March 17 (Bloomberg) -- Indonesia’s biggest opposition party kicked off its campaign for the country’s parliamentary elections with a head start after nominating Jakarta’s popular governor for president.
Twelve parties will vie in an April election for spots in the 560-seat parliament where President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s Democratic Party is now the biggest single entity with 26 percent of seats. The coming ballot may see that advantage eroded as the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle, or PDI-P, and its presidential candidate Joko Widodo lead in opinion polls.
“There will be an increase in votes for PDI-P,” Yose Rizal, founder of politicawave.com, which tracks political discourse on the Internet, said March 14. “With the nomination of Jokowi, who’s a favorite, fewer people will choose to abstain from voting,” he said, referring to Widodo by his nickname.
The progress of the campaign may indicate how much Widodo will boost PDI-P’s fortunes in both the vote next month and the July presidential ballot, with news of his candidacy on March 14 spurring a stock rally on expectations he will reform the government of Southeast Asia’s biggest economy. With little to separate the major parties on policy, both elections may be fought largely on personality, with PDI-P candidates already featuring Widodo’s image on their campaign paraphernalia.
“I haven’t decided yet whether I will vote in the legislative election,” said Sinta Mariana, a 36-year-old administration worker at a property company in Jakarta. Still, with Widodo running, “I will definitely vote for him and not abstain.”
Voters’ apathy toward political parties in the world’s third-biggest democracy makes them less open to hearing about their platforms and programs, according to Yunarto Wijaya, executive director of political consultancy Charta Politika Indonesia.
“Parties are being realistic by playing the personality card at the presidential or legislative candidate level,” Wijaya said by phone. “This is what makes declaring Jokowi very crucial in deciding the winner of even the legislative election. The battle is indeed a battle of the personalities.”
Parties must win at least 20 percent of parliamentary seats or 25 percent of the vote to nominate a presidential candidate. The outcome of the election next month may lead some parties to form a coalition. PDI-P’s closest challenger is Golkar, the country’s second-largest political party whose tycoon chairman Aburizal Bakrie rates himself the presidential favorite.
A survey by Saiful Mujani Research & Consulting in February shows PDI-P on 16 percent, followed by Golkar with 15 percent and the Democrats with 10 percent. Nearly 18 percent of the 1,520 respondents were undecided, and are voters PDI-P may seek to woo with Widodo’s nomination.
Yesterday marked the start of the three-week campaign with the parliamentary vote scheduled for April 9. The results will be announced May 7-9, according to the timeline released by the election commission on its website.
Heading south out of Jakarta into the world’s most populated island of Java, blue and white flags from the Democratic party rise out of the trees along the highway. Down the congested lanes in the Sukabumi area of western Java, in between rice paddies and banana trees, the red flags of PDI-P become more common.
Parties declared their support in a March 15 ceremony for a peaceful campaign, followed by a parade of more than a dozen floats through Jakarta’s streets with bands and costume-wearing supporters, singing and calling on onlookers to vote. A man wearing a giant yellow Eagle head yelled his support for the Gerindra party’s Prabowo Subianto while singers on a National Mandate Party float wore white wigs, denoting support for its white-haired chairman Hatta Rajasa.
The Jakarta Composite index entered a bull market March 14, rising 3.2 percent in the biggest one-day rally in nearly six months. Overseas investors added $656 million to holdings of Indonesian equities, the most since May. The rupiah rose to a 19-week high of 11,255 per dollar today.
Shares of PT Semen Indonesia, the nation’s biggest cement producer, gained 3.1 percent today after rising as much as 8.8 percent. Widodo has made infrastructure development and streamlining tax collection centerpieces of his governance, boosting his support in the business community.
Widodo declined to comment today on his national tax policy when asked about it during a signing ceremony at his governor’s office. “I don’t talk about presidential matters while I’m in this room,” he told reporters.
The former mayor of the Central Java town of Solo became Jakarta Governor in 2012 on the promise to rid the capital of chronic flooding and traffic jams. Widodo said on Jan. 21 that he is using the administration’s cash for a free health plan for more than 3 million people, aimed at the capital’s poor.
“PDI-P is well known to be the party of the peasants,” Deputy Secretary General Hasto Kristianto said March 5. PDI-P, which seeks to win 27 percent of the vote, will use popular names such as Widodo and Banten Deputy Governor Rano Karno, a former artist, as “public influencers” during the campaign, he said.
Red banners with the trademark color of PDI-P and the words “Jokowi for President 2014” adorned an office in Solo earlier this month, before his nomination was announced.
In 2009 PDI-P finished third with 14 percent of the vote, down from a record 34 percent in 1999 when the end of Suharto’s three-decade rule boosted support for the party led by Megawati Soekarnoputri, the daughter of Indonesia’s founding father Soekarno.
Megawati made a wise choice to have Widodo named as the PDI-P’s presidential candidate, according to Leonard Sebastian, associate professor and coordinator of the Indonesia program at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore.
“I believe her calculation would be based on the fact that the PDI-P now will go into the election with a clear presidential candidate and one who obviously will be able to garner huge support from the electorate,” he said. “This should translate into huge gains for the PDI-P in the general elections.”
Golkar targets 25 percent of the vote, Airlangga Hartarto, a member of the party’s central executive council, said March 14. With Yudhoyono prevented by law from running for a third term, Golkar seeks to lure Democrat members who voted for the party in 2009 because of the president’s personal popularity, he said.
Yudhoyono is on leave today and tomorrow to campaign for the Democrats, Julian Aldrin Pasha, a presidential spokesman, said March 12. Yudhoyono took the helm of his party in March last year after a series of corruption cases involving senior party members dented its popularity.
The party’s previous chairman, Anas Urbaningrum, resigned after becoming at least the third senior party official linked to corruption allegations in less than two years. After winning 21 percent of the vote in 2009, the Democrats are now targeting 15 percent, Marzuki Alie, a party member and speaker of the House of Representatives, said March 7.
“Democrats are the incumbents and as the ruling party the public is looking at its performance, not promises,” Alie said.
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