Indonesian Elections – Rational Voters call for Stability and Progress
April 15, 2009
On April 9, Indonesian voters went to the polls for the third general elections since the country transitioned to democracy 10 years ago. The official results of the elections will not be known for possibly up to one month, but multiple quick counts indicate the big winner was the party of the current President – Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, with Partai Demokrat (PD), taking 21 percent of the vote. There was a healthy gap between the lead party and the next two runners-up – Golkar and the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) coming in at approximately 15 percent and 14 percent, respectively. Four main Islamic parties occupied the next level, with PKS, PAN, PPP, and PKB coming in between 5-8 percent. Finally, two new parties, Gerindra and Hanura, led by New Order era ex-generals, Prabowo and Wiranto, took between 3-4 percent of the vote. Only these 9 parties surpassed the threshold of 2.5 percent required to gain seats in Parliament – the remaining 29 parties will be unable to seat legislative candidates and be unable to contest the next elections in 2014.
While these results are not a surprise, there are a few significant implications. First, Indonesian voters have clearly and resoundingly rejected an Islamic political agenda. Of the four Islamic parties that passed the threshold, only two of them, PKS and PPP, can be characterized as Islamist. Since PKB and PAN have a Muslim voter base and identity, but do not support an Islamist political agenda, only 13 percent of the vote went to Islamist parties. The total vote garnered by Islamic and Islamist parties together – the lowest level since 1955, at 24 percent – was down from 32 percent in 2004.
A second significant development from the election is the steady decline of the key parties of the New Order – Golkar, PDI-P, and PPP. While Golkar and PDI-P took second and third place respectively according to the quick count, their 15 percent and 14 percent is down from 22 percent and 19 percent respectively in 2004, and 22 percent and 34 percent in 1999. So, increasingly, voters are indicating they are tired of the old political parties; they want fresh faces and clean, effective governance.
Taken together, these factors arguably represent the two sides of the same coin – the rejection of a largely symbolic Islamist agenda and the clear demand for effective and clean governance. Indonesian voters have shown once again that they are pragmatic, savvy voters who weigh stability and strong economics over sectarianism and Islamist politics.
That said, the strong support for PD (and the dramatic gain to 21 percent from 7 percent in 2004) is not primarily an ideological position on the part of Indonesian voters – it likely comes down in the end to gains made fairly or unfairly from the lower fuel prices, lower inflation, and lower food prices as a result of the economic crisis. While certainly there is suffering around unemployment, Indonesia’s large informal economy has blunted some of that pain – and a whopping 80 percent of the Indonesian public thinks that the government has done a good job in handling the crisis.
Given these election results, political speculation in Jakarta now centers around one question: who will President Yudhoyono pick to be his running mate for the presidential elections on July 8? On the one hand, a Golkar VP would pave the way for smoother passage of legislation in Parliament, while on the other hand, a PKS (Justice and Welfare Party) VP would presumably garner more support from the Islamist voting block. However, given the general election results, and similar results from opinion polling, one would have to wonder whether playing the “Islam card” is a political positive or negative in today’s Indonesia. Alternatively, given PD’s relatively strong position, President Yudhoyono may not feel compelled to choose a running mate from any political party and could instead look to groom a successor for 2014 when he won’t be able to stand for re-election again. He could also choose a non-party person to be his running mate, such as Sri Mulyani, current Coordinating Minister for Economic Affairs and a well known technocrat. Thus, while Indonesian voters are still waiting to find out the results of last week’s legislative elections, political parties are already busy with coalition-building in the run-up to the presidential election.
Robin Bush is The Asia Foundation’s Country Representative in Indonesia. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. She has recently been quoted in Newsweek, Time, Christian Science Monitor, Financial Times, and Radio France International.
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