The 3 anomalies


Indonesia’s landmark election, in which 48 parties will compete for 462 seats in Parliament, is fraught with contradictions. Straits Times Correspondent DERWIN PEREIRA highlights three anomalies to illustrate the complexities of the election.

1. Crowds may not mean votes

POLITICAL chameleons are conspicuous in Indonesian elections.

It is not just the embattled elite and their elaborate power games. Ordinary people also switch party colours and allegiances overnight, but sometimes with little comprehension.

In the last two weeks of campaigning, hundreds of thousands had come out in force almost every day, donning the respective red, yellow, green, blue or white of the 48 parties contesting the polls.

They did not mind changing party colours for money and freebies.

Some were said to pocket up to 20,000 rupiah (S$4) each for every rally they attended, in addition to T-shirts and other garb.

Also thrown in were food and drinks. Not a bad deal in a country ravaged by economic crisis. Then there was also dangdut music to boogey to.

Such large numbers can be deceiving though. They do not necessarily translate into voter support or herald dramatic changes in Indonesian politics.

Proponents of keterbukaan, or openness, feeling the gush of liberal democracy, might get swayed easily by the Indonesian Democratic Party-Perjuangan (PDI-Struggle) supporters painting Jakarta red every time they hit the streets. But a lot of those who took part in the PDI-Struggle or any other party rallies were too young to cast the ballot.

With the exception of a few diehards, student activists and intellectuals, many also had no inkling of what the parties stood for.

And, more importantly, many did not know what this election was all about.

There was also scant concern if economic policies were dictated by the International Monetary Fund or accrued to Cooperatives Minister Adi Sasono’s populist notions.

Politics is seen in black and white terms – them and us, losers and winners.

Election results, however legitimate they might be, would remain unpalatable to the losers, given this prevailing mindset and ignorance of the process.

It is still touch and go. A lot of things can go wrong.

But, like the dangdut, this election has its own rhythm and a new tune, much of which has yet to be played out.

2. Favourites won’t be big winners

THERE will be no clear winners.

None of the front-runners – PDI-Struggle, Golkar, PAN and the Nation Awakening Party – will win convincingly.

At most, the victor will secure a slim majority, and only after forming a coalition with other parties.Despite the vitriol and animosity directed against Golkar in the last two weeks, the ruling party is likely to be the winner even if it does “lose” the election.

The popular PDI-Struggle might end up losing despite winning the election.

Ms Megawati Sukarnoputri’s party might edge out Golkar in terms of percentage votes but this would not necessarily translate into seats, given the newly-introduced proportional electoral system and the force of incumbency.

Some analysts believe that all Golkar needs is 25 per cent of the votes to strike its target.

The ruling party might muster enough support to make a comeback, through alliances with Islamic-oriented parties, the armed forces and regional and local representatives, and to nominate incumbent B. J. Habibie as President.

The mathematics of it is simple. The President and his No. 2 are elected by the country’s highest legislative body, the People’s Consultative Assembly (MPR), which has 700 seats.

In order to secure the presidential seat, a party would need to control at least 351 seats. Without playing dirty, Golkar would capture more than 200 of them.

Dr Hermawan Sulistyo of the Research Institute for Democracy and Peace argues that of this lot, the 135 provincial and district MPR members would not think twice about backing the party.

In addition to this, it can also count on another 65 seats, most of which are allocated by the President.

Together with its own 120 seats, all it needs is to join forces with traditional allies like Abri and the Muslim-based United Development Party to form a coalition government.

Even if there is a balance between rival groups, money will change the political equation. Party discipline and loyalty cannot be guaranteed. The highest bidder will buy off individuals.

3. Dark horse can be President

CONVENTIONAL wisdom suggests that the party which leads a coalition government would also secure the presidential post.

Theoretically, Dr B. J. Habibie might pull it off, given that the MPR configuration appears to be in his favour. But will PDI-Struggle supporters accept this if they win more votes?

A Habibie presidency could be a recipe for disaster given this psychological disposition, plus prevailing perceptions of the German-trained engineer as a crony of former despot Suharto.

Neither he nor any of the others – Ms Megawati Sukarnoputri, Dr Amien Rais and Mr Abdurrahman Wahid – can assume the top post as a given. Looming political uncertainty could lead to a search for a compromise candidate.

But mainstream public discourse and party rallies have focused only on the four protagonists with scant regard for Abri chief General Wiranto, Sri Sultan Hemangkubuwono X and Islamic scholar Nurcholish Madjid as putative contenders.

If anything, these three figures stand a stronger chance of becoming President, given their relative broad-based appeal. Gen Wiranto holds the dubious distinction of being a Suharto protege plus commander of a military in which credibility is at its lowest ebb in decades.

But with the exception of PAN, front-runners such as PDI-Struggle, the Nation Awakening Party and Golkar minus Dr Habibie have acquiesced to a Wiranto presidency.

The Sultan could team up with the Javanese general, but this could reinforce perceptions that the Javanese are taking over the reins of power again.

Most likely, but least mentioned, is US-trained academic Nurcholish, who enjoys support across Islam’s modern and traditional ranks. He is also perceived as Abri’s favourite, next to Gen Wiranto.

The military will work behind the scenes to achieve a compromise.

Ironically, however, if there is no agreement on a presidential candidate and law and order breaks down, military intervention could bring Indonesian politics round full circle, right to the beginning of the ill-fated Suharto era.

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