The art of the deal in Indonesia

Today Singapore
09 April 2004
Now that the parliamentary elections have been held, it is clear that Indonesia is well on its way towards democracy.

But more excitement will follow as political deal-making heats up and Indonesians figure out what the chances are of the nation getting a new leadership. Still, we must await the outcome of the parliamentary elections first.

One of the more credible projections was presented by the Jurdil Pemilu 2004 election monitoring coalition, which includes the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs (NDI) in Washington.

In a national Quick Count, the projections are as follows: Golkar 22.7 per cent, PDI-P 18.8 per cent, PKB 10.7 per cent, and PPP 8.1 per cent, PD (Democrat Party) 7.3 per cent and PKS 7.2 per cent.

The General Elections Commission came up with a different set of numbers: PDI-P 20.76 per cent, Golkar 20.03 per cent, PKB 13.73 per cent, PPP 8.27 per cent, PD 7.52 per cent and PKS 6.93 per cent.

For Indonesia, which had preordained election results for 32 years, the results are remarkable in their unpredictability.

This suggests that we may be witnessing a milestone in the birth of genuine democracy in this nation of 240 million. And if you think that is exciting, wait for the presidential poll.

Technically, the presidential candidates, nominated by the parties that made the electoral threshold, will start campaigning on June 1. But the deal-making to pick pairs of candidates for president and vice-president is under way.

The various election "tickets" will be locked in on May 14 for the July 5 election. This could be followed by a Sept 19 run-off round if no one wins 50 per cent plus one of the votes.

A big surprise has already been sprung on the people. President Megawati Sukarnoputri is no longer in a commanding position. Support for her PDI-P party has fallen from 34 to 20 per cent a sign of discontent with her hands-off leadership style.

As for Golkar, its projected first-place finish with about 23 per cent would be only two points higher than its showing in 1999, when the country held its first free election after Suharto's fall in 1998.

The National Awakening Party (PKB) of former president Abdurrahman Wahid remains nearly constant in third place, despite the bad press surrounding Mr Wahid and strong opposition from his objects of reform.

The other big surprise is the strength of two parties representing opposite constituencies, the Democrat Party (PD) of Mr Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (known as SBY) and the Party of Justice and Prosperity (PKS).

While the PD has a secular following, the PKS inherits the puritan Islam idealists resurrected from the old days. But they have one thing in common: Disgust with the Suharto regime and disappointment with Ms Megawati's presidency.

Relatively obscure in the world press until last month, SBY is seen as the presidential front-runner. But his challenge is to compile a political base outside his own group of supporters to reach at least second place and move to the final round.

SBY is an attractive candidate. He projects stability, decency and has a soothing presence. But there is a danger of falling into the same trap that caused Ms Megawati to lose the 1999 presidential election. At the time, Ms Megawati was so confident that she remained aloof from the coalition-building process.

Political leaders frustrated by her silence turned to Mr Wahid and Ms Megawati lost an almost-won game.

Running on a reformist platform, the moderate SBY has to choose partners who will enhance his reformist policies. He was a key member of the Cabinets of both Mr Wahid and Ms Megawati.

Despite his lack of political experience, he should be able to choose partners for reform.

Leaders need to have vision to make their mandate fruitful or have partners who have visions of democracy, pluralism and public morality.

A game is never won until it is finished. In opera, "it ain't over till the fat lady sings". And if the fat lady never sings, you have to keep singing with people who want a better Indonesia.

Wimar Witoelar was spokesman for former President Abdurrahman Wahid and now heads a communications consulting firm.

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