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Indonesia looks set for a highly uncertain post-election period JAKARTA - Two things are fairly certain about Indonesia's upcoming general election on Monday. The first is that the outcome of the poll remains uncertain; the second is that more political uncertainty is the last thing Indonesia's economy needs this year. Five years ago, Indonesia held it's first "free and fair" election in decades, with more than 90 percent of the electorate flocking to the polls in a celebratory mood to cast their votes for change after 32 years of dictatorial rule under former autocrat president Suharto.
In the 1999 election, the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), led by Megawati Sukarnoputri -- daughter of Indonesia's founding president Sukarno -- won 34 percent of the popular vote, deemed a vote for political reform, anti-Suharto sentiment and pro-poor economic policy. This time around, the campaign period (March 11 to yesterday) has been more subdued, with political rhetoric more moderate and the electorate more confused, judging by the latest voter surveys.
In a voter opinion survey conducted by the International Foundation for Electoral Studies (IFES) in January and February, some 29.8 percent of potential voters polled were still undecided about which party to vote for. They have plenty to chose from. There are 24 political parties contesting the election for 400 lower house parliamentary seats. On the same day, Indonesia's 148 million eligible voters will also vote for 150 seats for a new upper house Regional Representatives Council (DPD) and thousands of representatives of provincial and district legislatures, making Monday's polls one of the most complex elections in the history of democracy.

Lack of understanding

IFES found that almost 20 percent of the people recently surveyed still didn't understand the voting process, which will involve ballots that are in some cases 80cm long. Given the likelihood for a high percentage of invalid votes, some fear a confusing -- and in Indonesia's case possibly explosive -- post-election situation similar to the last US presidential election in which George W. Bush barely beat then vice president Al Gore after the outcome had to be determined in court. With such a large number of "undecided" voters, the outcome of the election is already far from certain and open to surprises.
Most opinion surveys are showing that Golkar, the political vehicle of former president Suharto, is likely to prove the most popular political party. The party is feeding on broad disillusionment with the PDI-P's lackluster performance and failure to address grass roots problems of unemployment and declining social services. Even so, Golkar is expected to win only 20 percent of the popular vote. PDI-P is likely to win 20 percent or less, with a half-dozen smaller parties winning between 5 percent to 10 percent of the votes.
Monday's legislative election is just the first step in a long and winding road to establishing a new government. Parties that win 5 percent of the votes or 3 percent of the contested seats will be eligible to contest Indonesia's first-ever direct presidential and vice-presidential election on July 5. A presidential-vice presidential ticket must win 51 percent of the vote on July 5 to win the election, and if none of them do so -- which is likely -- a second round will be held on Sept. 20.
Coalitions of parties supporting the strongest presidential candidates are expected to start forming after the legislative election, and then reforming in the post-July 5 period leading up to a final vote on Sept. 20. So even though opinion polls show that Megawati seems to be the most popular presidential candidate for now, her victory is far from certain.

Megawati still popular

"Megawati might win the first round by quite a wide margin, but lose the final round because of coalition," said political observer Rizal Mallarengeng, from IFES. In the interim between Monday's election and the presidential election results, the Cabinet and parliament will continue to function, albeit lamely, through three to six months of political uncertainty. It is little wonder that during the first two months of this year, new foreign direct investment (FDI) approvals plummeted 66 percent.
Indeed most foreign investors are adopting a "wait and see" stance on the election's outcome, or more specifically, the presidential election's outcome. Indonesia's domestic business community is also keenly watching who will be the country's next president, as are the nation's 40 million unemployed. "In the economy, the number one issue is unemployment and the only way to solve that is with investment, either international or domestic investment," said Sofyan Wanandi, president of the Indonesian Employers Association.
Wanandi faults the government's poor leadership and lack of clear guidelines for failing to improve the investment climate. "Megawati has not performed. We're not expecting a superman for president, just a candidate of normal-level ability will do," he said.



Posted in Elections @ 02 April 2004 00:01 CET by Jeroen · 'Blog' RSS feed · permalink






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