Insight: Presidential candidates more important than coalitions

27 May 2014

Insight: Presidential candidates 
more important than coalitions 

Wimar Witoelar, Jakarta | Insight | Sat, May 24 2014, 9:02 AM
There was hardly a word of surprise from the Gerindra Party camp when the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) named Suryadharma Ali as a suspect in a Rp 1 trillion (US.72 milllion) graft scandal at the Religious Affairs Ministry.

“Bad guys” decorate the Prabowo Subianto campaign team like chocolate sprinkles on a cake. But the other side is not squeaky clean either. Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s vice-presidential candidate, Jusuf Kalla (JK), is well known for blurring the division between business and government. He would not be where he is today were it not for his stranglehold on major state-related business projects in eastern Indonesia, which he controlled from his power base in Makassar.

The early hope that Jokowi would break the ground for a clean government is now being challenged by the conspicuous presence of JK, a popular figure not exactly known for espousing clean government.

Be that as it may, it is still an election of choice. It would be repetitive to compare the two candidates on their records in human rights and the abuse of state policies. There is no comparison between the two candidates on the basic facts. At the very least, Jokowi can claim innocence because he only recently gained public positions of power. JK was not involved at all in the May 1998 riots. 

As the presidential race begins its final lap, we find the news dominated by talk of coalitions. In the two-horse race, there is the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) coalition and the Gerindra coalition. There is a sharp contrast between the presidential candidates supported by each coalition. The distinction is less obvious when we compare the two coalitions themselves. There could be no two candidates further apart in relation to human rights than the controversial figure of Prabowo and the idealistic figure of Jokowi.

The candidates are more important than the coalitions. When the polls open for a few hours on July 9, voters will come for a very simple choice. It will be a choice between two people, not between two political parties, and even less between two coalitions. 

At the moment the coalitions are entertaining in their posturing. But on election day, coalitions will become irrelevant. There are at least three parties whose positions in the coalitions will not be reflected by voting strength. The Golkar Party is severely divided by its official chairman Aburizal Bakrie and more trusted leaders. The United Development Party (PPP) is split between pro-Jokowi voters and chairman Suryadharma, who is now a suspect in the Rp 1 trillion corruption case.

It will be a choice between two contrasting people. A choice that, by all historical evidence, will tend to be emotional. One tends to go with trust rather than being methodical. Electing a president is like choosing a spouse.

Feelings of trust, hope and suspicion will not be dispelled by any amount of oratory, programs or policy statements. Campaign words cannot substitute the basic human need for comfort.

So, the issue of coalitions has little relevance on how the votes are going to be aligned.

The Democratic Party is the most obscure in its preferences. The chairman of the party, who is also currently Indonesia’s president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, has announced that the party is neutral regarding the two options. However, he is encouraging the members and leadership of the party to vote according to their personal choice. 

A final point: The way some see it, the election is preordained between the emotional support for Jokowi and the organized support for Prabowo.

There are people who did not vote in the last election. It may have been because they were not of voting age, or because of the complexity of the choices. But they are likely to vote in the upcoming president election, which is more compelling and more direct. 

The latest polls divide the vote roughly 42 percent for Jokowi and 34 percent for Prabowo. The margin could be made smaller or wider by the inclusion of voters who have not been categorized, as discussed previously. But the margin will respond to the candidates, not the coalitions.

The writer is a former spokesman for former president Abdurrahman “Gus Dur” Wahid.

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