Indonesia’s smaller political parties are set to play a key role in July’s presidential race after faring better than forecast in a parliamentary election, complicating the campaign of frontrunner Joko Widodo.
With unofficial results showing the Jakarta governor shy of the votes needed to run on his own as the main opposition party’s candidate, he has signaled he’s open to talks on a coalition. Surveys taken before the April 9 parliamentary vote had indicated the smaller parties would lose ground to the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle, or PDI-P, after it announced Widodo, 52, last month as its presidential pick.
“They can be kingmakers,” Paul Rowland, a political analyst based in Jakarta, said of the smaller parties. “I don’t think an alliance between any of the big three parties is on,” said Rowland, who was formerly Indonesia country director for the National Democratic Institute, a non-government group.
A tally by Lingkaran Survei Indonesia shows PDI-P got just under 20 percent of the vote, giving smaller parties the chance to bargain with it or form their own coalition ahead of the election for the leader of the world’s third-largest democracy. Even if Widodo prevails, he will face a divided parliament that may hamper his efforts to implement policy changes in Southeast Asia’s largest economy.
Under election rules, presidential candidates must be backed by parties or coalitions that secured 20 percent of seats or 25 percent of the popular vote. Widodo’s party took 19.6 percent of the vote, based on the LSI estimate, while the other main candidates -- tycoon Aburizal Bakrie of Golkar and former general Prabowo Subianto of Gerindra -- saw their parties win 14.6 percent and 11.9 percent respectively. The number of seats won by each party has not been announced, with official results expected May 9.
The best performer among the smaller parties was the National Awakening Party, or PKB, a moderate Muslim party that lifted its vote to an estimated 9 percent from 5 percent in 2009, and has existing ties with PDI-P.
Six smaller parties, including PKB, secured about 41 percent of the vote between them, according to LSI, up from the 30 percent a group of mostly the same parties won in 2009. That compares to the combined estimate of about 46 percent won by PDI-P, Golkar and Gerindra. The biggest decliner was President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s Democratic Party of Indonesia, which fell to an estimated 9.7 percent, from 20.8 percent in 2009.
The inability of PDI-P to reach the 30 to 45 percent vote mark some opinion polls had forecast “suggests that there was an erosion of confidence in Widodo at the last minute,” said Keith Loveard, head of political risk analysis at Jakarta-based security company Concord Consulting.
“The body language of his appearances with Megawati has not been reassuring - he looked like he was her nervous underling,” he said, a reference to PDI-P chairwoman and former president Megawati Soekarnoputri. Widodo said on April 9 he is not being dictated to by Megawati.
The biggest surprise in the unofficial returns is the performance of the Islamic parties, which a number of surveys had predicted would be “decimated” in the polls, said Mohamed Nawab Mohamed Osman, an assistant professor at Singapore’s S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies who studies Islamic political movements in Southeast Asia.
PDI-P will need to consider naming a vice presidential candidate who is acceptable to Muslim parties, some of which “have had a historical dislike for the PDI-P that is viewed as secular and pro-Christian,” he said. “It is imperative for PDI-P to assuage the fears of the Islamic camp.”
PDI-P and Widodo will face pressure to negotiate over the vice president candidate and cabinet positions, horse trading that Widodo has cited as a failure of Yudhoyono’s tenure, said Kevin O’Rourke, producer of the Reformasi Weekly Service analyzing Indonesian politics. Yudhoyono, who is barred from standing for a third term, governs with a coalition of five other parties.
“PDI-P’s weak election performance may tend to increase the likelihood that the ticket will feature a running mate with political clout, rather than a professional technocrat,” O’Rourke said. “It remains to be seen whether he as president would be able to avoid pressure to barter cabinet seats.”
The most natural allies for Widodo are PKB and NasDem, a new party led by businessman Surya Paloh that is already PDI-P’s ally, said Marcus Mietzner, associate professor at the Australian National University in Canberra and author of “Money, Power and Ideology: Political Parties in Post-Authoritarian Indonesia.” Widodo appeared after polls closed April 9 in an interview on Metro TV, owned by Paloh.
“PDI-P and PKB go well together, not just ideologically but also historically,” said Abdul Malik Haramain, PKB deputy secretary general. “It depends on PDI-P. They need a vice president. We will definitely discuss it. The chance for a coalition with PDI-P is very, very open.”
Such a three-party coalition would have 35 percent of the vote, according to the LSI figures, easily enough to pass the nominating threshold and a grouping that avoids the need for Widodo to ally with other major parties.
PDI-P is waiting for the official figures before forming coalitions, said Effendi Simbolon, an official on the party’s central executive council.
“We still hope we can meet the threshold to nominate directly but, if it turns out that we can’t, then we’ll form a coalition with nationalist parties,” he said on the sidelines of a political talk show in Jakarta yesterday.
Widodo should use his popularity to move independently of the PDI-P machinery and form his own “coalition of individuals” from various parties, according to Wimar Witoelar, who was a spokesman for Abdurrahman Wahid, Indonesia’s president from 1999 to 2001. Wahid founded the PKB.
Relying on PDI-P to lead the coalition process will risk maintaining the “old empire formula,” Witoelar said by phone today. “He will just be window dressing. There’s no way you can revamp the system while being part of the system.”
Widodo’s prospects for securing the presidency still appear strong, even as the parliamentary results are set to embolden his opponents, Rowland said.
“People here feel quite fine about voting one way in the legislative election and another way in the presidential,” he said. “But it’s just gotten a whole lot more interesting.”