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JAKARTA - Election fever along with the inevitable campaigning essentially began as soon as the legislation was finalized by the House of Representatives (DPR) in mid-2003.
Efforts are already underway to mobilize funding to establish local committees, and prospective candidates have been selected and proposed from the various political parties. Based on the amended Constitution, there are two very pronounced changes: The direct election of the president in two stages, and the election of a kind of regional/provincial representatives (or the "Senate") council with limited powers to represent the regions.
While the elections of the president and House legislators will involve candidates that are put forward by political parties, the "Senate" or the Regional Representatives Council (Dewan Perwakilan Daerah, DPD) will be composed of personal/individual candidates.
Public opinion polls have been undertaken by many media groups or NGO's interested in the general elections. Their results have varied wildly and their accuracy is suspect because this is new phenomenon for Indonesian society and only certain segments of Indonesians can be, or are intentionally, polled, mainly people in large cities, with home telephones, so normally just the elite and middle class. However, such limited surveys are not able to reach an accurate cross-section of the many greatly diverse demographic segments, and that is particularly important because most people in this multifarious archipelago vote based on which group they come from, depending on one -- or a combination of -- factors that include religion, ethnicity or regional identity.
Most domestic institutions, such as political organizations or mass-based organizations are still underdeveloped. Only the Golkar Party has a reasonably organized network nationwide. The other ones are still based on those demographic group identities.
The electronic media, especially radio and TV, will play a certain role, now that freedom of expression is legal. However, most of such media is owned by urban, upper-class groups in society, including the family and/or cronies of former president Soeharto. It should be noted, however, that their influence on people's voting behavior is not very clear, because this is also a relatively new instrument here. But radio and TV certainly have a wider reach than the print media, or so it would seem.
The new political laws are very much in favor of the existing political parties that are well-represented in the DPR. The four or five largest political parties now in the DPR are likely to maintain their dominance. Only their ranking amongst themselves may change.
For instance, based on the performance in regional elections of governors or bupati (regents), the Golkar party seems to be the best organized party and has been able to win a majority of governors and regents (48 percent of governors and 36 percent of regents are Golkar members).
On the other hand, there have been tensions and rifts within PDI-P, where the central board often clashed with the local branches on selecting the candidates for governors or regents. This has caused a major split among party members and supporters. In addition, the disappointing lack of achievement by the Cabinet, led by a PDI-P president, will also hurt the party.
The Prosperous Justice Party (PKS), which is headed by Muslim intellectuals and academics, has shown that it is a well-organized institution, although it is very much based on a strict interpretation of Islamic principles. PKS has, however, shown that it can be a responsible and peaceful group in its reactions to certain events that anger more militant Muslims -- the exceptionally peaceful Iraq War marches are a good example. It is still a very small party and has only seven seats in the DPR, but it could easily double that in the next election.
Another strict Islam-based party, the Crescent Star Party (PBB) -- their symbol and beliefs are akin to the conservative ex Masyumi Party -- on the other hand, is expected to lose a lot of support although it is now slightly larger than the PKS, among other things because of divisions in the party.
The new rules make it difficult for new parties to have a chance to change the political equation. The rules also severely restrict the role of individuals in the DPR. Anybody interested in becoming a legislator or a Presidential candidate has to depend on the support of political parties.
The legislative elections are as important as the presidential election because according to the new Constitution the president has to get the consent or advice from the DPR on almost every important matter including legislation, budgets, control and the appointment of every important state agency such as the commander of the Armed Forces, the National Police chief, the governor of the central bank, the Supreme Court head and all ambassadors.
Since there is not likely to be a party with an outright majority in the DPR, coalitions and alliances are necessary to get policies through. This will be an important requirement for the next president and his/her Cabinet. For this reason, the person that becomes president will hopefully be an experienced and astute politician in addition to being a capable administrator and a respected leader.
An important factor in the presidential elections is the rule that the whole country is treated as one electoral region in that every vote counts the same in the second round of the election, whether it is from Java or outside Java, the so-called full proportional system. This makes Java, which has 60 percent of the voting populace, a very important area for any presidential candidate.
Thus, the combination of the presidential and vice-presidential candidates, (name recognition), and how they represent parties' demographic/identity groups, will be critical, especially in the first round of elections, because there will be several candidates. In the second round, however, Java will be dominant, and the candidate that can get a majority in Java with over 60 percent of the votes will have a very good chance of winning.
What Indonesia needs, as a President, is someone who is experienced in government and administration, an astute and capable politician and a balanced, moderate leader.
But the situation before the presidential election is still very fluid. Attempts have been made to form alliances and coalitions to weaken Megawati's second term prospects. Some parties still have their options open in choosing their Presidential and Vice Presidential candidates, and with whom they will forge an alliance. At this juncture it is very difficult to predict the outcome.
There are two big influences on the presidential election that need to be watched are: First, name recognition and popularity of the candidate, and second, support from the most number of demographic segments via a greatly organized political machine. Both are needed, but which of those will be more decisive is still an open question, because it will be the first time that voters have experienced a direct presidential election.
But if history is any indication, both in this first round of the presidential election and in the legislative election, name recognition will be important, but more so will be the party machinery and the societal groups that support certain candidates. Adept party members and money are important requirements for the machinery and organization to perform. The groups can be religious, ethnic or region-based and are still very influential at the rural, grass-roots level.
For Java's relatively more educated voters, and in many cities outside Java, the resistance against Golkar during the Soeharto period earlier was such that Golkar could never get more than 50-60 percent in such areas, despite having exercised a great amount of pressure. The other important factors are the people's political awareness and willingness to make their own choice. It should be noted that there has been some resistance against the incumbent PDI-P. It will be important to follow the trends closely because of the fluidity of the situation in order to monitor changes before the elections are held.



Posted in Politics @ 03 February 2004 by Jeroen · 'Blog' RSS feed · permalink






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