Indonesian Presidential Elections: Coalitions Dot Campaign Scene


The news of the Indonesian presidential elections have hit the headlines lately as the country prepares for ballots in the world’s third largest democracy. The elections, scheduled for 9 July, will see a host of presidential candidates contest elections to the prestigious post. The present incumbent Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has been in power for two consecutive terms but is now constitutionally prohibited from contesting for the third five-year term.


Elections in Indonesia at the national level have taken place since 1955, when the revered founding fathers of Indonesia -- Sukarno and Mohammed Hatta, also the foremost President and Vice President of Indonesia -- signed the United Nations document that mediated the conflict between the erstwhile Dutch colonial powers and the Indonesians and officially recognized December 27, 1949 as the Independence Day of Indonesia. Now will be the fourth general polls in Indonesia after President Suharto’s resignation in 1998. He resigned after thirty years in power, amid violent anti-government protests.


Under Indonesia’s complex presidential nominating system, a party must win either twenty percent of the 560-seat national House of Representatives (DPR), or twenty five percent of the popular vote in the legislative elections, to even be eligible to nominate a presidential candidate. This is because the number of votes a party receives does not always correspond exactly to the number of seats it receives. 


 In case of failure to achieve either threshold, the party is compelled to form a coalition with at least one other party to be eligible to contest presidential elections. Such a coalition implies negotiations about who the coalition's presidential candidate and vice-presidential candidate will be, since both will run as a fixed pair in the presidential election. The pair that is able to garner over fifty percent of the vote nationwide and more than twenty percent of the vote in over half the provinces wins. 


Still, if no clear winner emerges in the first round, the two front-runners that received the highest percentage of the national vote in the first round compete in a run-off election, which will be held in September 2014 if it is required. 


The four parties currently dominant in the parliament are Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle, Golkar Party, Great Indonesia Movement (Gerindra), and the ruling Democratic Party (PD).


Given the current numbers in the parliament, presidential candidates will need support from one of the major parties and several of the minor ones.


While final official results could ultimately push the PDI-P past the twenty percent quota on its own, analysts claim that the party would be forced to attempt to structure a coalition in the coming weeks with a morass of parties that fared less well in the legislative elections — including other secular-nationalist and even Islamic-based parties — to secure fifty one percent of the House seats in order to secure a commanding position before July’s presidential election.


The recently concluded 9 April parliamentary elections saw unexpected results where no single party was able to garner majority votes. The PDI-P, which was envisaged to emerge the clear winner due to the overwhelming popularity of its presidential candidate, only garnered around nineteen percent votes — far below its target of twenty seven percent. The surprise actually came from the five Islamic parties. These parties that election analysts had written off as mere underdogs, performed much better than expected. Their success will give them more leverage in the subsequent horse-trading to nominate the presidential candidates.


On the other hand, Mr. Joko Widodo, the former mayor of Central Java Province who rose to national political fame after winning the governorship of Jakarta in September 2012, will nonetheless go into the forthcoming presidential election campaign with diminished lustre. The PDI-P had been hoping for a smaller coalition to have the upper hand, but the tricky results could change the course of the coalition it forms now.


However, Mr. Joko still holds a strong lead in the national polity. He has pledged a “more people-centric” governance in a country struggling with endemic corruption and poverty. Although Indonesia belongs to the Group of twenty major economies of the world or the G-20, it still has a whopping hundred million people living on mere $2 a day or less. Mr. Joko aims to pacify the general public dissatisfaction with the performance of the country’s democratic system that is infested with political scandals over the years. It will be interesting to now watch how the much-hyped “Jokovi Effect” will spin off.


Mr. Joko will be facing the presidential candidate of the opposition coalition (formed between United Development Party’s (PPP) and Gerindra Party) Mr. Prabowo Subianto, the son of one of the country's most prominent economists. Despite being accused of human rights abuses during the unrest that led to Suharto's downfall in 1998, allegations that he vehemently denies, party officials consider him to be the right figure to lead Indonesia towards prosperity. However to be eligible for contesting elections in July, Prabowo will have to tie up with another party to ensure his candidacy.


Mr. Prabowo bills himself as a strong leader and his party has created an image of being heavily nationalist in its agenda. It puts strong focus on lifting up the agricultural sector, which is the single biggest source of employment in the country, but where incomes are low and production considerably inept.


Meanwhile, there is also a considerable demand for the Islamic parties to get together and put up their own presidential candidate for the elections. Indonesia is home to the world's largest Muslim population, but populist parties dominate politics. However, this year’s results have shown otherwise. The National Awakening Party (PKB) garnered at least nine percent of the vote, followed by the National Mandate Party (PAN) with around seven percent, the United Development Party (PPP) with more than six percent and the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) with five percent. The Partai Bulan Bintang (PBB), meanwhile, was the most underperforming Islamic-based party, garnering around 1.5 percent of the vote in quick counts, far below the electoral threshold of 3.5 percent. In total, the five political parties garnered around thirty percent of the vote, more than enough to make them collectively eligible to nominate a candidate for July poll.


The South East Asian nations are watching the campaigning and the exit polls in Indonesia very keenly to determine how leadership change in that country will consequentially affect the Indonesian foreign policy. It is also to be seen how after years of poverty and rampant corruption the nation finally will see the light of the day as its leaders proclaim without apprehension.

Author Note
The author is a researcher at Department of International Relations, School of Liberal Studies, Pandit Deendayal Petroleum University, Gandhinagar, Gujarat.