Indonesian Elections Watch I

By N Mark Castro

With a population that currently stands at 250 million people, the potential voter turnout for the Indonesian elections will be equally impressive, with a rising 171 million eligible voters casting their votes by the time the presidential elections are held. The constituencies are spread over 33 provinces and 471 regencies, with 77 major election districts where the votes will be cast across 582,217 polling stations.

The voting public alone is almost twice the population of the entire Republic of the Philippines, one of the first Asian-country that demanded democracy through People Power.

Which is why Indonesia’s 2014 presidential election is filled with so much expectations, with various pundits proclaiming the next political savior of the country. Based on the piece written by A. Lin Neumann, he opined that the political landscape of the country has totally shifted. Indeed. But only to a certain extent. True, new names, independent candidates have emerged as victorious, particularly with the governorship win in Jakarta of Jokowi Widodo and his vice-governor Ir. Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, MM (Chinese name: Zhong Wan Xie /钟万勰), breaking ranks from the long stranglehold of traditional political parties and the racial barriers that were once imposed on ethnic Chinese Indonesians.

But the presidential elections is a totally different ballgame.

The election requires candidates to have a political party. Article 6A of the Constitution states that presidential and vice presidential candidates shall be “proposed by a political party or coalition of parties that participate in the general election.” There is currently an on-going debate at the House of Representatives on the issue of electoral threshold, whereby political parties that garnered 25% of the legislative votes are allowed to nominate their candidates.

SAME SAME, BUT DIFFERENT

THE LOSER

Megawati Sukarnoputri served as the President of the Republic of Indonesia from 23 July 2001 to 20 October 2004, becoming the country’s first female President and the fourth woman to lead a predominantly Muslim nation. Megawati is the daughter of Indonesia’s first president, Sukarno. After serving as Vice-President under Abdurrahman Wahid, Megawati became President when Wahid was removed from office in 2001. She ran for re-election in 2004 but was defeated by her former chief political and security minister Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. She sought a rematch in 2009, losing again to Yudhoyono. One might wonder what drives this woman to keep chasing a dream she never could get. The answer: Surveys. Every time there’s a survey, her name always comes out on top, which makes you wonder whether or not she paid for those surveys or, worse, the surveys didn’t ask the right question.

THE HOPEFUL
Prabowo Subianto is a businessman, politician and former special forces soldier who was once married to former President Suharto. In 2009, he ran for the vice-presidency as part of Megawati’s unsuccessful campaign for president. Rumors have it that he stepped down to the vice-president position in order to gain the support of Megawati for the 2014 election. However, both their true colors seem to be on divergent paths as Megawati has intimated her desire to run — and lose — again, while Prabowo is bent on pursuing the presidency. His grassroots-based party, GERINDA (Great Indonesia Movement) relies heavily on the support of farmers and agriculture-based voters, spilling over to some of the middle class. It’s amazing that in just a little over 14 years ago, Prabowo Subianto was one of Indonesia’s most reviled men, accused of kidnapping, human rights abuses and a coup attempt. Now, the former general has emerged as the most popular candidate for president.

NATIONALIST ECONOMY Prabowo’s possible ascent to power is being looked on nervously from several quarters. Investors worry he will bring in protectionist policies and political analysts say his past shows he can easily slip into strong-arm autocratic rule.

“If he won, concerns would arise about the durability of democratization,” says Kevin O’Rourke, a Jakarta-based analyst. “He also advocates an economic agenda that calls for banning rice imports and banning gas exports. He is antagonistic towards investment and market forces.”

Prabowo, the son of one of Indonesia’s most respected economic planners, has said he is not against foreign investment. “We want foreign investment, but it must be win-win,” he said. “It must be rational, it must be cognizant of local and environmental needs and it must be on a fair and level playing field.”

In his speech, he said the country needed to avoid depletion of its energy and other resources, control population growth, improve governance and bring in structural changes in the economy to benefit the poor and the farmers, who form the majority of Indonesia’s 240 million people.

Prabowo is also feared by some of Indonesia’s ethnic Chinese minority, who control much of the country’s $1 trillion economy and were targeted in the 1998 mayhem that was orchestrated by thugs believed to be organized by special forces soldiers.

“I am very committed to a united Indonesia regardless of race, religion and background,” he said in response to a question on his policy towards the ethnic Chinese.

If history has ever taught us anything, however, political promises, of course, are the first to go once elected in office.

First of 2 parts

About Asmartrock

N. Mark Castro is the chief political communications strategist for PT AsiaLeads, a political and communications policy-making body based in Jakarta, Indonesia. He is also the Executive Director at the Southeast Asia Consulting Group, an investment advisory company assisting clients roll out their presence for the ASEAN Economic Integration in partnership with government. The views posted here are his own and do not in any way reflect the views of the companies he represents.

Posted on November 30, 2012, in General, Politics and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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