Is There a Case for Prabowo? But Seriously Folks…

My previous post on whether or not there is case for Prabowo Subianto for president (answer here) was obviously meant as a bit of a joke. Not entirely a joke, as this really is my position, yet as I wrote in a Facebook comment thread, there is something deeper that led me to that blogpost.

there is an echo-chamber quality in my circle of colleagues and friends in Indonesia or who work on Indonesia. I wanted to write a post on that, but that got me thinking about whether I could develop an argument in favor of voting for Prabowo, and I actually thought about it for several hours yesterday.

What I mean is that I just don’t know very many Prabowo supporters. By my informal and perhaps incomplete count, I have two not-very-close friends who are Prabowo supporters, and no close friends. I know a good deal of people who profess that they will not vote for anyone in the upcoming Indonesian elections (golput) but that’s far from the same. Among foreign analysts, I know some people who write things that aren’t as critical of Prabowo as I would like, or who try to think about what a Prabowo candidacy might mean, but I’ve yet to see a serious affirmative case written in English for Prabowo over Jokowi.

The problem is that I have a biased sample of Indonesians and Indonesia-watchers. Prabowo is not doing nearly as poorly in the polls as my census of my friends, colleagues, and acquaintances would indicate. That means that I must be very careful in thinking carefully about Prabowo in this election. I suspect that many others are like me. So,

I really hope that I have the chance to read a serious analysis of Prabowo voters that does not reduce them to chumps, vote-sellers, or ignoramuses, but actually takes seriously their support for Prabowo. Like, in the same way that many of us consider it to be self-evident that there are good reasons to vote for Jokowi.

This means something more than correlations between what people think, or who they are, and their preferred candidates. A friend mentioned the issue of tegas (decisive or resolute) versus jujur (honest or upright), and that voters associate the former with Prabowo and the latter with Jokowi. This is indeed important, but here’s my response:

I’m looking for something more than just what people associate with different candidates. I want the interior question of why someone would prefer tegas to jujur, or how people weigh tradeoffs and reason about alternatives. Something non tautological about what kinds of people make those sorts of decisions, pushing them on his negatives to see what they say.

My own worry is that most scholars and observers are not equipped to produce that kind of analysis. If such analysis is required, the result will be impressionistic accounts that inevitably reflect the beliefs and perspectives of the analyst. I am the first to admit that I do not actually understand the level of popular support for Prabowo’s candidacy. My maintained hypothesis is that it is more than stupidity, corruption, or an inability to think critically (c.f. Vedi Hadiz’s comments on the stupidity of the middle class). That’s why—remembering that to understand support for Prabowo is not to condone or support his candidacy—I hope that there is serious effort out there to make sense of what makes Prabowo so popular.