prabowo Declares Victory, but Quick Counts Tell a Different Story—Jokowi Wins

As polls close in a divisive election, similarities from the 2014 race continue to haunt Indonesia, suggesting the battle for the top spot is far from over.

by Arzia Tivany Wargadiredja
17 April 2019, 11:25am

Two men vote at a polling booth in Bogor, West Java on April 17, 2019. Photo by Willy Kurniawan/Reuters

Alysha Paxia Susilo walked out of her middle income apartment complex in South Jakarta's Kebagusan neighbourhood, Wednesday morning in a tucked-in white button down shirt meant to symbolise her intentions to vote for incumbent Joko Widodo and his running mate Ma'ruf Amin in Indonesia's presidential election.

In Kebagusan, Alysha fits right in. The neighbourhood, located deep in the capital's south side, is also the home of Megawati Soekarnoputri and her Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), the party of Jokowi and the favoured candidate to win this presidential election.

But Alysha isn't actually registered to vote in Kebagusan. She moved to the neighbourhood only one year ago from Condet, in East Jakarta—her childhood home and a stronghold of the Islamist Prosperous Justice Party (PKS). It's a community that's expected to go for Jokowi's rival Prabowo Subianto, a former military general who is mounting what is probably his final campaign for the presidency. The two neighbourhoods are separated by a mere seven kilometres, but the distance politically is as vast as it is between Alysha, a 23-year-old progressive voter, and her parents, staunch supporters of Prabowo.


Watch: VICE Votes: Young Indonesian Voters Speak Up On The 2019 Election


I met with Alysha the morning of election day, following her through her old neighbourhood to see if I could learn something about the shifting political landscape of Indonesia—a young, but vibrant democracy in the midst of yet another divisive election. This election, the second—and last—between Jokowi and Prabowo, captured none of the spark or excitement of their previous face-off in 2014. This time around, both sides quickly turned against each other, resorting to name calling, smear campaigns, and fights on social media.

Both candidates also tried to prove who was the "most Muslim" in an electoral landscape that, since the 2017 Jakarta governor's race, has hinged more on Islamic identity politics than ever before. And this shift, as well as Jokowi's decision to pull in an Islamic scholar with a history of supporting fatwas against the LGBTQ community and religious minorities as his vice presidential candidate, have left a lot of young progressive voters feeling alienated and disengaged. Claims that young voters were going to cast protest votes selecting neither candidate—a practice called golput—garnered headlines, drama, and belittling op-eds for much of the campaign.

Nationwide, more than 192 million registered voters were expected to hit the polls today, voting in the presidency and more than 20,000 other positions down the ticket. By the end of the day, overall voter turnout was slightly higher than expected, according to some counts. The elections were also postponed in more than 700 polling places in Papua after the ballots failed to arrive in time—a common issue in one of the most remote, and under-developed places in Indonesia.

By the end of last week, Jokowi was still polling in the lead by nearly 20 percent, according to trusted pollster Saiful Mujani Research and Consulting (SMRC). But at least one expert warned VICE not to count Prabowo out yet. His brand of populist-tinged nationalism and ties with hardline Muslim groups is still a powerful vote-getter in 2019.

Prabowo, a candidate who has historically presented himself as a stern military man more than a pious Muslim, seems to have successfully rebranded in this election. Alysha's own father believes that Prabowo is the more Islamic candidate, telling his daughter that "Prabowo gets more support from Muslims, like the realest Muslims.” He also believes that Jokowi is being backed by kafir, although it's unclear if he means non-Muslims in Indonesia or foreigners in general (it's a common fake narrative that Jokowi has sold out Indonesia to China).

Indonesian presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto gestures after polls closed in Jakarta, Indonesia April 17, 2019. REUTERS/Willy Kurniawan
Prabowo Subianto raises his ink-stained finger after the polls closed in Jakarta, on April 17, 2019. Photo by Willy Kurniawan/Reuters

“My dad supports Prabowo,” she said while waiting at her local polling place, a sun-baked basketball court attached to an Islamic school where the hoops no longer have nets. “I’m glad they didn’t threaten to disown me. I have friends whose parents forced them to vote for the same candidate."

Alysha told me she supports Jokowi because she believes in a clean government, transparency, and religious pluralism, all notions that put her on the more progressive side of Indonesian politics. Further down the ticket, she chose candidates with the Indonesian Solidarity Party (PSI)—a new millennial, pluralistic party that is the most left in a field that tends to skew overwhelmingly centre and right.

"Their program will allow us to monitor all the legislative candidates’ work," she explained of her choice. "It means they are very transparent."

Nationwide, voters told VICE's journalists that they were treating this election as a mandate on Jokowi's five years in office. For some, his single term has been a positive one. Yuanita Timparose, a 26-year-old voter in Makassar, South Sulawesi, told VICE, "I voted for Jokowi. His programmes should be continued. He’s already on the right track."

Others, like Ansyarullah, a 31-year-old voter from Banda Aceh, in Aceh province, saw Jokowi's term as a time that allowed the country's deep divisions to crack a bit wider. He told VICE he voted for Prabowo in the hopes that he could unite the fractured country, explaining, "It's simple. I just want a new president. Change the government. We have been divided for so long."

Prabowo spoke confidently of his chances as he cast his own ballot Wednesday morning in Bogor, a suburban district on the outskirts of Jakarta, telling the gathered press that he wanted clean and fair election before promising to continue fighting for the people no matter the outcome of this race.

"Even if the people don’t choose me, I will still defend them," Prabowo said on television as he left the polling station. "We’re optimistic about [winning], our count so far is 63 percent. That’s our count. Don’t abstain from voting. It’s a waste of your right and duty as a citizen."

Jokowi was less talkative as he cast his own ballot Wednesday morning, telling reporters, "I’m optimistic we’ll win, but we’ll see. Just be patient for a few hours."

By 3 pm, the quick count results started to come in, with Jokowi taking an early lead. Quick counts, while not official, have historically been accurate enough to call a race in Indonesia. Thirty minutes later, most quick counts (there are a lot of quick count pollsters in Indonesia) had tallied more than half the ballots cast and Jokowi was still leading, in most counts by as much as 11 percent.

Gunawan, a 46-year-old security guard who showed up at Rumah Cemara, one of five Jokowi campaign headquarters in Jakarta, broke down in tears of joy as he read the results.

"The most important thing for me is the Jakarta Smart Card (Jokowi's program for low income students to finish their education) so students can go to university," he said. "That's his promise... My child is 19 and is in university."

Across the city, at Rumah Prabowo Kertanegara, a crowd of nearly 50 men and women were gathered around the television screen, remarking with disappointment and doubt that their candidate was losing the presidential election a second time.

"Oh, if the difference is this wide..." one man said, his voice trailing off as he watched Prabowo continue to trail in the counts.

"This is a paid survey, right?" another interrupted, trying to cast doubt on the figures appearing on the TV screen.

The crowd broke out into cheers of "President Prabowo! President Prabowo!" as they attempted to raise the mood at the headquarters. A crowd of women pointed to the screen as the quick count results started to inch closer together and began to shout, "That has to be a lie! How can seven surveys have the same results?"

One supporter, a man named Iwan Yusuf, told VICE that the people were upset because, in his view, the quick counts on TV weren't accurate.

"If you look at this, Prabowo is still going to win," he said. "It's not final. We have our own counts in Sulawesi and Bali. Prabowo will win."

Indonesia's President Joko Widodo reacts after a quick count result during the Indonesian elections in Jakarta, Indonesia April 17, 2019. REUTERS/Edgar Su
Jokowi walks through a crowd of supporters in Jakarta on April 17, 2019. Photo by Edgar Su/Reuters

Shortly before 5 pm, as the quick counts closed in on their final numbers (77 percent counted) and Prabowo looked like a clear loser in the race, the fiery former general called a televised press conference and announced that, according to his own figures, he had just won the presidency.

Prabowo claimed that his own party's data showed a 55.4 percent win according to exit polls and a 52 percent win by their own quick counts, two figures that showed what he called a clear victory.

"All volunteers please guard our victory at all polling stations and subdistricts," Prabowo said on a stage surrounded by Gerindra and PKS members, but not his own running mate. "And for all Indonesian citizens, I'm reminding you firmly that we know that there have been efforts from certain survey institutions that work for one side to falsely show that we've lost."

"Do not believe them, keep monitoring your polling station and the official tallies, and guard your subdistrict. Don't give up," he added. "I'm asking my supporters to stay calm and to not get provoked. Focus on guarding the ballot boxes so we can fight all the lies they've told us. Again, do not get provoked and avoid overreaction, including all actions punishable by law and any form of violence."

Minutes later, Jokowi took the stage to a cheering crowd. Rather than address the quick count results, which at the time had Jokowi leading the race by some nine percent, he told the country to just wait for the official counts by the General Elections Commission (KPU).

"From the exit polls and quick counts, we've seen everything, but we need to wait patiently for the official results from KPU," Jokowi said in a short televised press conference, standing next to coalition members and his own VP. "Let's all unite, as citizens of this country, after the presidential and legislative elections, and establish and care for our unity, our harmony and our brotherhood. I feel that is all I can say for now. Thank you."

Prabowo attempted a similar end-run around the quick count figures in 2014, fighting the results in a Constitutional Court case he eventually lost. In this election, he's been planting the seeds of doubt for weeks, with Gerindra officials claiming to have uncovered millions of suspicious voters who all shared similar birthdays. Others, his team claimed, were dead. Altogether, it represented as much as nine percent of the electorate, they told the press.

In an election that was, from the start, a redux of the 2014 presidential race, it now looks like it will end in the same place as well—a fight in the Constitutional Court.

Alysha was hanging out with her family when I called her on the phone. She told me that she wasn't surprised by the quick count results.

"I'm happy, but not super excited," she said.

How was her dad, the Prabowo supporter, taking it, I asked.

"My father hasn't really reacted yet," she said. "He just said, 'look at the quick counts. They can't be trusted.'"

— Adi Renaldi in Jakarta, Iqbal Lubis in Makassar, Alfath Asmunda in Banda Aceh, Ananda Badudu in Bandung, and Kristianto Galuwo in Jayapura, contributed to this report