No surprises in Presidential elections

12 August, 2009

No surprises in Indonesian presidential election
The first major political incident after the July 8 Indonesian presidential election were two co-ordinated suicide bomb attacks on Jakarta’s Marriot and Ritz Carlton luxury hotels on July 17, which killed seven people, including six foreigners. These were the first suicide bomb attacks in almost five years. On July 29, responsibility for the attacks was claimed by the “Al-Qaeda Organisation Indonesia”, believed to be headed by Malaysian Islamist Noordin Mohammed Top.

The presidential election campaign itself was uneventful with low turnouts for election rallies compared to previous elections, and televised presidential debates universally described as boring with all candidates espousing more-or-less the same policies. Voter abstention remained high — above 30%, with non-registered and informal votes — but less than in the April parliamentary elections. The greater voter participation probably reflects the willingness of some sections of the masses who abstained in parliamentary elections to exercise their vote for what is seen as the powerful position of president, as distinct from any of the parties in the parliamentary framework.

The Yudhoyono-Budiono ticket won the elections with 60.8% of the vote, with the Megawati-Prabowo ticket receiving 26.79% and the Jusuf Kalla-Wiranto ticket 12.4%. The two losing tickets are challenging the results in the courts claiming irregularities with the voting lists, though neither claims it had won a majority of votes. The court challenges are best seen as part of the manoeuvring in the period leading up to the appointment of a cabinet and the first sittings of the new parliament. Court challenges over the results in the parliamentary elections have recently resulted in increases in the number of seats for Yudhoyono’s Demokrat Party (PD), Kalla’s Golkar party and Megawati’s Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDIP) and decreases in the numbers of seats for Prabowo’s Greater Indonesia Movement Party (Gerindra) and Wiranto’s Peoples Conscience Party (Hanura).

More challenges from the Islamic right-wing and more intra-elite political tensions are likely to be a feature of the next period. The coalition of parties that supported Yudhoyono have a majority in the House of Representatives (DPR), but there will be intense struggles over cabinet positions among these as well as with non-party figures. There are also likely to be tensions within the government on cultural policies as many of Yudhoyono’s coalition partners are Islamic parties, with very conservative cultural agendas.

Golkar, deceased dictator Suharto’s old party, was part of the previous governing coalition in the parliament. With Golkar leader Kalla having stood against Yudhoyono in the presidential election, it is unclear what Golkar’s position will be in the next parliament. Already a struggle has started inside Golkar, with many leading Golkar figures urging that Golkar approach Yudhoyono to re-enter the government. This reflects the fact that there are no serious policy differences between Golkar and Yudhoyono, despite Kalla’s demagogic criticisms during the presidential election campaign of Yudhoyono’s neoliberal economic policies. All major issues, Golkar MPs voted for government policies in the previous parliament.

While it is still unclear what role General Wiranto’s Hanura party will seek to play, General Prabowo’s Gerindra has declared it will remain in alliance with Megawati’s PDIP. Both of them are posturing more over the election results, but appear to be confining their protests to legal challenges. Street mobilisations in support of their protests have been tiny. While there were intense talks between the PDIP and Yudhoyono’s PD before the election about a possible coalition, it is likely that PDIP, now with Gerindra, will continue to try to position itself as an “opposition”. The PDIP however never seriously opposed any of Yudhoyono’s economic or political legislation.

Following a recent Supreme Court decision, PDIP is likely to have 111 seats out of 563 and Gerindra 17. In the parliamentary elections, PDIP and Gerindra scored a combined vote of 20%. In the presidential election they increased their vote by 7%. This may have been at the expense of Golkar and Hanura, whose combined vote dropped from 20% in the parliamentary elections to 13% in the presidential election.

“The new parliament is the old parliament repeated, but worse”, Vivi Widyawati, a leading activist in the radical left Committee for the Politics of Poor-Peoples Democratic Party told Direct Action. “It is the all the same old parties, plus the two new parties of Suharto era generals, Wiranto and Prabowo. The progressive groups outside the parliament face a big challenge to unite and build a challenge to the interests that this parliament represents.”