Indonesia’s Democratic Progress

Partyforumseasia: A nation with over 190 million eligible voters is preparing for the presidential and legislative elections on 17 April in an increasingly feverish atmosphere. The presidential contenders, incumbent President Joko Widodo or Jokowi and his narrowly defeated challenger from five years ago, former general Prabowo Subianto, have used strategically chosen vice-presidential candidates and met in a series of public debates without clear winners. But Jokowi is still leading in the polls, as usual with a shrinking margin over Prabowo to keep the race exciting for the last days of campaigning.

In the huge Indonesian archipelago with more than 17.000 islands, over 300 ethnic groups, and very different levels of development and modernization, the organizational challenges of nationwide elections are already immense. But the young Indonesian democracy has so far shown quite a decent outcome, despite many flaws and open flanks. One is the ubiquitous vote-buying, which is also rampant in most countries in Southeast Asia. Because of a major 170 m US$ financial scandal with the introduction of identity cards, for which former house speaker Setya Novanto is serving 15 years in jail, several million voters without the ID card may be excluded from voting. Novanto was also a chairman of the Golkar party. Recently another Golkar parliamentarian, Bowo Sidik Pangarso, was caught with thousands of envelopes filled with cash in different denominations. At least a third of the voters have received cash for votes in the past, and according to polls, most voters accept that as normal, while for the many poor Indonesians some election cash is most welcome anyway. And the thumb rule is evident: Poor candidates never win a mandate,

The Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK), though, is trying to stem the tide. A poster is urging the voters not to accept money: “Berani tolak gratifikasi” or “dare to refuse gratifications”. It may not be more than a starting point for a future change in election culture. The financial appetite of the political parties is an indicator that the candidates are still relying on cash handouts and other donations to their constituencies in the form of funds for mosques and sports facilities and the like. This is why, before the next president is confirmed, the horse trading for future coalitions and cabinet posts is already in full swing. Talking to journalists, Prabowo’s brother, Hashim Djojohadikusumo, revealed that in case of their victory, they would give seven ministerial posts to the National Mandate Party (PAN), and six to the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS), two important members of their campaign coalition. Ministerial posts are the key to the huge number of development and infrastructure projects which serve as cash cows for parties and members of parliament to recoup the inevitable campaign costs. The skimming of these projects at a rate of between 10 and 30 percent is called “pencaloan anggaran” or “budget scalping“.

Another development looks more promising for Indonesia’s democratic progress. Among the 8000 odd candidates for the 575 seats in parliament are no less than 3,200 or roughly 40% women. The parties are forced by law to field at least 30% female candidates, but the numbers are going up. In the outgoing house, 17% of the MPs are female, so it will be interesting to see the outcome this year. The increasingly conservative mood in predominantly Muslim Indonesia is not really conducive for female careers in politics and business. But many younger women are just running with a scarf and all. Religious credentials play a strong role in this election. This is why incumbent presidential candidate Joko Widodo has chosen a leading Muslim cleric as his running mate.

For an overview of money politics in Southeast Asia see: ISBN: 978-981-3230-73-6
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