by Ryan D. Rosauro
photo from Indonesian Parliament website
JAKARTA—Indonesians troop to the polls Wednesday to elect members of the national and local parliaments, an exercise that is widely expected to shape the upcoming presidential elections in July.
The turnout of the polls will determine which of the 12 parties running for the 560 seats in the House of Representatives will be able to field a presidential candidate in the July 9 presidential polls. Under Indonesian law, only the parties that get 20 percent of the parliamentary seats or 25 percent of the popular vote are allowed to field presidential bets.
Some 186 million are eligible to vote, or about 74 percent of the close to 250 million Indonesians. At least 88 percent of Indonesians are also Muslims, making the country the seat of the largest number of followers of Islam in the world.
According to Tri Agung Kristanto, a senior editor at Kompas, one of the country’s top newspapers, only two parties “have the capacity to reach the (25 percent) threshold.”
Kristanto said that based on their latest survey, these are Partai Golongan Karya or Golkar, the party of deposed president Suharto, and Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) led by Megawati Sukarnoputri, daughter of the country’s first president, Sukarno.
Suharto led a 1965 coup that deposed Sukarno from power, installing himself to the presidency until 1998 when he was kicked from office by a popular uprising known here as the reformasi.
Analysts expect the chances of PDI-P winning more seats in the national parliament to increase with the announcement mid-March that it will be fielding the widely popular Jakarta governor Joko Widodo for president.
Kristanto explained that in Indonesia, personality is the principal driver of a party’s chances in the ballot.
Kompas has declined to give the recent survey figures. But in mid-January, a Kompas survey showed that Widodo, more known as Jokowi, could garner 43.5 percent of the vote.
Although Golkar is in the running as a party, its bearer, party chair Aburizal Bakrie, also a declared presidential aspirant, is showing poorly. A far second to Jokowi in popular appeal is Prabowo Subianto, of the Greater Indonesia Movement Party (Gerindra), a splinter of Golkar.
Kompas estimates Gerindra’s vote-drawing capacity in the April 9 polls between 10 to 13 percent.
Given the frontrunners of the parliamentary polls, veteran activist Tedjabayu Soedjojono considers the recent polls as “most important for Indonesia’s future.”
Tedjabayu said that the polls is about “continuing the momentum of democratic reforms or sliding back to the Suharto era.”
“We have to give the presidency to a generation which has no connection with the past,” Tedjabayu stressed.
Called the New Order, Suharto’s rule has been marked by massive human rights violations, repression, and curtailment of civil liberties.
Anti-corruption activist Danang Widoyoko said the new battleground in this election is the youth vote.
An estimated 30 percent of total registered voters in Indonesia are first-time voters. But surveys showed that “they are skeptical of the polls,” said Anita Rachman of the Alliance of Indonesian Journalists-Jakarta (AJI-Jakarta).
Danang attributed youth skepticism to the problem of official corruption “which has been making headlines almost every day.” Five days before the polls, the English daily Jakarta Post reported the indictment of former health minister Siti Fadilah Supari for graft.
The case stemmed from an alleged anomalous medical procurement transaction that led to state losses amounting to US$1.33 million. Fadilah is currently an advisor of outgoing president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.
Not only are the youth unhappy about corruption. Since the first post-Suharto elections in 1999, general voter turnout has consistently declined. In 1999, turnout was 93 percent. By 2004, it dropped to 84 percent, and further decreased to 71 percent in 2009.
Veri Junaidi of the nongovernment group Association for Democracy and the Elections (Perludem), said they will be happy with a 75 percent turnout. “At least the decline is arrested and we begin to seriously make the elections a key battleground for continuing the democratic struggle.”
Several young professionals in Jakarta, who have not been voting since they turned 17, said they are sorry for not being able to vote on April 9. Many of them relocated from the provinces for work but have not transferred their voter registration in the city.
“But I’ll surely make it to the voting center come July 9 to elect the president,” said 37-year old accountant Harry Palapa, an entrepreneur who also works as interpreter on the side.
(Ryan is part of a four-member team organized by the Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA) to cover the 2014 Indonesian parliamentary elections. The PCIJ is a founding member of SEAPA.