Indonesian elections allow militarists into the game

12 May, 2009

The Indonesian General Elections Commission has not yet completed counting all the votes in the April 9 elections to the national parliament and scores of local assemblies. However, some things have become clear. There was a very high level of voter abstention, a phenomenon already evident in many elections for provincial governors during 2007-08. Most of the polling and survey organisations put abstention — those who did not register or who registered but did not vote — at 40%, up from 30% in 2004 and only 7% in 1999. In addition, there are widespread anecdotal reports of deliberate informal votes, which will probably increase the abstention rate to at least 45%.

The Democratic Party of the incumbent President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, a retired general, went up from 7% to 20% of the valid votes. It was the only party to increase its vote. This increase was likely due to a drift away from Golkar and some of the smaller parties, either because of the sense of predictability that five years of relatively event-free politics has created, or by direct beneficiaries of some government policies.

The parties that lost votes were connected to the “traditional” ideological streams. Golkar, the party of former dictator Suharto’s New Order, dropped from 22% to 14%. Megawati Sukarnoputri’s Democratic Party of Struggle (PDIP) dropped from 18 to 14%, despite an influx of former anti-Suharto activists. The combined vote of the Islamic parties dropped from 25% to 16%. Of these, only the well-organised “modernist fundamentalist” Justice Welfare Party (PKS) maintained its vote, 7-8%. The Islamic party to lose the most votes was the Star Reformation Party (PBR) which dropped from 2.3% to around 1%. Only parties that scored above 2.5% (nine of the 36 competing nationally) receive seats in the parliament.

Two new parties will enter the parliament: Gerindra (Greater Indonesia Movement Party, headed by retired general Prabowo Subianto — 4.5%) and Hanura (People’s Conscience Party, headed by retired general Wiranto — 3.6%). Both campaigned using nationalist rhetoric. Prabowo, who had greatest access to the media through paid advertising and interviews, used slogans such as “buy Indonesian” and “use the local markets” and, in the last few days of the campaign, briefly called for a moratorium on the foreign debt. He held up the Suharto regime and the autocratic government of Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore’s PM from 1959 to 1990 (and currently the island state’s “Minister Mentor”), as models to be followed.

Political volatility
These results mean that the new parliament represents only around 55% of the population and is made up of parties the most popular of which has only around 11% support (20% of 55%). Furthermore, the orgy of manoeuvres around coalitions for the July presidential elections is further exposing the Indonesian political elite as interested in nothing except a share of power and money.

The major parties enacted rules for nomination of presidential candidates that they thought would help them and make it difficult for the smaller parties. To be nominated, a candidate must have support from parties with either 20% of the seats in the national parliament or 25% of the national vote. However, a number of developments have put Golkar and the PDIP in difficulty.

Golkar, scoring only 14%, needs a coalition partner with at least 6% of seats in the parliament or 11% of the national vote in order to nominate a presidential candidate. Its initial response was to seek to continue its alliance with the Democrats, with Golkar’s chairperson, Jusuf Kalla, continuing as Yudhoyono’s vice-president. However, Yudhoyono, now very confident as the only leader whose party increased its vote, demanded that Golkar provide a number of candidates from whom he would choose. Kalla, who leads the largest and richest faction in Golkar, was furious and declared an end to the coalition with Yudhoyono. This means that Golkar must turn elsewhere for partners.

Megawati’s PDIP, also with only 14%, turned to ex-generals Prabowo and Wiranto. Within the first week after the initial results, PDIP leaders had met Prabowo and declared him the most suitable vice-presidential candidate for Megawati. Soon after, Wiranto’s Hanura was brought into the coalition, with newspapers reporting rumours that Megawati would appoint Wiranto home affairs minister.

This scenario was soon thrown into chaos when Kalla also approached the PDIP. This approach appears stymied for now because neither Megawati nor Kalla appears willing to be vice-president to the other, but the idea of a PDIP-Golkar-Gerindra-Hanura coalition is still on the table. Everybody is prepared to do a deal with anybody and everybody. All that counts is: do the numbers add up and do your potential partners have money?

Nominations can be filed after May 10. Yudhoyono will definitely be a candidate because the Democrats have scraped in with over 20% of seats. It is still not clear who his vice-presidential candidate will be. Some speculate that it will be a non-party technocrat, others that he will appoint a figure from the National Mandate Party (PAN), associated with Amien Rais — although he no longer dominates the party. The fundamentalist PKS is also lobbying for the position.

Kalla is still insisting he will run, although he does not appear to have locked in enough support from other parties. His latest move, as of April 30, was to try to get Wiranto as a vice-presidential candidate. Megawati is also still declaring she is a candidate, but there are increasing rumours that she will withdraw and support Prabowo in return for her daughter, Puan Sukarnoputri, being his vice-presidential candidate. For some time now, Puan has been groomed for a national political role. Another version of this speculation is that Prabowo will combine with Rizal Ramli, an economist and politician who has been campaigning for the presidency using nationalistic rhetoric. This version asserts that the PDIP’s pay-off will be cabinet positions and money.

If Prabowo becomes the only candidate against Yudhoyono, or a vice-presidential candidate, it will not be because his Gerindra party won significant popular support; it scored under 5% of the valid votes. It will because of the political and financial bankruptcy of the other parties. Already, human rights groups have begun a campaign against Prabowo, who is widely considered by human rights groups as the initiator of the disappearances and kidnappings of activists in 1997-98, of some of the violence during rioting in May 1998 and of violent repression in East Timor. On April 23 in Jakarta, organisations representing families of the disappeared protested against Prabowo as a candidate for either president or vice-president. Internet campaigns have begun under the slogans: “Reject Prabowo” and “There is a murderer near to us”.

The break-up of the Democrat-Golkar alliance, if it continues, may mean that Yudhoyono will face a majority “opposition” in the parliament for the first time. His current partners will probably hold only 40-50% of the seats, compared to over 60% previously. A PDIP-Hanura-Gerindra coalition, supplemented by the conservative Islamic United Development Party (PPP), would make up 28%, with Golkar having another 14%. (These figures do not yet take into account the distribution of seats that would have gone to small parties had there not been a 2.5% threshhold.) The stability of the first Yudhoyono government may not be repeated if he wins a second round but faces a bitterly hostile Golkar and an ambitious Gerindra-PDIP grouping, joining together to dominate parliament.

The left
Most nationally organised left groups advocated abstaining from the elections, arguing that they were dominated by the elite and that there were no alternatives worth voting for. They organised a series of nationally coordinated pickets on April 4 protesting the elite’s domination. Abstention was advocated by the Working People’s Association (PRP), the groups associated with the Indonesian Struggle Centre (PPI) and the Committee for the Politics of the Poor-People’s Democratic Party (KPRM-PRD). The April 4 actions involved activists from all these groups, as well as trade unions and NGOs. There were also peasant and worker mobilisations for an election boycott.

The left has little ability to intervene in electoral processes due its small size, lack of resources and lack of mechanisms for united action. The left has also not built any press, severely limiting its ability to present its analysis and perspectives. The large voter abstention was less the result of the left’s call than a reflection of the widening gap between the elite and the masses, which has accelerated since the parliamentary overthrow of the Abdurrahman Wahid government by a majority of the elite parties in 2001. The gains of the boycott actions have been in the realm of building cooperation among the left groups, including union and grassroots organisations, which worked together on the national actions, and keeping in the public eye at least one radical pole.

One group still claiming to be left stood candidates: the People’s Democratic Party/Party of United National Liberation (PRD/Papernas), led by Dita Sari. The Sari group stood national and local candidates under the banner of the Star Reformation Party (PBR), an elite-based Islamic party that had seats in the old parliament. During the campaign the PBR chairperson, Bursah Zarnubi, stated that the PBR had the same mission and vision as Prabowo’s Gerindra.

A section of the PRD/Papernas was expelled for opposing working through PBR, including watering down its political platform and agitation. They later set up the KPRM-PRD. Asked about the results of the PRD/Papernas/PBR tactic, a KPRM-PRD national spokesperson, Zely Ariane, told Direct Action: “From the beginning their tactic had only one goal, to get seats in the parliament. They abandoned the principle of building an independent people’s movement. They presented their policy as nationalist, adopting a platform of bourgeois nationalism, allying themselves with bourgeois nationalists who claimed to be ‘anti-foreign’. These ‘nationalists’ have neither a record, nor capacity, nor the resources to fight imperialism.”

Ariane explained that the PRD/Papernas had not won any seats in parliament through this tactic, having “incorrectly assessed the consciousness among the masses. They said that the masses could be organised only through electoral channels. But the mood was actually drifting away from elections: 40% abstained. Where people did vote and shifted their votes, it was to Yudhoyono, who had delivered at least some material benefits: cash handouts for the poor, civil servant pay increases, lowering of fuel prices. The majority of the masses were not going to vote for parties whose only activity had been to make promises.

“Now the PRD/Papernas is trapped in the opportunist path of continuing to support presidential candidates running a so-called nationalist line. While they keep to this opportunist path, they are a danger to the movement and must be opposed.”

On the KPRM-PRD’s attitude to the presidential election, Ariane said: “We will be opposing that election also, as an election only for those with money, for human rights violators, corrupters and agents of imperialism. We will need to discuss how to identify new tactics to deal with two features of the current situation. One is that there is still no mechanism for national movement unity, reflecting the weakness of the understanding of the necessity for this among leaderships. The other is that we need to assess the level of threat represented by the significant number of votes obtained by Prabowo-Gerindra and Wiranto-Hanura.”

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