from Asia Unbound

Indonesian Legislative Elections: Muddled Results, Not Positive for Policymaking

April 11, 2014

A woman places a hand on a list of candidates for members of parliament at a polling station during voting for parliamentary e...boosting the chances of its popular candidate in a presidential election three months from now (Beawiharta/Courtesy: Reuters).
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In terms of logistics and the quality of the actual voting day, Wednesday’s legislative elections in Indonesia were of a very high standard, with few irregularities reported across the massive country. The election once again shows that, in terms of the election day itself, Indonesia has moved toward consolidating its democracy and can be trusted to hold fair and relatively well-run polls.

The results of the legislative elections, however, defied many predictions, which held that the Indonesian Party of Struggle (PDI-P) would benefit from an expected “Jokowi effect” (from Joko Widodo, its popular presidential candidate) and would dominate voting for the legislature. If PDI-P had gotten more than twenty percent of the seats in the legislature in this election, it could have put Jokowi up for president itself, without having to build a coalition with other parties in parliament to get over the threshold for being able to put up a presidential candidate. Although PDI-P suffers from many problems, which I will go into next week, getting a vote total in these elections high enough to go to the presidential elections without coalition partners would have been positive for policymaking. Although coalition-building is important in young democracies and Indonesia certainly does not want to suffer the kind of majoritarian “elected autocracy” of neighboring Thailand, Cambodia, or Malaysia, unstable and weak coalitions have badly hindered the last two presidential administrations in Indonesia.

But PDI-P only got less than 20 percent of the vote. This lower-than-expected total suggests that Jokowi himself, though personally popular and still likely to win the presidential election in July, does not necessarily change people’s views of political parties, which have images based on years of ground work, patronage, and services. PDI-P now will have to form a coalition with, most likely, longtime machine party Golkar and several moderate Islamic parties.

This coalition could bring some benefits: it will at least force PDI-P leaders to engage in more consultation on policies, and the coalition will exclude the most toxic parties that function as personality vehicles for former generals. However, such a coalition is also likely to slow presidential policymaking, should Jokowi win in July. It will lead to giving ministerial posts to coalition partners who do not have deep benches of talented politicians, which would defy Jokowi’s promise to only name ministers who are competent and experienced. And since one of the supposed attractions of Jokowi was that he was a pragmatic go-getter who would come into office and use his executive powers forcefully—unlike current president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono—an unwieldy coalition puts a major dent in that Jokowi selling point.