Indonesia and Beyond: More Dirty Campaigning to Come?

Partyforumseasia: Joko Widodo’s victory in the recent presidential election in Indonesia has been praised for many reasons. Jokowi as ordinary citizen against Indo Jokowiestablishment and big money, boost of the country’s fledgling democratic culture against vested financial interests, and most important, a clean politician against the more dubious figure of contender Prabowo. As one prominent observer in the Jakarta Post wrote: A checkered shirt against a checkered past, meaning the doubts on ex-general Prabowo’s human rights record.
The Prabowo campaign nearly performed miracles in Prabowo 2catching up with the poll figures which showed Jokowi miles ahead in the beginning. The two campaigns were indeed very different. The Jokowi – PDIP campaign looked widely amateurish, whereas the deep pockets of the Prabowo camp made a professional performance possible.
After the “dirtiest campaign ever” (Marcus Mietzner), one “professional” feature to be watched more closely is negative campaigning, also known as smear campaign. We had taken up the tasteless “obituary” and the allegations that Jokowi was a Christian of Chinese descent in earlier posts. The final election results among Muslim parties suggest that this poisonous rumor played a role in pulling devout voters into the Prabowo camp.
It would be a bit easier if the dirty campaigning had been home-grown in Indonesia. But it is widely ascribed to American advisers hired into the Prabowo team, namely experts from the US Republicans. Looking into the development of opposition research (“oppo” in the short form) as a thriving new industry is not very reassuring. In an article “Digging dirt, digitally”, The Economist (July 12, 2014 p.30) provides a glimpse into the possible future of negative campaigning. Two big oppo-companies, “America Rising” and “American Bridge 21st Century” are employing so called “trackers” to collect anything which could be used against a candidate. The dilemma for the candidates is, according to The Economist, that “more or less every word a candidate says now lives online somewhere”.
Apart from the smear campaign against Jokowi, Indonesia seems to be relatively innocent so far. But after building a professional polling industry in a few years time, they certainly have the capacity to develop “oppo” mechanisms as fast. There is some hope, though, that President Jokowi will help to create more transparency and cleaner governance in the country.

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