Counting the voices

The recent presidential election sadly turned violent, but Indonesia has a myriad of other problems, showing that its democratic reforms hang in the balance. Can President Joko Widodo lead the country through the pitfalls in his second term?

Counting the voices AFP Photo/Chaideer Mahyuddin

The Indonesian word for “vote” is literally the same word as that for voice, that is suara. The votes in the election for president, vice president, Parliament and regional and local legislatures were cast in mid-April and then counted. Candidates and parties are now, as Strategic Review went to press, awaiting verdicts to a series of complaints lodged with the Constitutional Court about final counts. Those complaints are unlikely to affect the results. Nonetheless, the results presented below should be seen as provisional, not final.

The presidential election

The incumbent, President Joko Widodo, was re-elected with a slightly increased majority, defeating his opponent by a margin of 55.4 percent to 44.6 percent. This represents a 2.2 percent swing toward the president from his 2014 election victory over the same opponent, Prabowo Subianto, the retired Army general. So after all the heat, passion and even anger aroused during this campaign, did this mere 2 percent shift in votes constitute a “nothing burger” in terms of voter movements? Actually, no.

The first point to note is that voter turnout was up significantly, from about 70 percent in 2014 to just over 80 percent. This was a very impressive exercise in civic engagement. However, this could also reflect a less sanguine development, as noted below.

On the results of the election, one of the most notable features was a widening of regional voting domination of one electoral block over the other. This means that the electoral victory by either “Team Jokowi” or “Team Prabowo” in any province was, on average, wider in 2019 than it was in 2014. In 2014, the average margin of victory for one candidate over the other in each province was just shy of 20 points. In 2019 this figure blew out to 30 points. This has led to a view among some commentators that this reflects a worrying or even alarming sign of regional polarization. I do not hold this view. Shadows of the late 1950s regional rebellions, where parts of Sumatra, western Java and Sulawesi took up arms against Jakarta, may look like an enticing point of comparison to those ever eager to believe that Indonesia is on the cusp of disintegration. But in practical terms, these comparisons lack historic context.

The regional blowouts were brought about by a number of factors, some potentially rather prosaic and connected to the electoral system as it is operating in practice. For example, there is a view that creating unreasonably high barriers to candidate eligibility has reduced the number of presidential candidates to an unnaturally low number – namely two in the last two elections. For a nation as socially and politically diverse as Indonesia, this artificially low number of candidates smacks of an effort designed deliberately to restrict electoral competition. This is more evidently the case considering that the fundamental principle of Indonesian democracy is majoritarianism. This means that the winner has to demonstrate support from an outright majority of voters and not merely rely on a loud passionate plurality, as is the case under the primitive first-past-the-post system where the largest minority wins.

In a majoritarian system for presidential elections, it is quite normal for there to be several or even numerous presidential candidates. Given that the winner must demonstrate that an outright majority of voters would be willing to support them, at some level, an inherent imperative of this system is moderation. This is because to secure an outright majority a candidate must reach out and be acceptable to voters who may have a higher preference for another candidate, who nonetheless, has no pathway to secure an outright majority. Crude appeals to “base” voters may well alienate many other communities to the point that you make yourself unelectable to the wider constituency. Indeed in a two-horse race with no compulsory voting, there is often an incentive to agitate and energize the “base” to boost voter turnout.

Given that this past presidential election was just a two-horse race the incentive to “get out the vote” was perhaps more evident, and perhaps reflected in the very high rates of turnout. The passions aroused, no doubt in part reflecting the hyperventilated frenzies encouraged through social media, need also to be understood as a natural consequence of limiting electoral contestation to just two candidates.

Looking into the figures, the 2 percent shift masks important regional dynamics. Notably, Team Prabowo was successful in flipping four provinces that had supported Team Jokowi in 2014, while Team Jokowi was able to flip one province that had been won by Team Prabowo in 2014. Altogether, Team Jokowi secured majorities in 21 of the 34 provinces in 2019 versus 23 in 2014.

The significant swing against Team Jokowi was most substantial in Sumatra, led by a massive 31 percent swing against the president in Aceh, an 11 percent swing against him in the fast-growing province of Riau and 9 percent swings in West Sumatra and Jambi provinces. Notably, Team Jokowi was able to retain majority support across the large province of North Sumatra and actually picked up votes in the southernmost province of Lampung. Team Prabowo also picked up solid support in Sulawesi, led by a huge 28 percent swing in the key province of South Sulawesi – no doubt reflecting the absence of outgoing Vice President Jusuf Kalla, who comes from this province, on the ballot.

In the non-Muslim majority regions from Bali to West Timor, the Moluccan archipelagoes and the provinces of Papua, Team Jokowi picked up solid levels of support. This included swings exceeding 20 percent to Team Jokowi in Bali, East Nusa Tenggara and Papua. In Protestant-majority North Sulawesi, the swing to Team Jokowi was 23 percent. This strong support by non-Muslims was also clearly a major factor in preventing the large province of North Sumatra from flipping to Team Prabowo despite the new governor being an activist from his party. In some of these Protestant-majority districts, Team Jokowi secured over 90 percent of the vote.

On the island of Java, home to about 58 percent of voters, Team Jokowi picked up a solid swing of 6 percent. Within this island, however, there were significant subregional variations. In the provinces of West Java and Banten, Team Prabowo remained dominant, securing 60 percent of the vote. This represented almost no change from the result in 2014. Despite earlier optimism, Team Prabowo was unable to flip Jakarta, despite securing victory in the contentious gubernatorial election in 2017. The big shifts in votes on Java took place in the ethnic Javanese heartlands and Central and East Java and Yogyakarta, where Team Jokowi enjoyed favorable swings of over 10 percent.

Drilling down a little further reveals an intriguing development. In most rural counties the level of support for Team Prabowo was, on average, higher in the county capital than in the villages throughout the county. While still highly speculative, it may well be that rural communities have begun to feel the benefits of important government funding programs such as the annual village development budget. Created as part of the Village Law passed late in the Yudhoyono era, the law enables communities at the village level to directly manage development funds. Much of these funds have been used for activities such as building roads and other village-level infrastructure projects. During the campaign, the president made frequent references to the expansion of infrastructure across the nation. This may have resonated more favorably with rural than urban voters.

If there is one electoral division that has come more sharply into focus in recent years, it may be seen not so much between Muslim and non-Muslim communities, but rather within Muslim communities. On the one hand we see supporters of an authentically Indonesian form of Islam that is grounded firmly both within the sociocultural traditions of communities across Indonesia, and also well adjusted to the very plural social fabric of communities across the archipelago. On the other hand is a socio-theological disruptor in the form of one among a number of strident “born again” applications and interpretations of the religion that seek to transcend the bounds and affinities of the traditional nation-state and society. Not surprisingly, this new wave of thinking, sourced from less pluralist societies in West Asia, has taken deeper roots in the urban areas of the country. Supporters of the first group have affiliated closely with Team Jokowi, while the second group has demonstrated solid support for Team Prabowo.

The legislative elections

The national-level legislative elections covered the House of Regions (DPD) and the House of Representatives (DPR). Both are fully elected by the people. However, their constitutional powers are very different.

The DPD is constitutionally very weak. Indeed, this represents something of a democratic deficit in Indonesia given that it is a fully elected chamber but has no real powers. Four senators are elected by voters in each province. Candidates stand as independents without party affiliation. In practice, however, there are many former senior members of Parliament from various parties who stand and win seats in the DPD. They are elected in a system known as single non-transferrable vote, but given the absence of formal party lists, the system may best be considered as four-past-thepost. Candidates win by being among the four highest vote-getters in their province.

The newly elected DPD contains 134 senators. This is an increase of four seats since 2014, brought about by the establishment of the new province of North Kalimantan, previously part of East Kalimantan. Of great note to the election of senators is the success of women candidates. In each election since the DPD was first constituted in 2004, the percentage of women elected has been considerably higher than the percentage of women elected to the House of Representatives. Provisional results for 2019 indicate that women have again been very successful in securing election to the DPD. In 2014, 26 percent of elected senators were women. In 2019, this figure appears to have grown to 31 percent. This includes the example of South Sumatra, where all four senatorselect will be women. In a further note about the effectiveness of women as elected officials, in 38 percent of provinces women emerged as the top vote-getter. All of this has been achieved with no quotas or other legislative or administrative efforts to boost the election opportunities for women.

Another feature of the national legislature that will again be reflected in the DPD is that the percentage of members who come from a minority religion will be well reflected in the membership. This has been a truly outstanding feature of Indonesia’s political system since the first national elections in 1955. It reflects a number of factors including the nature of religious and ethnic pluralism in Indonesia, in which most groups, while a minority nationally, do constitute a significant or even majority position in certain regions around the country. Combined with the electoral systems that have been applied historically, the result has been a harmonious multiethnic and multireligious legislature that reflects the plurality of the nation without the need to resort to quotas to guarantee minority representation, such as, for example, applied in a country like Singapore.

Consolidated coalitions

MPs are elected to the House of Representatives on the basis of proportional mrepresentation. Each electorate consists of mbetween three and 10 MPs. Small provinces invariably constitute a single electorate. Large provinces are subdivided to create several electorates. Voters can either select their
preferred candidate from a party list or simply choose their party symbol. The vast majority select a candidate. There is also an electoral threshold applied for the DPR. This means if a party fails to secure 4 percent of votes nationally, the party is precluded from gaining any seats, even were the party to secure an outright majority in any electorate.

In many respects, this threshold should be seen as creating discrimination against parties with a strong base of support outside of Java. For example, a party with strong roots on voterich Java would have little difficulty securing 4 percent of the national tally. However, a party that secured a major base of support, say, in  eastern Indonesia or Kalimantan, would still struggle to pass this threshold nationally. The essential rationale for this threshold, similar to that of restrictive imposts to secure presidential candidacy, is to restrict electoral competition. The result in the case of DPR elections, however, is to creative discriminative barriers to the aspirations of people in regions with mlower population levels.

The newly elected DPR in 2019 will have m575 MPs, an increase of 15 seats from the previous Parliament. Of note, considering regional political dynamics in Indonesia, is that every one of those seats is located outside the main island of Java. For parties such as Golkar and the National  Democratic Party (NasDem) that have a stronger base of support outside of Java, this should have been a bonus. However, only NasDem gained advantage. Meanwhile, for parties with stronger bases of support in Java, especially the governing Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDIP) and the National Awakening Party (PKB), this should have been a negative development. In the end, both of these parties made positive electoral advances in these elections.

There are also efforts to boost representation by women in the DPR through approaches such as quotas. Despite this, representation by women in the DPR remains much lower than in the DPD, where women will make up an historic 31 percent of representatives. The DPR election results indicate that this new Parliament will only consist of nine parties. The party founded by the coordinating minister for political, legal and security affairs, Gen (ret) Wiranto, failed to pass the 4 percent national electoral threshold to permit representation in the DPR. This party, Hanura, lost more than two-thirds of its vote from 2014.

What coattails?

In contrast to earlier national elections, these results, like the 2019 presidential results, produced a rather steady as she goes result. This was all the more surprising considering that these legislative elections were conducted on the same day as the presidential election. There had been much speculation prior to polling day that there would be a big coattails effect as voters were expected to concentrate support for the party of presidential candidates. In the case of these elections, the expected beneficiaries would be PDIP (for Jokowi) and opposition party Gerindra (for mPrabowo). In the end, these coattails were pretty skimpy. Collectively, these two parties barely secured a 1 percent boost in vote.

More than two-thirds of votes were cast for parties that did not have a presidential candidate from their ranks. Worthy of closer consideration, however, is the role that the parties played in aligning themselves to their presidential candidates. It is here that it may be possible to identify one party that did enjoy the benefits of coattails. This would be the National Democratic Party, NasDem. This party enjoyed a solid 2.4 percent boost in support. If you had just arrived from the moon and were trying to identify which presidential candidates came from which party, it is quite likely that you would believe that Jokowi was from NasDem. The key campaign message from this party was “Jokowi is my President, NasDem is my Party.” It is harder to create a closer political embrace than that. In the end, the major beneficiary of the much-vaunted presidential coattails effect may have been a party that attached itself to the presidential candidate from another party.

Who’s up, who’s down?

The following outlines the provisional results of the 2019 elections, and contrasts these results with a recalculation of the 2014 results using new electoral boundaries and seat allocation system, and also by excluding Hanura.

The party of President Joko, which is led by former President Megawati Soekarnoputri, has again emerged as the largest party. The party secured a positive swing of 1.5 percent and an increase provisionally in seat representation to 127. While the party had been expected to do even better, these

results will allow the party to field a presidential candidate in 2024 without the need to rely on other parties to secure nomination. Current law states that presidential candidates have to command support from 20 percent of MPs either from a single party or from a coalition of parties.

The major loser in these legislative elections, after Hanura, has been the Democratic Party of former President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. This party suffered a couple of key setbacks in the lead-up to the elections. Most notably, Yudhoyono’s wife, Ani, died in June after she was diagnosed with a serious illness and moved to Singapore for treatment. Yudhoyono essentially removed himself from the campaign to be with his ailing wife.

On the political right, the Islamist Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) enjoyed a modest positive swing in support with solid results in the three western Java provinces of Jakarta, Banten and West Java, securing five additional seats and raising its tally to 21. The old Islamist United Development Party (PPP) suffered a near-death experience, suffering a 2 percent swing against it, leaving it dangerously close to falling below the 4 percent electoral threshold. The long tussle between PKS and PPP to be Indonesia’s pre-eminent Islamist party may be close to settled, especially if PPP is unable to rebuild after these very poor results.

Beyond the parties that have won seats, there is one other party worthy of note. This is the National Solidarity Party (PSI). The party secured 1.9 percent of the vote, well below the threshold. This, however, masks the fact that the party appears to have secured a stunning 8.8 percent of votes in the capital city of Jakarta, boosted by huge levels of support by expatriate Indonesian voters, whose votes are counted as part of the second electorate of Jakarta. Even excluding these voters in the provincial council of Jakarta, the party still secured 6.6 percent. The point to the vote is that almost every party in Indonesia that has gone on to enjoy a solid role in political life has always enjoyed disproportionately high levels of support in Jakarta in its first election campaign. For example, PKS (then known as PK) secured 1.4 percent of the national vote in 1999 but 4.9 percent of the vote in Jakarta. In terms of political positioning, PSI has distinguished itself by rejecting the tendency of the political establishment during the past 30 years, including non-sectarian parties, to compromise and appease Islamist

sensibilities and demands by declaring vocal opposition to any form of discrimination. This party’s appeal to uphold, without compromise, the vision of an all-inclusive nation represents an interesting ideological juxtaposition to the trends of the PK) secured 1.4 percent of the national vote in 1999 but 4.9 percent of the vote in Jakarta.

In terms of political positioning, PSI has distinguished itself by rejecting the tendency of the political establishment during the past 30 years, including non-sectarian parties, to compromise and appease Islamist sensibilities and demands by declaring vocal opposition to any form of discrimination. This party’s appeal to uphold, without compromise, the vision of an all-inclusive nation represents an interesting ideological juxtaposition to the trends of the Democrats and PAN.



"Kevin Evans is Indonesia director of the Australia-Indonesia Center in Jakarta."

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