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.


US officials push to revive Afghan peace talks

Updated 22 October 2019

US officials push to revive Afghan peace talks

  • High-level delegations in Kabul meet government, Taliban

KABUL: Top US officials including Defense Secretary Mark Esper and House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi are pushing for the revival of Afghan peace talks, despite President Donald Trump abruptly declaring the peace process dead.

Esper, who was making his first visit to Afghanistan as defense secretary, met President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Dr. Abdullah Abdullah.

“The aim is to still get a peace agreement at some point, that’s the best way forward,” Esper told reporters who were traveling with him.

Multiple rounds of talks to end the fighting have been held between the Taliban and diplomats in a process led by US Special Representative Zalmay Khalilzad, with the Afghan government excluded at the insurgents’ insistence.

Pelosi, after meetings with Ghani and Abullah that were also attended by diplomats and the top US military commander in Afghanistan, said she had discussed the issue of peace talks with the Taliban.

“Our delegation received briefings from (US) Ambassador John Bass and other top diplomats on reconciliation efforts with the Taliban … We underscored that the women of Afghanistan must be at the table for reconciliation talks.”

Ghani discussed the Sept. 28 presidential election, bilateral matters and the peace process with Esper and Pelosi, his office said. 

“Peace is a priority for us, a peace which is led and owned by Afghans and the values of the constitution and women are protected in it,” a presidential palace statement cited him as saying.

Abdullah said he was backing the revival of talks and was ready to make a sacrifice for “real peace.”

“During a fruitful meeting with Pelosi, we exchanged views on the credibility of Afghan elections, credibility requisites, prospects for peace/political settlement. Peace is one of the priorities of the Afghan people and we are supporting these efforts and I am ready for any kind of sacrifice for gaining real peace and for the cessation of war.”

He, unlike Ghani, did not emphasize the need for the peace talks to be owned and led by Afghanistan, but stressed on keeping the gains made since the Taliban was removed from power.

Trump tasked Khalilzad with finding a peaceful solution to the war and the eventual withdrawal of US troops from the country. However the process was thrown into chaos when the president tweeted last month that he was canceling peace talks with Taliban leaders at Camp David after the group claimed responsibility for a Kabul attack that killed a US soldier and 11 other people.

Khalilzad made a surprise stopover in Pakistan earlier this month at the same time that Taliban delegates were on a visit to the country and, according to foreign media reports, discussed the revival of peace talks with the group which the US had toppled from power more than 18 years ago.

Waheed Mozhdah, an analyst who knows the Taliban’s leaders, said the US had already established contact with the group and was keen to sign a deal but was concerned about a potential political crisis between rivals Ghani and Abdullah who are the main candidates in the presidential poll.

The vote was twice delayed, while the initial results of the ballot have not yet been disclosed due to technical issues.

“Now everything has to wait for the result of the election … it seems the Americans are concerned that if it signs the deal with the Taliban now and a crisis begins due to the election, then it will make America’s position weak,” he told Arab News.

“Through these trips, American officials are trying to persuade both sides (Abdullah and Ghani) to respect the result of the election so that when the time of intra-Afghan dialogue starts with the arrival of a new government, the Taliban does not argue that there is a crisis with the government.”

He said Esper’s comments about troop withdrawal was part of the deal Khalilzad had discussed with the Taliban before Trump’s interjection. 

“Americans are confounded since Trump has come to power. First he pushed for the talks, then he canceled the talks and now wants them to be resumed,” he said.

Zubair Shafiqi, another analyst, said troop drawdown was a Trump goal that was aimed at his domestic audience and his re-election campaign next year.

He said Washington had come to the conclusion that the presidential election in Afghanistan would go to a second round, and that the visits by top US officials in recent weeks was aimed at telling leaders in Kabul that they had to brace for the formation of a broad-based interim set-up which should involve the Taliban too.

“I think Americans think that with the low turnout based on (last month’s) election, there will be no strong government in Afghanistan, so it is trying to convince the key sides that they have create a government in understanding with the Taliban,” he told Arab News.