The Heat is on with the Indonesian Elections

opinion April 10, 2014 00:00

By Karim Raslan
Regional Columni

2,689 Viewed

250-million strong Indonesia - the world's largest Muslim democracy - went to the polls this week.

Unofficial projections by the influential Kompas newspaper during the late afternoon of 9 April have indicated that the main opposition party, the PDI-P has secured around 19.67% of the popular votes for the House of Representatives (DPR).

This is short of the 25% threshold it needed to nominate its presidential candidate, the Governor of Jakarta Joko Widodo (“Jokowi”) on its own.

Still, this is a boost for the party and official results are only due earliest by 7 May. In 1999, after the fall of Suharto, PDI-P won 33.74% of the vote. Its leader, Megawati Soekarnoputri was elected Vice-President and eventually assumed the top job in 2001.

Nevertheless, Megawati and her party were heavily defeated in the 2004 and 2009 elections, winning just 18.53% and 14.03% of the vote in those polls.

PDI-P’s revival is arguably due to Jokowi’s rock-star popularity. He has revolutionized Indonesian politics with his brand of results-centred urban administration and people-friendly style.

Overall, the results indicate that Indonesians want change, of a kind. The last 10-years under President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (SBY) have seen remarkable economic growth, but also endemic corruption, policy paralysis and an infrastructure deadlock.

But Jokowi is no shoo-in and the legislative elections prove this.

He will face a huge challenge in the July presidential elections from his rivals, including the charismatic, controversial ex-general Prabowo Subianto of Gerindra whose Parliamentary campaign has been disciplined, focused and impassioned not to mention the businessman-turned-politico Aburizal Bakrie of the former ruling Golkar party.

There are also fears that PDI-P’s nationalism will staunch reform, scare-off investors and generally leave Indonesia vulnerable in a volatile global economic scenario.

The main challenge facing PDI-P now will be in forming a coalition that will, in effect, choose Jokowi’s running mate.

Moreover, despite his strong local track record, Jokowi remains untested at the national level.

It is also unclear how much traction he has over conservative Muslim voters, the republic’s eastern hinterland and Indonesia’s influential military. These are crucial constituencies that could give Prabowo or Bakrie an edge over him.

As such, Jokowi’s VP pick must be someone with the experience and influence to make up for these shortcomings.

Party bosses will obviously have their favourites, but the paramount criterion must be someone who can get Jokowi elected and (more importantly) help him govern.

Then there’s the question of what PDI-P’s agenda for Indonesia will be.

PDI-P must choose its allies carefully here. It must take heed of the failures of the unwieldy “Coalition Joint Secretariat” (or “Setgab”) led by SBY’s Democrats that currently governs Indonesia.
It was the Setgab’s bitter in-fighting that robbed SBY’s last term of achievement.
The election results signal that PDI-P does not have carte blanche to do what it pleases. Indeed, it could be that the lack of substance in its platform denied it a bigger plurality than it could have won.
The party must work harder to persuade the Indonesians who did not back them that they—and by extension Jokowi—can be trusted with power.
To do this, Jokowi must be allowed to become his own man. He must show Indonesians his mettle and prove his worth head-to-head with his main rival, Gerindra's Prabowo.
This is crucial because Indonesians need to know who they are electing and why.
At the same time the Republic's next government must be unshackled by political considerations because the challenges Indonesia faces—particularly reforming its structurally-deficient economy—requires flexibility.
In short, Jokowi must campaign, and govern, for all Indonesians. He has already affected a paradigm shift in Indonesian politics and there is no doubt that PDI-P is in better shape than it has been in years.
Nevertheless, the real political spade-work is only just beginning. A once relatively boring electoral cycle has just hotted up.