Indonesia: Election season gets going

  • The long election season in Indonesia is underway, after the General Elections Commission last month declared 14 political parties eligible to contest the upcoming polls.
  • A 15th party may also join in, after a decision by the Elections Supervisory Agency on 5 Mar 18, following an appeal by the Crescent Star Party for it to take part.
  • The 17 Apr 19, election will be the first time Indonesians will pick their president and MPs on the same day. But in the lead up to the nationwide vote, the third and last round of regional elections will be held on 27 Jun 18 to select governors in 17 provinces, mayors of 39 cities and heads of 115 regencies.
  • This will involve about 160 million voters in the biggest single-day election in Indonesia since independence. The results will be closely watched, as they could determine which candidate the various parties back for the presidential race.
  • The hottest contest is the four-corner gubernatorial race in West Java, home to 32.8 million voters. Gerindra Party chief Prabowo Subianto won more votes there than President Joko Widodo in the 2014 presidential poll, though he lost the national popular vote.
  • Both men are set to contest again in 2019 and though neither has announced his bid, both have received endorsements. The Indonesian Democratic Party-Struggle (PDI-P), Golkar, Hanura, NasDem and the United Development Party (PPP) have all said they will back Mr Joko, as will newcomer Perindo.
  • The Democratic Party, National Mandate Party (PAN), National Awakening Party (PKB) and Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) have not said who they will endorse, or if they will offer names of their own.
  • Mr Prabowo’s brother Hashim Djojohadikusumo recently said Gerindra has the funds for a “credible” presidential campaign, and there have been “communications” with other parties on a joint ticket.
  • With that, talk has turned to who Mr Joko and Mr Prabowo will pick as their running mates.
  • The vice-presidential ticket is an attractive incentive for parties aspiring to play kingmaker, and the contenders will be expected to pick running mates who can help increase their odds of winning.
  • Reforms to Indonesia’s electoral system were introduced following the fall of strongman Suharto in 1998, to prevent a single, dominant party from holding power.
  • Under the law, political parties need at least 20% of the seats in Parliament, or 25% share of the popular vote, before they can nominate a presidential candidate.
  • The PDI-P currently holds 109 seats or just under 20% of the House. Golkar, the second largest party after the PDI-P, has 16%; Gerindra has 13%, and the Democratic Party 11%.
  • Smaller Islamic-based parties, such as PAN, PKB and PKS, could fare better, given the tide of rising religiosity and voters appearing to decide based on religious lines.
  • Observers point to last year’s election for Jakarta governor, when the incumbent Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, better known by his Chinese nickname Ahok, was defeated by rival Anies Baswedan in a bitter campaign marred by sectarian discord.
  • The opposition played the religion card, capitalising on a blasphemy charge Basuki was facing – for which he was later jailed – to win over conservative Muslim voters.
  • Voting patterns, however, may change with the introduction of new parties and younger voters. Almost half of the 200 million voters across the country will be 35 years old or younger come polling day.
  • Four of the 15 parties taking part in the polls are new entrants. Analysts are not expecting them to have a major impact on the presidential election, where the smaller players are likely to back either side.
  • But former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s son Agus may be in play, as the former army major has been tasked with leading the Democratic Party’s election campaign this time round, he added.
  • It is not just race and religion that could impact the poll outcome. Last week, police warned of cyber-attacks in the form of fake news and online smear campaigns.
  • Still, recent elections in Indonesia have been relatively peaceful, and observers suggest the country is on track in its democratic consolidation as it approaches the 20th anniversary of the Reformasi movement in May 18.
  • This stability, in turn, has been a plus in the country’s efforts to raise its world standing, attract foreign investors and help grow its economy. President Joko has called on voters to stay united and candidates and officials to uphold integrity to ensure the elections stay peaceful.

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