Indecision reigns in coalitions for the presidency

MAY 18 — Starting today, Indonesian presidential candidates can submit their tickets to the General Election Committee until the May 20 deadline. But less than 24 hours before the registration process begins, however, no tickets seem to have been secured.

For the most part, the Indonesian public has been baffled by their political elites; the seeming indecision, the conflicting messages and the flip-flopping – all in their effort to garner enough support (20 per cent of parliamentary seats) to nominate a president.

First, it was the bizarre joint appearance of Joko Widodo and Aburizal Bakrie, the two presidential candidates from the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) and Golkar respectively, on Tuesday evening at the Pasar Gembrong traditional market in Central Jakarta.

Wearing a plain white shirt untucked, which has become a signature style of Jokowi’s as the Jakarta governor is popularly known, Bakrie told reporters attending the event that he would support the latter’s candidacy. This came after his brief flirtation with Jokowi’s rival Prabowo Subianto a few weeks ago.

Although it is highly unlikely that Bakrie would become Jokowi’s running mate, the event caused an uproar among the governor’s supporters who are opposed to his teaming up with one of the most controversial businessmen and politicians in the country.

One of Bakrie’s companies was linked to the 2006 mudflow disaster – possibly caused by drilling activities – that displaced nearly 40,000 people and submerged 12 villages in Sidoarjo, East Java.

But Golkar’s absence the next day at the official declaration of Jokowi’s candidacy with PDI-P’s allies the National Democrat (Nasdem) and the National Awakening Party (PKB) raised doubt that Golkar had in fact come on board.

On that same day, Bakrie met with President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono at the palace. In the next next few days, he received  Prabowo and later Wiranto, and visited PDIP Chairman Megawati Sukarnoputri, further confusing the public of his intention.

And then, on Saturday, a Golkar official said that both Golkar and Yudhoyono’s Democratic Party had agreed to nominate Bakrie with Pramono Edhie, the president’s brother-in-law. The two parties are holding their own national leadership meetings today to decide on this, but this information was later denied by other Golkar officials.

If true, this would come as a surprise after Yudhoyono said the day before that the Democratic Party had no ambitions to nominate a president, because of its limited option with only 10 per cent votes in the legislative election. The statement was made after the party concluded its uneventful presidential convention on Friday.

A Bakrie-Pramono ticket would not only accommodate Bakrie’s presidential ambition, but would allow him some room to capitalise his political chips before the change of Golkar’s leadership later this year.

This ticket does not likely aim to win the presidency, because of the two’s rather low electability compared to both Jokowi and Prabowo, but rather at dividing the votes, making the election go into two rounds because of the lack of a landslide winner. This will give both Golkar and the Democratic Party stronger political leverage to wield before swinging their support to either of the two candidates in the second election. Or it can just be another bluff aimed at increasing their bargaining chips.

President candidate from PDIP party Joko Widodo gestures during a coalition announcement in Jakarta on May 14, 2014 ahead of the July 2014 Presidential elections. — Picture by AFP
President candidate from PDIP party Joko Widodo gestures during a coalition announcement in Jakarta on May 14, 2014 ahead of the July 2014 Presidential elections. — Picture by AFP

As the likehood of a so-called “third axis” seemed to gain momentum, however, the Jokowi camp was sending mixed signals this week, leading to speculations of a growing rift between the candidate and his party structure.

Showing that she’s still in charge, the PDIP Chairman Megawati Sukarnoputri stressed a few days ago that there was still plenty of time left to determine Jokowi’s running mate, even as the candidate himself said he knew who his choice was already. Further complicating the matter, on Friday, Megawati’s daughter Puan Maharani, revealed that she was still eyeing Jokowi’s number two post, a move that would alienate Jokowi’s followers even more.

The Prabowo camp is not in the most solid state as well. While it had more or less named Hatta Radjasa of the National Mandate Party (PAN) as the running mate, the other two Muslim-based parties had warned that they might not join his coalition if they weren’t given a say about who should be on the ticket with Prabowo.

All this manouevering is a product of a system in which all want to rule and none want to be on the challenging team. Following Indonesia’s democratisation process that followed the 1998 Reformasi, most parties have preferred to be on the side of the government in power, leading to fat coalitions that made up all the post-1998 governments.

“We don’t have a tradition of opposition,” said Philips Vermonte.

“Only PDI-P has done that consistently in 2004 to 2014, and that’s because Megawati hates SBY too much,” he said, referring to the former President Megawati’s long-held grudge against her former Cabinet minister who defeated her twice in the previous presidential elections.

Even if the third axis fails to materialise, the combined strength of both Golkar and the Democratic Party at 152 of the 560 seats in Parliament might make them a sizable opposition. So whoever wins the presidential election will most likely go to these parties for support – particularly Golkar with 91 seats – if they want an effective government with solid parliamentary support. And if asked, other parties on the opposing side during the election would also happily ditch their electoral allies to join the new government.

And that’s the power of oligarchy.

* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malay Mail Online.

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