Prabowo continues his anti-democratic rhetoric

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Dr. Dave McRae

Dr McRae is a Senior Research Fellow at the Asia Institute at the University of Melbourne and an Associate at the Centre for Indonesian Law, Islam and Society at the Melbourne Law School.

This video is in Indoneisan.


A SPARSELY attended cultural dialog in Jakarta on Saturday has gained further attention on social media, because of presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto's statement of opposition to direct elections as a Western import to Indonesia's political system.


Prabowo made this statement in response to a question of whether Indonesia's political and economic system were out of step with Indonesian culture, and specifically whether a liberal democratic system of one man one vote was appropriate.


Saying Indonesia's Western-educated elite were too prone to adopt Western constructs because of the Indonesian tendency to respect teachers, Prabowo highlighted direct elections as one example. Indonesia had already applied this system, Prabowo added, asking rhetorically, "How can we turn back the clock on history?"


Prabowo subsequently said a new national consensus was needed in the long term to address this discord. He suggested this consensus could be reached through a large-scale national collective deliberation (musyawarah), "because if not, it could be interpreted as undemocratic steps, because now it's as if in democracy everything must be through voting, and if possible by direct elections, everything."

Prabowo's statement on direct elections is another example of his anti-democratic rhetoric, which has been an insufficiently reported feature of the Indonesian presidential campaign.

As observers have pointed out, myself included, Prabowo has repeatedly stated his preference for Indonesia's original 1945 constitution, which pre-dates the four amendments that underpin Indonesia's democratic order. Prabowo has also previously expressed opposition to direct elections more narrowly, in the specific case of local heads of government.


Why does Prabowo not incur more scrutiny for these statements within Indonesia? There are several possible reasons. First, Prabowo typically mixes statements of opposition to crucial parts of the democratic order together with general statements of commitment to democracy. In Saturday's statement, for example, Prabowo expressed the need to reorder the political system in a way that would be seen as democratic, while simultaneously undermining the idea of reaching decisions through voting.

This mixing of messages is important, because polling shows a majority of Indonesians consider democracy preferable to any other form of government. The proportion of Indonesians saying this is in fact slightly higher than in Australia.


Second, a core aspect of Prabowo's appeal is the need for firm leadership to make Indonesia a strong country. His anti-democratic rhetoric is typically packaged as necessary to achieve a strong and prosperous country: an overall theme of Prabowo's presentation on Saturday was overcoming Indonesia's "mentality of a defeated person, the mentality of a defeated nation" lacking pride in its own culture.


Finally, it's entirely possible many Indonesians are simply not aware of Prabowo's rhetoric, or the contents of his statements. The weekly televised presidential debates are drawn-out and sometimes dreary 2.5 hour affairs. Only a small proportion of the population attends political rallies; few would read party manifestos or the candidates' written campaign statement.


That said, one way Indonesians might know of Prabowo's rhetoric and its implications would be if his political rival, Joko Widodo, made sure everyone knew about them. But for whatever reason, Jokowi's disorganised campaign has yet to seize on such statements to discredit their opponent.


Full audio