New Zealand Embassy Jakarta, Indonesia

The Ambassador's Blog:Indonesia: 2014: a year of change

From the Ambassador's blog: http://blogs.mfat.govt.nz/david-taylor/2014-a-year-of-change/

 

As I sit at my desk at the start of 2014, thinking about what’s to come this year, elections is the theme for Indonesia.

Many millions of words have been printed, read or said already about Indonesia’s 2014 elections, so I’m not going to try and do a full review of their importance nor am I going to analyse the different candidates and their prospects.  I’ll leave that to the media and academic commentators that are spending far more time than me thinking about the various scenarios.

I’m asked all the time about the elections, by Indonesians, New Zealanders and other foreigners alike.  I’ll just make a few comments here that I hope will help anyone trying to think through the process and the implications.

The facts first.

It’s almost 15 years since Indonesia’s first parliamentary elections in the democratic era.  Democracy is now well-established, supported by a free media.  The elections will likely be held peacefully, though there may be some isolated turbulence in some areas around the campaign periods.  The authorities will be on high alert to manage any signs of disruption.

There are two elections, both for five year terms.

The first will be held on 9 April  for the parliament comprised of the People’s Representative Council (Dewan Perwakilan Rakyat) with 560 seats  and the Regional Representative Council (Dewan Perwakilan Daerah) with 128 seats.
 

The results are fundamental for the Presidential election to follow later in the year.  In order to field a Presidential candidate, the current rule is that a party or coalition of parties must have 20 percent of the seats in Parliament or 25 percent of the popular vote in order to field a candidate.

12 parties will contest the elections while three others have been authorised to run candidates in Aceh Province.  There were 38 parties contesting in 2009 and 24 in 2004.  The reduction in numbers this year follows tightening up of rules about fielding candidates.

If my math is right, that means about 173 seats to meet the threshold to nominate a Presidential candidate.  In terms of the votes cast threshold, while there will be some 187 million eligible voters, turnout will be key.  The turnout in 2009 was just over 74 percent and in 2004 about 87 percent with 121.5 million and 124 million votes cast respectively.   So assuming around 70 percent turnout something like 33 million votes.  That’s a big number in an archipelagic nation like Indonesia so coalitions are likely to be formed in order to field Presidential candidates.

The second election, and the more important, is for a new President to succeed Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono now in his tenth and final year in office.  The first round will take place on 9 July with a second round if required in September should one candidate not get more than 50 percent of the votes cast.

Unless there is a last minute change to the rules, there will likely be only two or three candidates in the Presidential election.  I think the contest will be intense, whatever the nature of the outcome.  The public focus will be not only on the Presidential candidate, but also on their running mate as the pairing will send some signals to the electorate about how they might work together and what their respective priorities might be.

In terms of the outlook and implications, just a few comments.

In New Zealand some years ago, one Prime Minister famously said “bugger the pollsters” after his victory was much slimmer than forecast.  In Indonesia, a country of 248 million people (187 million eligible voters) spread across one sixth of the planet and as many as 17,000 islands, I have real difficulty believing polls.  They might be broadly accurate in the big cities, but there’s bound to be a whole lot going on at the local level that the national polls won’t reveal.  So I won’t be jumping to too many conclusions too quickly.

This time around one third of the voters will be aged between 16-20 years old according to the Asia Foundation (in Indonesia, married citizens under the 17-year-old voting age can register to vote).  This group were children when the current President came into office.  This same group are among the most connected on earth through their Facebook and Twitter accounts and uptake of new technology.   Although parental and local influence will play a part in their decisions on election day, they will not have personal memory of the Indonesia prior to SBY’s election in 2004.  They will play a key role in determining the election outcome and will relate to the candidates on their own youthful terms.

There is as yet no single defining issue for Indonesia in this election cycle.  People will be looking for stability and continued prosperity after a decade in which GDP per capita has grown strongly from US $1,177 to a forecast level of $5000 by the end of this year, according to the Government.

Whoever is elected will need to appoint a team of Ministers to implement their vision, so it’s not just a question of who wins the election but who gets to implement the new President’s vision that will matter.

So my summation is a diplomatic one:  The period ahead will see much debate and analysis, some success and some heartbreak, but it will not be until close to the end of the year once the new President and their team is in place that we will begin to see what course Indonesia may chart following the last stable and successful decade.

My expectation is that we will continue to see a powerful, growing Indonesia with strong regional and international interests.  There will undoubtedly be some changes of direction and nuance in policy as new personalities take the helm, but as Indonesia grows along with partners in the region and beyond, prosperity, good and clean governance, improved infrastructure and core services like health and education are likely to remain at the centre of the new government’s policies.

New Zealand, of course, will be following developments closely, continuing to build relationships with key players inside and outside of government.  We will be ready to work with whoever wins the Presidential election and their team  to take forward our shared interests and growing partnership.

This will be a year of change, but one based on the strength of Indonesia’s democratic experience to this point and the popular wish for the country to continue its rise.
 

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