Lt. Gen. Joni Supriyanto, the new chief of the general staff of the Indonesian Military (TNI), speaks during an interview with the Jakarta Globe on Friday. (JG Photo)

'People Power' Not Enough to Delegitimize 2019 Election: TNI


APRIL 09, 2019

Jakarta. A high-ranking officer in Indonesia's military has downplayed rumors that some powerful political figures might try to challenge the outcome of the April 17 elections – when 190 million voters will choose a president, vice president and members of the state and regional legislatures – if the results do not go their way. 

Lt. Gen. Joni Supriyanto, the newly appointed chief of the general staff of the Indonesian Military (TNI), told the Jakarta Globe on Friday that there has never been a case in the country's history when the people did not recognize the results of an election.

"The people of Indonesia are much smarter nowadays, more modern, but they are also more patriotic," Joni, who previously served as chief of the TNI's Jakarta Command, said in an interview at the military headquarters in Cilangkap, East Jakarta.

The three-star general said he believes Indonesians have grown "mature enough in democracy."

"And who has ever challenged the Constitutional Court's rulings?" he added.

By law, any electoral disputes can be brought before the Constitutional Court. In the 2014 presidential election, the losing presidential nominee Prabowo Subianto – who is running again this year – initially refused to concede defeat to Joko "Jokowi" Widodo. Instead, his campaign team filed a string of election dispute cases in the Constitutional Court.

The impasse lasted for nearly three months until just three days before the presidential inauguration on Oct. 20, 2014, when Prabowo held a 20-minute meeting with Jokowi at the house of Prabowo's father, the late New Order economic architect Soemitro Djojohadikusumo, on Jalan Kertanegara in South Jakarta, to concede the election and congratulate the then-newly appointed president.

Polarization and Identity Politics

Polarization between the Jokowi and Prabowo camps during the election campaign has been so strong that people draw parallels between it and the 2016 Jakarta gubernatorial election, one of the most divisive ever. The popular Basuki "Ahok" Tjahaja Purnama, backed by the ruling Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), which also backs Jokowi, was defeated through clever manipulation of identity politics by his opponents, including the infamous charge against him that he had committed blasphemy against Islam. 

Ahok was not just defeated in the election, he was also sentenced to jail for two years after he was convicted of blasphemy

As political tension heats up again in the world's third-largest democracy, the spotlight is on the General Elections Commission (KPU) and Election Supervisory Board (Bawaslu). Apart from their respective roles of election organizer and election watchdog, they must also deal with criticism from powerful figures in the country who cast doubt on their neutrality.

"The KPU has done well," said Joni, who assumed his new position on Jan. 25. He applauded the KPU's efforts to devise a campaign schedule that cleverly prevents the supporters of Prabowo and Jokowi from meeting on the streets, and thus avoid violent clashes.

Joni, who previously also served as special staff for the Army Chief of Staff, said the potential for clashes between the two supporter camps in Jakarta is very real, but so far, the KPU has done a sterling job in minimizing it. 

People Power

Joni said the threat by senior opposition leader Amien Rais to launch a "people power" protest at the slightest hint of voter fraud during the presidential election – rather than appealing to the Constitutional Court – was an empty one.

The former speaker of the People's Consultative Assembly (MPR) had wanted to draw similarities between his threat of "people power" now with the real people power of 1998 that managed to topple the authoritarian New Order regime of President Suharto.

Joni, who also served as deputy head of the TNI's Strategic Intelligence Agency (BAIS), said unlike in 1998, the economy is in good shape and people can express their political aspirations in free elections. "People are free in politics," he added.

Nevertheless, he said the TNI has made preparations for the worst that can happen in the aftermath of the elections. "We have prepared detailed contingency plans, for anything that could happen, including worst-case scenarios."

Chief Security Minister Wiranto said in March that more than 453,000 members of the police and military would be deployed to secure the elections. 

On Tuesday, TNI commander Air Chief Marshal Hadi Tjahjanto said anyone who wants to destabilize Indonesia, threaten national unity, or challenge the state ideology of Pancasila and the 1945 Constitution, "will have to deal with the TNI."