Wayang time in Indonesia

INDONESIAN ELECTIONS SPECIAL

Nothing is what it seems in Indonesia.

Politics here is sometimes as complicated and hazy as the wayang, the popular Indonesian shadow play in which perforated leather figures are manipulated behind a backlit cotton screen.

Unlike Shakespearean tragedies that almost always reach a climax midway, the wayang drags on until the very end, when the outcome is known.

This is the year of the election wayang. The plot for the audience promises to be long, complex and plodding with a host of players, and twists and turns.

Who will be Indonesia’s next president? Will the queen keep her crown or will her enemies topple her? The first clues will come from the result of the general election on Monday. It is but one of two or three crucial turning points in a protracted battle that could last six months.

The stakes in the parliamentary poll are high. Parties that win 3 per cent of the 148 million votes are eligible to nominate a candidate and his running mate for Indonesia’s first direct presidential election in July.

If no one wins an overall majority in that race, a run-off between the top two tickets would happen in September.

With none of the 24 parties expected to get near a 50 per cent majority, the general election result will ultimately narrow the range of players – and determine alliances for the presidential race.

Given the electoral requirements of a 3 per cent threshold, the Big Five – the Indonesian Democratic Party-Struggle (PDI-P), Golkar, the Nation Awakening Party (PKB), the United Development Party (PPP), and the National Mandate Party (PAN) – will dominate the show, along with the candidates who carry their banners.

And if history is a guide in post-independence Indonesia – especially the results of the country’s most democratic elections to date in 1955 and 1999 – mainstream nationalist-secular parties such as Golkar and PDI-P will be major winners.

The epic battle will be between the Big Two. Depending on who wins the parliamentary poll, the fight for the throne could go either way, depending on how the key players line up against each other.

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