Indonesian court upholds president’s re-election victory

Indonesian President Joko Widodo, left, and Vice President Maruf Amin. Indonesia’s defeated presidential election challenger Gen. Prabowo Subianto lost a bid to overturn his loss to Widodo. (AFP)
Updated 27 June 2019

Indonesian court upholds president’s re-election victory

  • Joko Widodo will begin second term in October, after opponent’s challenge of the result was rejected
  • His opponent, retired Gen. Prabowo Subianto, alleged ‘massive, structured and systematic’ electoral fraud

JAKARTA: Indonesia’s long and divisive election saga, which has been marred by violence, has formally ended with a ruling by the Constitutional Court that clears the way for President Joko Widodo to be sworn in for a second term.
The court on Thursday rejected a challenge by retired army Gen. Prabowo Subianto, Widodo’s sole opponent in the April 17 presidential poll, who claimed that the incumbent’s victory was the result of “massive, structured and systematic” electoral fraud. Although from the start the challenge was expected to be fail, a series of events surrounding it have jeopardized the country’s political stability and internal security.

May riots
When the General Election Commission announced on May 21 that Widodo received 55.5 percent of the votes, compared with Subianto’s 44.5 percent, demonstrations denouncing the result turned violent and deadly riots broke out in several locations in Jakarta. Two days of violence claimed nine lives and left more than 900 people injured.
An investigation into the cause of the deaths is ongoing. Police have on various occasions said the riots were instigated by a third party with the aim of spreading chaos and destabilizing the country. A number of active and retired military officers had been arrested on charges that include arms smuggling, subversion and plotting to assassinate high-ranking officials, including ministers and the president’s chief security adviser.
While rights groups and activists have accused the security forces of using excessive force while dealing with the riots and called for a transparent probe, many of them also noted that the events are reminiscent of violent incidents in May 1998, also in Jakarta, that began days before former President Suharto was forced to resign. Some of the recently arrested officers were close to the late dictator, who ruled for 32 years, raising suspicions that the this year’s riots might have been part of a failed coup attempt.
Security was heightened in the capital ahead of the Constitutional Court’s announcement and dozens of suspected militants were detained in the past few weeks amid fears that terrorist groups might attempt to take advantage of the tense political situation.

End of dispute
There was a sense of deja vu about Subianto’s unwillingness to concede defeat. After the 2014 presidential election, when the gap between him and Widodo was half the size it is this year, he declared himself the winner and challenged the result, alleging electoral violations. His challenge was also rejected by the Constitutional Court on that occasion.
This time he faced an even tougher battle. The accusation of “massive, structured and systematic” fraud required him to provide evidence that a majority of the constituencies had been affected.
“Given that, by regulation, he could present only 15 eyewitnesses, there was no way to prove that the alleged rigging was massive when votes were cast at more than 800,000 polling stations during the election,” said Jakarta lawyer Pahrur Dalimunthe.
There were some irregularities but observers have been unanimous in concluding that these were unavoidable in an election in which 190 million people voted on the same day. These irregularities could not, however, have affected the final result to such an extent that would result in an 11 percent gap between the candidates, they concluded.
The court’s decision to reject Subianto’s challenge is final and binding. In October, Widodo will be sworn in for a second term.

The future
Ahead of the Constitutional Court’s first hearing in mid-June, Subianto posted a video on his Facebook page in which he urged his followers to refrain from demonstrating and stay away from the court to avoid further unrest. While no serious incidents were recorded on Thursday, and Subianto officially accepted the decision of the court, the degree of polarization in Indonesian society and its political elites remains high. The president will have to cope with an unprecedented scale of divisions, which have been aggravated by months of political campaigning.
When the election results were announced in May, officials from the president’s circle began to hint that members of the opposition might be invited to be part of Widodo’s next Cabinet. While the leaders of the major parties that backed Widodo’s rival have given clear signs that they would be interested in participating in such a Cabinet, until recently there was no mention of whether the invitation would extend to Subianto himself and his Great Indonesia Movement (Gerindra), the strongest opposition party.
Several days ago, however, senior Gerindra members confirmed that their leader has been in talks about receiving ministerial posts in Widodo’s Cabinet. If this happens, there will be virtually no opposition to the government and the president will be able to double down on reform efforts during his second term.
There are doubts, however, about whether such a “rainbow government” is possible. According to political commentator Hamid Basyaib, talks of this kind between key stakeholders is normal and does not necessarily indicate that Subianto will be welcome in the Cabinet.
“Widodo himself will easily open his arms to anyone,” he added. “He has no problem with that. But this needs to be seriously discussed among the highest ranks of his party and in the coalition (of other parties that endorsed him).”
The next few weeks will start to reveal how well Widodo can navigate his way through such complex conflicts of interests. The ruling of the Constitutional Court at least means he can at least officially begin the process.


Why India coronavirus cases are rising to multiple peaks

Updated 1 min 51 sec ago

Why India coronavirus cases are rising to multiple peaks

  • India has tallied 793,802 infections and more than 21,600 deaths, with cases doubling every three weeks

NEW DELHI: In just three weeks, India went from the world’s sixth worst-affected country by the coronavirus to the third, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University. India’s fragile health system was bolstered during a stringent monthslong lockdown but could still be overwhelmed by an exponential rise in infections.
Here is where India stands in its battle against the virus:

Steady climb, multiple peaks
India has tallied 793,802 infections and more than 21,600 deaths, with cases doubling every three weeks. It’s testing more than 250,000 samples daily after months of sluggishness, but experts say this is insufficient for a country of nearly 1.4 billion people.
“This whole thing about the ‘peak’ is a false bogey because we won’t have one peak in India, but a series of peaks,” said Dr. Anant Bhan, a bioethics and global health researcher. He pointed out that the capital of New Delhi and India’s financial capital, Mumbai, had already seen surges, while infections had now begun spreading to smaller cities as governments eased restrictions. The actual toll would be unknown, he said, unless India made testing more accessible.

John Hopkins University graphic

Dubious data
The Health Ministry said Thursday that India was doing “relatively well” managing COVID-19, pointing to 13 deaths per 1 million people, compared to about 400 in the United States and 320 in Brazil. But knowing the actual toll in India is “absolutely impossible” because there is no reporting mechanism in most places for any kind of death, said Dr. Jayaprakash Muliyil, an epidemiologist at the Christian Medical College in Vellore who has been advising the government.
Official data shows 43% of the people who have died from the coronavirus were between the ages of 30 and 60, but research globally indicates that the disease is particularly fatal to the elderly, suggesting to Muliyil that many virus deaths among older Indians “don’t get picked up” or counted in the virus fatality numbers.


“No central coordination”
In India, public health is managed at a state level, and some have managed better than others. The southern state of Kerala, where India’s first three virus cases were reported, has been held up as a model. It isolated patients early, traced and quarantined contacts and tested aggressively. By contrast, Delhi, the state that includes the national capital, has been sharply criticized for failing to anticipate a surge of cases in recent weeks as lockdown measures eased. Patients have died after being turned away from COVID-designated hospitals that said they were at capacity. It led the Home Ministry to intervene and allocate 500 railway cars as makeshift hospital wards.
But as the capital rushes to conjure new beds, officials admit that they’re worried about the lack of trained and experienced health care workers. According to Jishnu Das, a professor of economics at Georgetown University, there is “no central coordination” to move health care staff from one state to another, exposing India’s relative inability to use data to guide policy decisions.
“The one big thing that we’re learning from this pandemic is it takes any cracks in our systems and it drives a chisel to them. So, it’s no longer a crack, it’s a huge chasm,” Das said.

India’s role in global fight
India has seven vaccines in various stages of clinical trial, including one by Bharat Biotech that the Indian Council on Medical Research pledged would have results from human trials by Aug. 15, the country’s Independence Day. The top medical research body quickly backtracked, but regardless of whether India comes out on top in the global race for a vaccine, the country will play a critical role in the world’s inoculation against COVID-19.
The Serum Institute of India in the central Indian city of Pune is the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer. India makes about 1,000 ventilators and 600,000 personal protective equipment kits per day, according to government think-tank Niti Aayog, making it the second largest kit maker in the world after China.


The economic curve
Although Indian airspace remains closed to commercial airlines from abroad, India’s economy has largely reopened. Consumer activity has rebounded to pre-pandemic levels, government data showed, and factory workers who fled cities when India imposed its lockdown March 24 have begun to return, enticed, in some cases, by employers offering free room and board.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has used the health crisis along with a military standoff with China over a disputed border region to rally the country around the idea of a “self-reliant India” whose home-grown industries will emerge stronger. Approval ratings that US pollster Morning Consult estimate at 82% suggest many Indians are with him, even after the hasty lockdown triggered a humanitarian crisis, with thousands of migrant workers fleeing on foot toward their natal villages, and as two top government scientists on the front lines of the coronavirus fight stepping down in recent weeks. With the coronavirus nowhere near abating in India, how Modi will fare as the toll of infections and deaths continues to rise is still unclear.