Indonesia Gearing Up For Intense Election Battle

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The world’s third largest democracy is gearing up for what promises to be a tough election season this summer. Wednesday’s legislative elections suggest that the competition between Indonesia’s largest parties and coalitions may be tighter than previously expected.

Indonesia is one of the world’s most diverse countries. Home to numerous religions and ethnic groups, Indonesia’s vast population is spread out across thousands of islands. This has historically made Indonesia a difficult place to govern, with political parties unable to secure any clear majority on the national stage.

Instead, Indonesia has generally relied on coalitions. The only periods in which parties ruled with clear authority were under autocratic military leaders, such as General Suharto who seized power in 1967. Governing the expansive nation is no easy task and the plurality of beliefs has resulted in a highly fractured political system with numerous small parties controlling local regions. These parties generally work together to form larger coalitions.

Jokowi perhaps not as popular as previously thought

It was assumed that Presidential Candidate “Jokowi” would be popular enough to propel the Democratic Party of Struggle to 25 percent or more of the votes in Wednesday’s parliamentary elections. As of right now, however, it looks like the party might end up securing only 19 percent of the vote. Golkar, which was the political machine that kept Suharto in power, appears set to finish second with just under 15 percent of the vote.

The less-than-anticipated turnout for the Democratic Party of Struggle suggests that Presidential candidate Joko Widodo , aka Jokowi, may not be as popular as previously thought. Jokowi came into the national spotlight after securing the governorship of Jakarta, Indonesia’s largest city.

Jokowi has received a considerable amount of support due to his humble upbringing and clean image. Certainly not a stalwart of the political system, Jokowi stormed onto the national stage after defeating larger political rivals. His middle class background as a exporter and lack of ties to the establishment have made him very popular, but perhaps not as popular as previously thought.

Golkar, headed by Indonesian tycoon Aburizal Bakrie, now appears to be in a strong position to compete for the presidency. Heading into the elections many analysts assumed that the Democratic Party would secure a strong victory, but now that victory appears to be in question.

If the Democratic Party fails to secure 20 percent of the vote, it will be forced to form a coalition in order to nominate presumed Presidential Candidate Jokowi. Indonesian law requires that the party or coalition nominating a candidate secure at least 20 percent of the vote.

Presidents are elected directly in Indonesia. Often, parties will wait until after legislative elections before announcing their official candidate but the Democratic Party was hoping to turn out the vote and gain momentum by announcing Jokowi’s candidacy earlier.

Islamic parties poised for losses

About 90 percent of Indonesia’s population subscribes to one form or another of Islam. In recent years Islamic parties have been making plenty of noise. In 2013 they were vocal and powerful enough to force Indonesia’s Miss Universe contest to be moved to the Hindu resort town of Bali. And across the country local communities have been adopting sharia laws and banning the sale of alcohol.

In spite of all of this, Islamic parties appear to be poised for their worst showing since Suharto stepped down and a new period of democracy was ushered in. Despite the fact that most of Indonesia’s population is Muslim, secularism reigns supreme. Indeed, the country’s official slogan is “unity in diversity”, a concept that still holds strong among the nation’s general population.

Either way, the upcoming elections promise to be a hard fought affair. With parties now likely to be forced into coalition building, however, Indonesia’s governance may suffer. Historically, coalition building has slowed down the government due to trading and political payoffs. With no clear front runner emerging, said coalition building will likely be essential in the summer elections.

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