Center for World Conflict and Peace

Center for World Conflict and Peace

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

What We Learned From the 2014 Indonesian Parliamentary Elections

1. Joko Widodo is not invincible

In the past few months, virtually every political poll declared that Joko Widodo (also known as Jokowi), the current governor of Jakarta, is a shoo-in to be the next Indonesian president. All surveys noted that the PDI-P, Jokowi's party, would gain a huge boost in the election by declaring Jokowi to be its presidential candidate.

Thus there were a lot of finger-pointing when the quick-count result showed that the PDI-P only received 19% of the vote, far below many optimistic projections by the polls. [A self-disclosure: I made a prediction that the PDI-P would gain around mid-20% of the vote, so, yes, I also made a bad prediction.]

Granted, 19% of the vote is a respectable gain and that still puts the PDI-P as the front-runner. Still, with all the euphoria about Jokowi, the result may disappoint people within the PDI-P and open the floodgate of criticisms from people within the PDI-P who are opposed to Jokowi's candidacy (because he is not part of the old guard and a relatively a newcomer to the national politics), questioning where's the so-called the "Jokowi effect," which promised to bring the PDI-P the windfall of voters.

There are three problems with this argument.

First, there is a lot of evidence, both anecdotal and also in surveys, that the PDI-P wouldn't gotten its 19% of the vote without Jokowi. In the last election, the PDI-P only garnered 14% of the vote, and at this point, there is basically a "Megawati fatigue" (Megawati is the head of the party and the PDI-P's candidate for presidency in 2009) that would have driven voters away had Megawati run again this time. So, in a sense, the PDI-P would probably do far worse without Jokowi as the standard bearer. (Also keep in mind that in the past few weeks, Jokowi was the target of almost every black campaign circulating in Indonesia.)

Second, it was only very late in the race that Megawati decided to declare Jokowi as the PDI-P's candidate for presidency, making many people very suspicious about whether Megawati was sincere in putting Jokowi forward.

Third, there is also speculation that people simply didn't see the correlation of voting for the PDI-P now as vote for Jokowi later -- they simply didn't vote for the PDI-P because they don't identify themselves with that party, but they are going to vote for Jokowi. So basically there's a disconnect.

While it is too early to declare that Jokowi's candidacy dead -- he is still, I think, the most popular politician in Indonesia and has the best shot to be the next president; however, his aura of invincibility is broken. Fair or not, Jokowi and the PDI-P's inability to live up the hype has resulted in damage to the Jokowi brand. And worse for him, up until now, the media, afraid of his popularity, has been treating him very gently. This setback may embolden some of the media, owned by his opponents, to start hitting him.

UPDATE: Right on cue, the circular firing squad had begun (in Indonesian).

2. The Big winner: Prabowo Subianto

Regardless of what you think about him, it has to be admitted that Prabowo Subianto is the big winner in this election. His Gerindra Party's share of the vote almost tripled, propelling the party from the bottom of the barrel to the third largest share of votes in the election. 

Moreover, with Jokowi's aura of invincibility broken, Prabowo's ambition to be the next Indonesian president, already written off by many analysts, just got another breath of life. Should he play his cards right, he might be able to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.

3. Reports of the death of religious parties have been greatly exaggerated

The religiously moderate parties, in spite of several public opinion surveys predicting them to receive around 3-4% of the vote, and thus written off as dead, managed to stay alive. This is especially the case for the PKB, which benefited from its relationship with Nadlatul Ulama, its parent organization. On the other hand, radical Islamist parties, such as the PKS, saw their support decline.

4. President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono is still an important player in Indonesian politics

While the president and his party have been battered by corruption scandals and accusations of ineffectual leadership, the president is relatively still popular and this translated into a quite respectable result of 9% of the vote for the Democratic Party of Indonesia. Granted, this is far cry from the party's previous showing in 2009. Still, without the president's influence, it is very likely that the party's performance would be far worse.

5. Expect horse-trading in coming weeks

Because no party received the minimum required percentage of votes to name a presidential candidate (the rules stipulates that only a party or a coalition of parties that receives 25% of popular vote or 20% of the parliamentarian seats could nominate a presidential candidate), there will be a lot of deal-making and deal-breaking in the next few weeks. 

Golkar, which received the second largest share of votes in the election, is where the action will be. The party has always been a part of government since Suharto formed the party in the 1960s; and since the Reformation, the party has always been a part of governing coalition, and many people in the party want the tradition to continue. 

This time, however, Golkar is led by the unpopular Aburizal Bakrie, who has nominated himself to be the party's candidate for president. Already, there are rumblings from within the party, wanting Aburizal Bakrie to withdraw his candidacy or at least allow members in the party to be courted as vice-presidential candidate by more popular candidates, such as Jokowi or Prabowo.

Expect a lot of internal squabbling in the next few weeks, especially should Bakrie remain adamant to fulfill his presidential ambitions.

6. Next government may not be as good as hoped

'Nuff said.

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