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The World

Apr 16, 2009

Indonesia’s post-election shake-up

Indonesia’s political parties are now jockeying to form coalitions in a major re-ordering of that country’s political landscape.

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Ahead of the release of official results in a few days, Indonesia’s political parties are now jockeying to form coalitions in a major re-ordering of that country’s political landscape following last week’s legislative elections. Importantly, Indonesia’s numerous political parties are beginning to coalesce into two larger blocs, which are beginning to reflect a conventional liberal-conservative divide.

There are few differences between the major parties around economic issues — a mildly regulated market is common — President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s Democratic Party (PD) is the most reform-oriented of the larger parties. Usefully, too, being the only party of 34 to contest the election to pass the 20 per cent threshold, PD will be able to nominate Yudhoyono forward for a second term as president.

Yudhoyono’s four and a half years as president have been marked by a crackdown on corruption, which is Indonesia’s biggest scourge. Attempts to clean up the notoriously corrupt judiciary and continued reform of the Indonesian military have progressed, if at a somewhat more disappointing rate.

However, in order to push through further reforms as a second-term president, Yudhoyono will need support in the legislature, and to do this his PD will have to build a coalition.

The Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) of former president Megawati Sukarnoputri, with about 14 per cent of the vote, has already announced an alliance with the parties of former generals Wiranto (3.5 per cent) and Prabowo Subianto (five per cent). Wiranto was chief when Indonesia’s military rampaged throughout East Timor in 1999, and Prabowo, a son-in-law of late President Suharto, was cashiered out of the army for kidnapping and murdering pro-democracy protesters.

It was Wiranto who sacked Prabowo from the army in 1998 and the two are not friends. However, as president, Megawati is seen as pro-military, which suits both former generals. Such a coalition establishes a conservative legislative bloc with and enough votes to put Megawati forward as a conservative presidential candidate.

Megawati’s PDI-P has also been courting two other Suharto-era parties; Golkar (also on about 14 per cent) and the United Development Party (PPP) (5.3 per cent).

Golkar allied itself with Yudhoyono in 2004, with its head, Jusuf Kalla, becoming vice-president. However, Kalla fell out with Yudhoyono over his own presidential aspirations, meaning a coalition between Yudhoyono and Kalla is now all but impossible. However, Golkar’s continuing political decline, having slumped by 30 per cent, means Kalla could be dumped as its leader.

Without Kalla, Golkar could again join in coalition Yudhoyono’s PD, along with the Islamist Propserous Justice Party (PKS), with more than seven per cent of the vote, to give a second-term President Yudhoyono a legislative majority.

Some observers are worried by the PKS, which wants to introduce Islamic law. However, PKS is also a welfare-oriented party and anti-corruption, positing it as a reformist ally for the religiously Muslim if politically secular Yudhoyono. If PKS joins with Yudhoyono, as it did in 2004, the similarly Islamist PPP could be tempted away from a coalition with Megawati’s PDI-P, completing Indonesia’s Islam-influenced liberal-conservative divide.

Associate Professor Damien Kingsbury is associate head (research) of the School of International and Political Studies at Deakin University.

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