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Little voter enthusiasm for Indonesian presidential candidates

Direct Action - June 2009

Max Lane Three tickets have been nominated for the Indonesian presidential elections on July 9. The official campaign period for the presidential elections starts in the first week of June. The tickets are: the incumbent president, retired General Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, with central bank chief Boediono as his vice- presidential running mate (Boediono is a former finance minister in both the Yudhoyono and earlier Megawati Sukarnoputri cabinets); Jusuf Kalla (the incumbent vice-president) and retired General Wiranto; and Megawati and retired General Prabowo Subianto.

Yudhoyono was nominated by his Democratic Party (PD), which won more than 20% of the seats in the April parliamentary elections. He is being supported by more than 15 other parties, including several that did not win seats. Among his backers are the Islamic fundamentalist Justice and Welfare Party (PKS) and a number of other smaller Islamic parties, including the Star Reformation Party. Jusuf Kalla was nominated by Golkar (Kalla's party) and Wiranto's People's Conscience Party (Hanura), which together control the 20% of seats needed to nominate a presidential candidate. Megawati was nominated by the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDIP), which she heads, and Prabowo Subianto's Greater Indonesia Movement Party (Gerindra).

In the parliamentary elections in April, there was a big increase in voter abstention over previous elections. According to the Elections Commission, almost 50 million people or 29% of registered voters did not turn up at the polling stations. There was also a large informal vote. Valid votes were only 61% of registered voters, compared to 76% in 2004. As well, several million people did not bother to register as voters. Taking these into account and allocating 50% of invalid votes as deliberate (relying mostly on anecdotal reports), total eligible voter abstention was at least 40%. The overall vote for Islamic parties declined from 40% in 2004 to 29% in 2009.

The newly elected parliament represents no more than 40-45% of the electorate, because another 15% of voters (18 million) voted for 27 parties that scored below the 2.5% electoral threshold and which therefore did not win any seats. The Democratic Party will have 148 seats, Golkar 108, PDIP 93, PKS 59 National Mandate Party 42, United Development Party (PPP) 39, Gerindra 30, National Awakening Party 26 and Hanura 15.

At the end of May there were few signs that the presidential election will elicit any greater turnout or enthusiasm among the mass of voters. There are no significant differences in ideology or policy between any of the candidates, a fact reflected in the openly stated willingness of all the candidates prior to nominating to consider forming tickets with each other. The rumour mills worked overtime mentioning huge sums of money allegedly being offered to buy support for coalition partners. The image of the parties and their candidates as "money politics" machines was further reinforced.

Once the tickets were confirmed, of course, a game started in which each ticket tried to differentiate themselves from the other. Megawati-Prabowo got off early trying to project themselves as "pro-people's economy" and the Yudhoyono team as an economic "neoliberal". However, early publicity about Prabowo's massive declared wealth and his hobby of collecting US$300,000 per head polo horses and the fact that Boediono was also Megawati's finance minister make this pitch lack credibility.

Furthermore, there has been publicity about the large-scale privatisation of state assets that took place under Megawati's government before 2004. Human rights groups have focused a spotlight on Prabowo's record as a human rights violator, held responsible for the kidnapping and disappearance of democracy activists during the last year of dictator Suharto's rule in 1997-98. By the end of May, most opinion polls and commentators in the mainstream media were predicting a Yudhoyono victory.

Zely Ariane is a national spokesperson for the Political Committee of the Poor-People's Democratic Party (KPRM-PRD), a small leftist party built by activists expelled from the PRD for opposing its electoral tactic of standing candidates under the banner of the Star Reformation Party (PBR), a pro-Yudhoyono Islamist party. She explained that the PRD (and its failed electoral formation, Papernas) stood more than 200 candidates under the banner of the PBR but won no seats. The PBR's total vote dropped from 2.3% to just over 1%.

The PBR has since announced that it supports the Yudhoyono ticket, which is consistent with its stance since 2004. Ariane told Direct Action that some Papernas members are giving tacit support to the Megawati-Prabowo ticket with calls for voters not to back "neoliberal" candidates, without mentioning any names and implying that there are presidential candidates who are anti- neoliberal. At the time they made this call, it echoed the anti- Yudhoyono-Boediono rhetoric from pro-Prabowo circles. Ariane added that the majority of the organised left is maintaining its position of abstention, known as golput, arguing that the election offers only a choice between tickets consisting of corrupt, pro-neoliberal politicians.

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