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Jokowi’s Party Takes Lead in Indonesia’s Elections, But Steep Road Ahead

April 9, 2014

Out of Indonesia’s 186 million eligible voters, an estimated 139 million cast their ballots on Wednesday to elect 235,637 legislative candidates in competition for nearly 19,699 positions across the country. It will take up to a month for official results to be released, but early “quick counts” released by CSIS and Cyrus Network barely four hours after polling stations closed suggest a relatively high voter turnout of 75 percent.

Elections in Indonesia

Out of Indonesia’s 186 million eligible voters, an estimated 139 million cast their ballots on Wednesday to elect 235,637 legislative candidates in competition for nearly 19,699 positions across the country. Photo/Tim Mann

As has been the case since 1999, when Indonesians turned out for the first post-Suharto democratic election, Indonesians have once again shown their eagerness and determination to take part in deciding the course of their country, the third-largest democracy in the world. Wednesday’s turnout looks to be higher than the last elections in 2009, but still lower than in the 2004 elections. Both 2004 and 2014 were parliamentary elections, which preceded changes of national leadership. With President Yudhoyono completing his second term, the political landscape of presidential elections on July 9 will be shaped by these election results.

However, that landscape does not look like what the leading party, Indonesia’s Democratic Party of Struggle (PDIP), expected. While the party of the popular presidential candidate and Jakarta governor, Joko Widodo (nicknamed Jokowi), will come out on top, it was only able to secure 19+ percent of the votes – while PDIP needs 25 percent to nominate him.

Despite this, the simple fact remains: Indonesians made clear that they trust PDIP and Jokowi the most. Compared to parties of other presidential candidates, Jokowi clearly leads. But while Jokowi’s star power and overwhelming popularity seem to have come about rapidly in a short time frame, PDIP has waited 10 years for this moment. With Megawati as its icon, PDIP won the first post-Soeharto’s election in 1999. At that time, Indonesia had a different system to select the president, and, with some power twisting among the all-boys network at the Parliament, despite the party’s victory, she was only to become president nearly three years later. Albeit, she reigned until 2004 when they lost to the popularity of the current President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyhono who beat her again in the 2009 election to secure his second term.

Yudhoyono’s presidency has always been widely supported in the polls. His party, Partai Demokrat, had just been established before the 2004 elections and garnered just barely 8 percent of the vote. However, his strong persona convinced Indonesians that he was the answer the country needed and they handed him the presidency in the country’s first direct presidential election. By 2009, with Yudhoyono at the helm, Partai Demokrat secured 20 percent of the votes in the legislative elections, and ran circles around his opponent in the presidential race three months later. Ten years later, Indonesians have made clear that they have had enough of Partai Demokrat, and want a change of leadership – both in the House as well as in the presidential palace. Quick count numbers show that Partai Demokrat may have secured only just slightly above 9 percent in yesterday’s elections.

Hope now is placed in the hands of PDIP whose victory today set another important milestone in Indonesia’s democracy. When Megawati lost the presidential race in 2004, she and her party chose not to join Yudhoyhono’s government and instead served as a real opposition party. The same decision was also made in 2009. These elections have introduced an important political lesson to Indonesian electoral politics: PDIP’s decision has paid off. How it will use its power to rule Indonesia will be the most important question of the day after the dust settles. If political leaders learn the same lessons as the voters seem to have learned, they too may see that in the long run, being an opposition party may be a viable option now.

In 2009, being an opposition party was not an option worth considering to most parties. In fact, the most prominent feature of Yudhoyono’s cabinet is coalition-building. His current cabinet, built based on results of the 2009 legislative elections, is supported by parties which together control no less than 75 percent of the votes on the House – and in return coalition parties are given ministerial positions. The logic, as is the logic for any coalition, was to provide the needed support to advance his policies. While it was needed in 2004, by 2009 many perceived it was not necessary: many saw it as excessive, and before long, the efficacy was questioned. Quickly thereafter, Yudhoyono himself decried the parties considered “not loyal” to the spirit of the coalitions and was quoted in the media as expressing frustration with his own ministers. Partai Demokrat is often seen as distancing themselves from the controversial policies of ministers from different political parties. But with no firm decisions against those parties, the president’s control over members of the coalitions has been undermined. A lack of shared ideology among political parties that made up the cabinet was also often blamed for lack of consistency and even inefficiency in his government’s leadership.

Reflecting on the current experience and prior to Wednesday’s elections results, PDIP leaders have expressed their determination to go with a very limited coalition. Talking to journalists where he voted this morning, Jokowi said that there will not be “seat distribution,” referring to distribution of ministerial posts in Yudhoyono’s cabinet. Jokowi’s camp has signaled that they want to engage experienced professionals. In short, PDIP leaders know that if they are to rule differently, they need control over the cabinet. Voters who want Jokowi to win the presidential elections in July chose PDIP today so that Jokowi has the support he needs in the House. For many of them, it is about ensuring that Jokowi can be the president that they want him to be.

PDIP learned yesterday that its share of the vote would not be enough, and that the party will have to form a wider coalition than expected. As of today, the road ahead for PDIP is not going to be as smooth. Compared to 2009, 2014 legislative election results produced smaller parties with higher amount of votes, and big parties with lower votes. Pundits have started to coin the term “fragmented” to describe the new constellation of the House. PDIP will have to negotiate this new constellation as it considers its coalition partners, but it will have to do so without sending a message that its coalition will be more of the same built by Partai Demokrat and President Yudhoyono. This is key. Jokowi’s presidency depends on it.

Sandra Hamid is The Asia Foundation’s country representative in Indonesia. She can be reached at Sandra.hamid@asiafoundation.org. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the individual author and not those of The Asia Foundation.

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