A dangerous path ahead for divided Indonesia

A dangerous path ahead for divided Indonesia
Outgoing Indonesia's President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono speaks on security and conflict resolution at George Washington University on September 26, 2014 in Washington, DC.

ARIZONA, United States - It is ironic that at a time when it has been hailed as politically mature, reformasi is facing its own death at the hands of the man who was midwife at its birth.

The political developments in the past few weeks surely boggle one's mind. They are as surreal as they are terrifying.

When the Constitutional Court ruled in July that there were no grounds to overturn the victory of president-elect Joko "Jokowi" Widodo, The Jakarta Post ran the rabble-rousing headline: "Game over, Prabowo!" Obviously, nobody would think that upon reading the Post's headline the former general would just throw in the towel and mourn his mortifying defeat with dozens of his pretty horses in his idyllic residence in Hambalang. We just never thought he would be back in the game, which clearly wasn't over to him, so soon.

The Red-and-White Coalition has struck back and it caught us all by surprise. The coalition, which now controls about 60 per cent of the seats at the House of Representatives, has abolished direct regional elections, effectively robbing us of our right to elect local leaders and blocking the possibility of reformists like Jokowi, Basuki "Ahok" Tjahaya Purnama and Tri Rismaharini being able to emerge on the nation's political stage.

They are now reportedly plotting to end direct presidential elections and return the People's Consultative Assembly's (MPR) power to impeach and appoint presidents. The death knell has been sounded for democracy. This is a grim reality, but what is grimmer is that we have so few options to stop it all.

Jokowi, as president-elect, is a political novice. He is good at winning the hearts of the people, but he truly sucks at forging a strong political alliance. Megawati Soekarnoputri, as paramount leader of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), is not going to be helpful either. She is not as politically savvy as her peers: the Golkar Party's Akbar Tandjung and the National Mandate Party's (PAN) Amien Rais, who once collaborated to sabotage her way to the presidency despite her party's victory in the 1999 legislative election.

Both Akbar and Amien played central roles in the ouster of former president Abdurrahman "Gus Dur" Wahid in 2002 and practically gave the presidency away to Megawati, then vice president. The two men have repeatedly outsmarted Megawati and can and will do so again.

The two veteran politicians, not Prabowo, are very likely the masterminds behind the Red-and-White Coalition's strategies to undercut Jokowi. Both were dubbed icons of reformasi and they now seem ready to kill it.

The only way for the Jokowi coalition to balance the legislative power of the Prabowo camp is by engaging the ailing Democratic Party. But seeing the party's political maneuvers during and after the presidential election, including its decision to walk out from a meeting that led to the scrapping of regional polls, we can only assume that the party is at best incompetent and at worst deceitful.

Many are hoping that hacktivism will save the day again, but we know that online petitions will only fall on deaf ears in the House complex in Senayan, Central Jakarta, and since the election is over, we will have to get on to the streets to make our demands heard, just as the students did in 1998. The thing is, this is not 1998. At the time, there was only one enemy and the people were united. Today, we are so deeply divided that it would be impossible to set up a unified popular movement.

The July presidential election has crystallized the great divide between those who favour democracy and those who wish to make Indonesia more religious. Both sides believe that their conflicting values are irreconcilable and they have been competing for influence in post-reform Indonesia. They are the people who fuel political debates on social media.

The latest poll, which will divide Indonesia for quite a long time, was regarded as the final showdown between the two sides. The Prabowo coalition, though also comprising secular parties, is seen by the religious conservatives as the lesser evil to the Jokowi coalition, which is supported by the liberals. To them, a Jokowi victory could only mean the victory of the liberals.

Prabowo knew he had lost the election, but he also knew that Jokowi did not get a landslide win and nearly half of the country is still rooting for him. A political standoff will be inevitable should the people standing behind Jokowi, say, decide to besiege Senayan. It is perhaps not impossible for Indonesia to end up like Thailand or, God forbid, Egypt or Syria.

While it is crucial for Jokowi to win the political battles against the Prabowo camp to safeguard his administration, he can never be entirely safe if the country remains deeply and dangerously divided.

Needless to say politics is dirty and nauseating, but we are going to witness more tumultuous political years ahead - possibly far noisier than the ones we had with all the major scandals like the Hambalang or Bank Century graft cases. And what is worse is that we may have to get involved in it.

And it could be really, really messy.

The author is a staff writer at The Jakarta Post currently on a Fulbright scholarship at the University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona.

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