Jakarta. Observers have questioned the credibility of four pollsters who called Wednesday’s presidential election for Prabowo Subianto by the narrowest of margins, as seven other quick counts gave Joko Widodo a slightly bigger lead.
“We can’t let this difference between the quick counts cause political turbulence and undermine our democracy,” Rudi Rohi, a political expert at Nusa Cendana University in Kupang, East Nusa Tenggara, told the Jakarta Globe on Thursday.
The Indonesia Research Center (IRC), the Indonesian Voter Network (JSI), the Center for Policy Studies and Strategic Development (Puskaptis) and the National Survey Institute (LSN) all put Prabowo in the lead with 50 to 52 percent of the vote against 48 to 49 percent for Joko.
However, other pollsters, including Saiful Mujani Research and Consulting (SMRC); Radio Republik Indonesia (RRI); the Indonesia Survey Circle (LSI); the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) and Cyrus Network; Kompas; and the Indonesian Political Indicator (IPI) gave Joko 52 to 53 percent and Prabowo 47 to 49 percent.
Rudi said it was clear that some pollsters were working on commission, but declined to elaborate.
“They’re being used for political interests, so they manipulate the truth,” he said. “The professionalism and credibility of a polling institution and its employees should never be sacrificed for private or group interests.
“As hard or as bitter as the truth is, it needs to be conveyed,” he added.
He called on people to closely monitor the vote counting and verification process to ensure that the election was not “stolen” because of the falsified quick counts.
“Poll organizers, monitors and the police must be firm in cracking down on any effort to undermine the results of the election,” Rudi said. “The press must also be honest in its reporting about the voting. Without this, I fear that the election and our democracy will be targeted by greed and political interests.”
Prabowo’s camp has cast doubt on the quick counts that called the election for Joko, but observers pointed out that the pollsters in question were among the more reputable ones.
“How can [seven] polling institutes manipulate the results of their quick counts, one of which happens to be RRI?” said Ari Dwipayana, a political expert at Gadjah Mada University in Yogyakarta.
He said what was even more questionable was the decision by a 12th pollster, the Poltracking Institute, to recuse itself from the quick counts after putting Joko ahead by 53 percent to Prabowo’s 46 percent.
“This was an institute that was contracted by TVOne, which has tended [to support] Prabowo,” Ari said.
TVOne is owned by the family of Aburizal Bakrie, the Golkar Party chairman and one of Prabowo’s main supporters.
Ari said the pollsters that had called the election for Joko had a solid track record going back to the 2004 election. RRI in particular, he said, was a state-owned body and thus was bound to be neutral.
He said the four other pollsters would not have found in favor of Prabowo if they had been “consistent in applying their methodology and abiding with the principles of an unbiased surveyor.
Ari said the fact that they had come out with different results should alert the authorities about the urgency of auditing rogue or mercenary polling agencies.
“If we don’t do that, then these polling agencies will continue to be a tool of political propaganda, used to fool the people by those who fear losing,” he said.
Hamdi Muluk, the head of the ethics council of the Association of Indonesian Public Opinion Surveyors (persepi), said it was clear that the pollsters whose quick counts showed a Joko victory were the more credible ones.
“If seven pollsters say A won and four say B won, then it’s most probable that A won,” he said.
He added that Persepi had issued letters to all the polling institutes that carried out a quick count to explain their data collection and methodology. He said he hoped to release the results of the audit to the public within a week.
“The methodology for a quick count is standardized, really. It all boils down to the margin of error. The more polling stations are counted, the smaller the margin of error,” Hamdi said. “We want to make sure through this upcoming audit that they got it right.”
Aleksius Jemadu, a political analyst at Pelita Harapan University, emphasized the importance of looking at each polling company’s track record to discern their credibility.
“It comes down to the company’s reputation and credibility,” Aleksius said.
Similarly, Andrinof Chaniago, a political analyst at the University of Indonesia, singled out the firms whose data supported a Prabowo victory as being “dubious” agencies, in an apparent reference to Puskaptis, whose director, Husin Yazid, was taken into police custody last year after the firm released questionable quick count results for the South Sumatra gubernatorial election.