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Published: Saturday July 26, 2014 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Updated: Saturday July 26, 2014 MYT 1:20:29 PM

M'sia can learn from Indonesian polls

Victorious: Jokowi greeting supporters with his ‘three-finger greeting’ symbolising ‘The Unity of Indonesia’, the third of Indonesia’s five principles, in Jakarta. — AFP

Victorious: Jokowi greeting supporters with his ‘three-finger greeting’ symbolising ‘The Unity of Indonesia’, the third of Indonesia’s five principles, in Jakarta. — AFP

What’s striking is how much more advanced the republic’s elections have become, with the General Elections Commission uploading a photograph of each of the result forms from all 479,000 voting stations.

INDONESIA has a new president and – to the relief of many – it’s Joko Widodo or Jokowi as he is fondly known.

His extraordinary personal journey, from the slums of Solo to the Istana Negara, says as much about the man as it does about the republic itself, now into its 16th post-Reformasi year.

The excitement is palpable but we must hope and pray that this fairy tale-like story, with its egalitarian hue, ends in real achievements and a better life for all Indonesians.

Even though I am a proud Malaysian, the 2014 presidential elections has reminded me of how our politics is so very disappointing.

We used to regard Indonesia as a basket case.

But they have shown that their democracy hasn’t impeded economic development. Moreover, it remains vigorous despite the determined manipulation of the pre-Reformasi elites.

Consider this fact – some 133 million voters cast their ballots on July 9 – much more than some 120 million who turned out in 2009 to re-elect President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (SBY).

Still, many of my Malaysian friends kept (and are still) buzzing me about the elections.

This was especially after his challenger, Prabowo Subianto, regrettably and petulantly refused to accept the results.

The tone from my fellow Malaysians was generally along these lines: “My God! It was so close! Will Bapak be allowed to win? Will there be violence?”

This, I suppose, betrays the fundamental differences in politics between Malaysia and Indonesia – as well as what we can learn from our neighbour to the south.

First off, Jokowi’s margin of victory over Prabowo (70,633,576 votes or 53.15% of the popular vote to 62,262,844 votes or 46.85%) was by more than eight million votes and 6%.

A narrow win? Perhaps. But let’s not forget that Barisan Nasional only won 47.38% of the popular vote in Malaysia’s 2013 general election.

Indeed, the eight million-plus voters who propelled Jokowi to victory make up over 60% of the total voter turnout at the Malaysian polls last year.

So while Prabowo can try to halt Jokowi via legal challenges – the fact remains that the Solo-born entrepreneur’s victory was clear and decisive.

But what’s really struck me is how much more advanced and sophisticated Indonesia’s elections have become.

On polling night itself, various reputable polling houses were able to release “quick counts” that gave a remarkably accurate reading of the election results.

Over the weeks that followed, the “real count” by the General Elections Commission of Indonesia (KPU) was updated in “real” time on their official website. Parallel websites were also put up by civil society groups, monitoring the recapitulation.

Furthermore, the KPU actually uploaded a photograph of each of the result forms (dubbed C1) from all 479,000 voting stations.

This is transparency.

Having had to endure our own elections first-hand on live TV, I can say that the Indonesian election process was far more open and robust.

More importantly, Indonesia’s elections – and I’ve said this before – also featured lively and extensive debates between Jokowi and Prabowo plus their running mates: five separate nationally televised events covering a range of subjects from the economy to foreign policy.

This process forced the candidates to articulate and argue for their respective platforms.

The debates varied – some were boring and over-full of rhetoric. Others were scintillating.

Whatever the case, the voters were able to decide for themselves as to the suitability of the two candidates.

Indonesia and Malaysia are united by language but separated by political experience. We are still living in the equivalent of Suharto’s New Order with a drastically curtailed and censored media while they are savouring a dramatically more open environment.

So for those who question the scale of Jokowi’s victory, I say don’t just look at the result, consider the process.

Isn’t it time we move forward?

> Karim Raslan is a regional columnist and commentator. The views expressed are entirely the writer’s own. His online documentaries can be viewed at: http://www.youtube.com/user/KRceritalah.

> The views expressed are entirely the writer's own.

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