Down Under, Joko Hailed as New President

As Indonesians anxiously await official results of the presidential vote, to be released on July 22, Indonesian citizens in Australia were celebrating an early victory and welcoming the prospect of a stronger partnership between the two nations.

Australia’s Indonesian community, many of whom support presidential hopeful Joko Widodo, are on edge as they wait for Wednesday’s votes to be tallied.

More than 190 million registered voters in Indonesia were allowed to cast their ballot for either Joko, the governor of Jakarta, or Prabowo Subianto, a former special forces commander. Preliminary results by pollsters, known as quick counts, were split on which presidential candidate gained the majority of votes, and both Joko and Prabowo declared victory. Official results, though, will be released by the General Election Commission (KPU).

Some Indonesians living abroad have made up their minds on who was the winner.

Akbar Makiti, the consul for social and cultural affairs at the Indonesian consulate in Sydney, said Joko had already won in the eyes of Australian-based voters.

“They don’t see all the media coverage in Indonesia so from their understanding, Jokowi has won,” the Jakarta-born expatriate said, referring to Joko by his nickname.  “I was able to watch the local television stations throughout the day at the consulate so I could see what was happening. … Here in Sydney the vibe was that Jokowi was the winner,” Akbar said.

As the secretary for the Indonesian Election Committee, Akbar was given the task to look after the votes in three states — New South Wales, Queensland and South Australia. According to Akbar, of the Indonesians registered to vote in Australia, 87 percent chose Joko.

While he was still waiting for around 2,000 more votes via mail, Akbar admitted that the Indonesian community Down Under was rooting for Joko.

“I’m hoping overall that whoever wins, the Indonesian people are well looked after,” he said, adding that it was now just a waiting game for the final outcome. “Jokowi is favored among the Australians because he is a fresh face and knowing that Prabowo was the opponent, people were tired and wanted someone new.”

While many voters went to the polls on Saturday, voting booths set up in Sydney’s central business district were bustling with “young faces.”

“We had long lines outside two of our polling stations positioned in the north and south of the city,” explained Akbar, adding that both averaged about 850 voters on the day. “I think social media has helped engage young voters and has also helped each candidate become more creative with their campaigns. Indonesians are so engaged in Path, Twitter and Facebook so social media campaigns were a big influence on voters.”

Strengthening ties

Indonesia and Australia often look to strengthen their relationship in an attempt to capitalize on their geographical proximity.

Speaking after the election on Wednesday, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott praised the peaceful democratic process, noting that it is “optimistic for the future of the world when you see how democracy has taken such root in our nearest large neighbor.”

Noke Kiroyan, vice chairman of the Indonesian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (Kadin), said after listening to the debates he believed that Joko and his vice presidential running mate Jusuf Kalla had more direct trading policies.

“Listening to the debates and mission statement of the two candidates, Jokowi and JK seem to be more understanding of how business works as they are more business people,” he said.

“Prabowo and [his vice presidential running mate] Hatta Rajasa were more geared towards the bigger issues, and they didn’t focus much on the business side of things.”

For Australian National University PhD candidate Liam Gammon, who has been intensely examining the election, Joko as president could provide Australia with an opportunity to develop more relevant understandings about Indonesia.

“The takeaway from this election in terms of the Australian perception is that for so long people in academia, journalism and politics have been trying to convince Australians that Indonesia is no longer dominated by the military,” he said, noting that only one in three Australians understand Indonesia is a democracy.

Joko offers Australian politicians the chance to embrace without creating a political backlash, said Gammon, adding that “Prabowo would have been disastrous for the perception because of his human rights record and his likely attempts to roll back democratic reforms.”

Likewise, Karina Akib, the co-founder and director of the Conference of Australian and Indonesian Youth (Causindy), said: “It’s an opportunity for Australia to reset everything and it’s critical to get him [Jokowi] on board.”

Often criticized for pushing its own agenda, Akib said a new approach is needed from Australia.

“Australia is of course going to put its regional security and asylum-seeker policies at the top of its agenda…,” said the Jakarta-based consultant, who added that transparency and consultation with Indonesia is paramount if Australia wants to see a healthier relationship grow.



Click here to see the original post on The Jakarta Globe.