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.

American Dirty Campaign Experts Helping Prabowo?


Partyforumseasia – Strategy-Wise: Indonesia’s presidential election 2014 has generated a couple of surprises. From the meteoric rise of Jokowi and the unexpectedly successful catch-up counterattack of Prabowo, all developments can be explained within the system of the country’s new democratic paradigm. The personal charisma of Jokowi and the yearning of the voters for less corruption as well as cleaner and more transparent politics explains his probable though narrow victory. Ex-general Prabowo’s coming back from hopelessly lagging behind in the polls only some months ago is seen as the result of unlimited funding and a clockwork-like campaign machinery. Unfortunately, the Prabowo success was also based on the dirtiest campaign ever in a country which is known for a highly developed culture of social harmony, at least in Java where the majority of voters live.

devil1The campaign devil not in the PDI-P…

Partyforumseasia had taken up the topic of dirty campaign tricks on 8th and 11th May with the wicked fake obituary for Widodo and the incredible arsenal of poisonous campaign tools in the United States of America. But at that time we did not connect the US and Indonesian dirty campaign experts. Now we learn from Indonesia observer Marcus Mietzner from the Australian National University that the Prabowo campaign was supported by American experts in smear campaigns:
Advised by American consultants who previously had taught Republican candidates on how to drown out opponents in smear campaigns, Prabowo’s electoral machine spread false rumours that Jokowi was a Singaporean Chinese and a Christian. Jokowi, pushed into the defensive by the effectiveness of these attacks among Indonesia’s devout Muslim community, could never really develop his own narrative and platform. As a result, his once seemingly unassailable lead over Prabowo in the polls (in December 2013, he was ahead by 39 percentage points) melted away rapidly.
Link: EASTASIAFORUM, 13 July 2014:
Indonesia’s presidential elections: Jokowi in, Prabowo out
This type of development co-operation can only be called highly undesirable in a country still uncertain on her path to a stable democracy, but it should also backfire on the American party development support industry. Traditional black magic looks rather harmless in contrast to this specific export item!