Indonesian Democracy Gains but Voters Show their Dissatisfaction

Jusuf Wanandi
Centre for Strategic and International Studies, rx Jakarta

Jusuf Wanandi, check a veteran interpreter of Indonesia for U.S. audiences, told USINDO on October 7 that the recently completed round of elections signaled the emergence of an independent electorate that clearly knew what it wanted: change.  He said the results show that the role of political parties, thought to be the controlling factor, “has declined dramatically.”  In answer to a question he said the next five years might see a realignment of existing parties, especially PDI-P, Golkar and PD or Partai Demokrat (Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s party) or a whole new alignment.

Despite the support of the big machine party, Golkar, for President Megawati, as well as from her own party, PDI-P, voters gave Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono 60 percent of the vote in the runoff direct election for president, held on September 20.  Megawati received 40 percent.  Previously the voters had rejected Golkar’s nominee for president, former General Wiranto, on the first round of balloting for president.  This double embarrassment for Golkar was a particular rebuke after the legislative elections in April when Golkar’s share of the vote stayed at roughly the same percentage as it had won in the 1999 elections:  22 percent.

“People knew what they wanted and said so,” said Wanandi.  “They are no longer following personal leaders.  People are much more aware,” he said.

He reminded his audience of the astonishing accomplishment of all three elections:  all orderly, all peaceful, and completely independent of government manipulation. He mentioned the resourcefulness and competence of local precinct leaders.  Also, “Money politics did not play a big role,” he said.  “Political parties have learned – at last – that it doesn’t work.”

He faulted the elections in one respect, however: the role of the public opinion polls.  “They were very influential,” he said, “especially the ‘bandwagon effect’ of the third round” where SBY was predicted to win 60 percent of the vote.  “The problem,” he said, “is that polling organizations are all foreign-funded.  Also they poll right up to the day before the election.”  This could be a source of controversy in the future.  “Regulations should be tightened next time,” Wanandi said, and poll results should not be issued in the week before a vote is to occur.

He said it will not be easy to define the “Islamist” vote in the future because the Muslim community is more complicated.  The old divisions of santri (pious, educated, urban modernists, associated with Muhammadiyah) and abangan (rural, less educated people with a variety of traditions and associated with Nahdlatul Ulama) are no longer sufficient to explain the Islamist electorate and there is an “immense variety” of thinking about what constitutes “political Islam”.   “That’s very important for our future,” he said.  The Islamist vote in the 2004 election was 23 percent, up from 19 percent in 1999 due to the surge for the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS), that ironically ran not on a platform to adopt Shari’a but on anti-corruption, which turned out to be a top issue with voters.

But how did SBY manage such a resounding win with a brand new political party?  Wanandi suggested that he is more politically adept than he may have been given credit for being, and that one important strategy was to have appeared weekly on nationwide television for the past three years, visiting various areas of the country, in marked contrast to Megawati.  Television, he said, was a major influence in the elections.  “Suharto put a television set in every village, and they all aired the one government station.  Now there are 11 or 12 channels and all but one are privately owned,” he said.

SBY’s Challenges

“It will not be an easy first year,” Wanandi predicted.  SBY may face excessive expectations, as the voters clearly want a pro-active president, and the problems are difficult.

Among them, one of the most sensitive is the fuel subsidy.  “We are now a net energy importer,” Wanandi noted, and while in the past the subsidy contributed 1.3 to 1.4 percent of the budget deficit, high oil prices and the necessity to import fuel could triple the budget impact.  Corruption and the legal reform (as a prerequisite to attracting investment) are also areas where the public demands action, and SBY must be seen to be even-handed in how he proceeds against corruptors.  He cannot crack down solely on a few Chinese businessmen and stop there.

Another problem, particularly in terms of U.S. priorities and pressures, is the fight against terrorism.  “Moderate Islamic groups are now ascendant,” Wanandi said, “but the splinter groups are more extreme.  Out of 34,000 pesantren only 15 are turning out terrorists, but we can’t simply put them in jail,” he said.  Indonesians do not want a repressive Internal Security Act, he said, so the only option is to improve intelligence.  “The police have improved greatly, with foreign help,” he said.  Wanandi also observed that moderate Muslim leaders are also speaking out against terrorism and there has been an “erosion” of the “sense of denial” that Muslims could not have perpetrated terrorist violence.

Possible SBY vulnerabilities, Wanandi said, are his perceived weakness in making decisions, his management capabilities, his tendency to surround himself with former TNI comrades, his probable unwillingness to press for military reform, and, finally, disenchantment with Vice President Kalla in light of his anti-Chinese and pro-pribumi public comments.  “Those statements will discourage foreign investment,” Wanandi said.

Q: How will SBY deal with the global terrorist crisis?

A:  We are totally preoccupied with ourselves.  It is significant that during the whole Abu Gharaib prison disclosures in Iraq, there was not one reaction from any Muslim leader in Indonesia.  Foreign policy was completely on the back burner.  In light of this, for the future SBY will concentrate mainly on domestic issues.  For example, he does not plan to travel overseas in the early part of his administration.

Q:  Does the repudiation of Megawati and of Akbar Tanjung’s Golkar candidates mean the passing of the old generation and the unfolding of a new generation of leaders?

A:  Perhaps.  There are expectations for new leaders by 2009.  I don’t know the names.  But PDI-P and Golkar will elect leaders in their conventions in December and January.  There may be new leaders.  And over 70 percent of members of the new parliament are first-timers.  Also, the election of PKS leader Hidayat Nur Wahid as chairman of the MPR (People’s Consultative Assembly) was a surprise.  Perhaps it was a compensation for Golkar winning the DPR and DPD (Regional Representatives’ Council) chairmanships.

Q:  What are the prospects for TNI reform?

A:  SBY did not try for one reform during his three years in the cabinet.  In Aceh, although he favored negotiations, he backed down in the face of TNI’s decision to move toward a military crackdown.  Regarding the impending TNI bill before the DPR, it was unwise of the Mega administration to propose this law to a lame duck parliament.  The bill is a mixed bag.  The KODAM (territorial command) system will not be eliminated.  There are no real plans for reform since the first efforts of Presidents Habibie and Gus Dur.  And there will be no reform without reform of the TNI’s finances and budget increases for the military.  A real plan is needed, and this will require leadership from the top.

Q:  How will Indonesia view ASEAN and will it reassert a leadership role?

A:  The foreign ministry, despite a lack of leadership from Megawati, has made an effort to push forward with the concept of an ASEAN Security Community, as well as an economic, social and cultural structure.  It will table a plan at the meeting of heads of state in Vientiane in November and seek an imprimatur to lead such a community.

Q:  What are the chances of normalizing a military to military relationship with the U.S., in view of the continuing restrictions because of the Timika incident and alleged human rights abuses by the military?

A:  This will be difficult.  We don’t know if SBY will pay much attention.  It is not his first priority.

Q:  What can be done about reforming the legal system?

A:  Much can be accomplished with the appointment of a strong person as attorney general.  The chief justice is a good man.  But for attorney general, what is needed is a really tough person who can outmaneuver and crack the totally intransigent bureaucracy.  It will not be enough simply to appoint an honest person.