Incumbent Jokowi was looking good, even unassailable, in the runup for the Presidential elections.
He had a slick social media campaign, he was popular with a common touch, he could claim credit for massive infrastructure successes from Jakarta’s MRT to toll roads linking cities in Java and in Eastern Indonesia. His supporters had much to crow about.
And crow they did. It is impossible to wade into social media without coming across the snarky, witty comments and memes generated by the Jokowi supporters. Generally one gets a feeling that they look down on the other camp, dismissing them as clumsy, crass, corrupt and beyond the pale.
In the eyes of those sympathetic to Jokowi – and let’s be honest, most of us who pride ourselves as being progressive, modern and liberal fall into this category – Prabowo’s campaign seemed like an exercise in futility. Prabowo was not displaying much enthusiasm as a presidential candidate, his campaign lacked funds because his brother Hashim had said he wasn’t funding him anymore, he had an unholy alliance with the extremists behind the 212 movements, the same guys clamoring for Indonesia to become a Caliphate.
And to add strength to that perception Prabowo consistently fumbled. His premature defense of Ratna Sarumpaet as a victim of violence before it emerged that the injuries on her face were self-inflicted once from a plastic surgery procedure; his ignorance of Unicorns; his outrages statements about foreigners.
Yet, with less than a week to go before to the elections here we are, with the more reliable polls suggesting that he and Jokowi are running neck to neck with an even larger portion of the electorate choosing not to vote or spoiling their votes.
If this is true, then the question that needs to be asked is what went wrong for the Jokowi camp? How did they squander the advantage and lead that they had at the start of the campaign?
From a communications perspective, it would seem that Jokowi and his supporters had been preaching to the wrong choir.
The Millennials form the largest voting bloc in this round of elections so any politician worth his salt would definitely count them. Jokowi is no exception. The Millennials that Jokowi has been courting, however, are those who belong to the smart set. They are the ones who very much believe in entrepreneurship, the creative economy, having a shot at being unicorns, look on SXSW as the Davos of the entrepreneur. They believe in the goodness of globalization.
They are the ones who would be impressed by Jokowi’s motorcycling stunt for the opening of the Asian Games, his propensity to take selfies, his vlogging. His love for heavy metal and his chops riding customized motorcycles.
Prabowo, however, has been playing the role of High Priest to the Discontents. These are the young Indonesians unable or unwilling to get onto the Hipster treadmill. Success at being funded by venture capitalists do not really appeal to them so they seek alternative means to validate themselves.
Many of them who are Muslim turn to Hijrah, the process of becoming closer to God and Mecca instead of Ted Talks and Davos.
Other young Indonesians with low religious inclination are similarly vulnerable to feeling alienated in Jokowi’s Indonesia that has fallen way short of their expectations. LGBT Indonesians talk extensively of going Golput because of the increasing intolerance that has festered since Jokowi took office. Appointing Maruf Amin only makes it worse.
Those who feel strongly about principles and rule of law are similarly disappointed as the rights of minorities and others are trampled on. A sizeable number of supporters of the Tolak Reklamasi movement in Bali, for instance, are saying they too would go Golput.
The big question now is what would happen to Indonesia after the elections, regardless of who wins. Would the victor end up with an Indonesia where business returns to usual after the excitement of a presidential election; or will he face a permanently polarised society with a rising level of discontent.
If the latter happens, then as Jokowi so sassily observed at an IMF gathering in Indonesia not so long ago: Winter is coming.
Written by Ong Hock Chuan, Maverick Managing Partner