Election preview: Indonesia

Indonesia goes to the polls today, in what’s billed as the world’s largest election held on a single day. (India and the European Union are both bigger, but are held over several days; the United States has more eligible voters, but low turnout puts it below Indonesia.)

It’s also much more complex than in the past, since presidential and legislative elections are being held together for the first time (there is full separation of powers). Voters will also choose provincial governors and legislatures, and assorted municipal governments. (See my 2014 preview for more background.)

Despite its size and proximity to Australia, the election has not received a great deal of coverage, probably because the presidential election is seen as a foregone conclusion. Incumbent Joko Widodo (known as Jokowi) is running for a second term and has only one opponent – General Prabowo Subianto, the man he beat last time.

Jokowi won in 2014 with 53.2% of the vote, a lead of about 8.4 million votes. Polls have consistently shown him doing much better this time, with a margin of close to 20 points. Prabowo, who was a bad loser last time, has this year not even waited until polling day before making accusations that the election is rigged against him.

Broadly speaking, Jokowi is the reformist candidate while Prabowo is the candidate of the authoritarian old order (he was General Suharto’s son-in-law). But things are not quite that simple; Jokowi also has the support this time of Suharto’s party, Golkar, while in addition to his personal vehicle, Gerindra, Prabowo is backed by the Democratic Party of former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

In office, Jokowi has moved to the right, specifically to try to head off opposition from Islamic fundamentalists. Incumbent vice-president Jusuf Kalla is prevented by term limits from running again, and he has been replaced by Muslim cleric Ma’ruf Amin. But Ma’ruf, who will be 81 at the end of his term, is unlikely to be a contender next time, so the succession to Jokowi looks wide open.

Ten parties currently hold seats in the House of Representatives, which is elected proportionally from large multi-member districts with a 4% national threshold. Jokowi’s Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle has the largest delegation, but with only 109 of the 560 seats it depends on a loose six-party coalition to command a majority.

The polls suggest that some of the smaller parties may drop out this time, but there is no sign of a dramatic shift in support for the major parties. The president’s relationship with the legislature in his second term will probably depend more on his ability to keep his coalition together than on what the voters do.

Complete results usually take a while to appear, but preliminary results based on sample counts (which last time were very accurate) should be available this evening.

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