The puzzle that is Indonesia's election results

The puzzle that is Indonesia's election results
Jakarta Governor Joko Widodo is, so far, the sole candidate qualified to enter July’s presidential poll.

At this stage of the three-month electoral process, the only thing that can be said with any certainty is that the Indonesian Democratic Party - Struggle (PDI-P) is the clear winner of the April 9 legislative elections and Jakarta Governor Joko Widodo is, so far, the sole candidate qualified to enter July's presidential poll.

Everything else is white noise until the registration deadline on Sunday, when Indonesians will know whether Golkar chairman Aburizal Bakrie and Great Indonesia Movement (Gerindra) leader Prabowo Subianto will be in the race, either separately, singly or perhaps even together on the same ticket.

With the National Election Commission's final May 9 election results hardly differing from the exit polls, analysts continue to puzzle over why supposed powerhouses PDI-P and Golkar failed to do as well as expected, and parties without serious presidential contenders did better than expected.

Electoral analyst Kevin Evans' excellent Pemilu Asia website tells the story of a motionless Golkar and a PDI-P that may have revived some of its fortunes in Jakarta but didn't share in much of the windfall from President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's plummeting Democrat Party in East Java.

PDI-P could have played the setback a little better too. Instead of crying over the result, the party and Mr Joko himself should have given their supporters heart by stressing the positives, including the fact that it still finished four percentage points ahead of Golkar.

Mr Joko isn't doing so badly in the polls either. Mr Prabowo may have narrowed the gap but with newcomer, the National Democratic Party (NasDem), and the National Awakening Party (PKB) safely in his coalition, Mr Joko still has a big enough margin to win in the first round - as long as he starts to show youthful constituents he is not just an empty suit.

Third-placed Gerindra, PKB, the National Mandate Party (PAN) and NasDem all put up a credible showing, with an improved 75 per cent voter turnout. Voters also clearly paid more attention to the candidates than their political affiliations.

Even the corruption scandals that have enveloped the Democrats and the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) did not do quite as much damage as the pollsters thought - in the Democrat Party's case, because Dr Yudhoyono himself still enjoys considerable respect in the Java heartland.

Interestingly, about half of the unprecedented 90 per cent of incumbent lawmakers who entered the elections were returned to the 560-seat House of Representatives, compared with the 70 per cent to 75 per cent turnover that was the feature of the previous democratic-era polls in 1999, 2004 and 2009.

It may reflect the fact that voters are getting used to the fully open candidate list but it also underlines an ever-growing distaste for parties. How else to explain an Indikator poll showing 42 per cent voted for a candidate, 37 per cent for a party and candidate together, and only 20 per cent for a party?

Gerindra did well across the board in only its second election. It made an 8.3 percentage point gain at the apparent expense of the sinking Democrats in East Java, the country's second biggest electorate, winning 7 per cent to 10 per cent on most of the main islands and even picking up two seats in Aceh.

Golkar deserter Surya Paloh's NasDem feasted on disaffected Golkar and Democrat votes on Sulawesi, Java and Papua, in particular, while PAN held its ground in Sumatra and Sulawesi, where it took a stranglehold on the once-Golkar stronghold of south-east Sulawesi. PKB's rebound was due in no small measure to the reunification efforts of its chairman, Manpower Minister Muhaimin Iskandar, and perhaps also to the generosity of budget carrier Lion Air owner Rusdi Kirana, who joined the party board two months before the election.

The party picked up 4.4 per cent in East Java, apparently sharing in some of the votes lost by the sinking Democrats. But it also made gains in Kalimantan and Nusa Tenggara and strengthened the surprising foothold it has secured in Maluku and West Papua.

Several prominent lawmakers appear to have lost their seats, including House Speaker Marzuki Alie, fellow Democrat Melani Leimena, deputy speaker of the People's Consultative Assembly and three-time Golkar lawmakers Hajriyanto Thohari and Priyo Budi Santoso.

Surprising defeats also appear to have been handed to PDI-P reformists Eva Sundari and two-term Heri Achmadi - both in adjoining East Java electorates - and Ms Nurul Arifin, a former television actress who made impressive strides during her single term as a Golkar politician.

The Democrats lost ground everywhere but no more so than in the electorate around Medan and its North Sumatra hinterland where Mr Ruhut Sitompul is believed to be the only one of six Democrat Party incumbents to survive.

Among the victors was former president Suharto's second daughter Titiek, whose win in Yogyakarta made her the first member of the family to re-enter active politics since her father was forced from power in 1998. But it hardly signifies a yearning for the past.

If that were the case, then nostalgia for founding president Sukarno is brimming over, with granddaughter Puan Maharani winning in Central Java, her brother Guruh in East Java, and Puti, the daughter of ex-president Megawati Sukarnoputri's older brother Guntur, in West Java.

One irritant for me is the way the media always includes PKB and PAN in the so-called "Muslim vote", strange in itself in a country of 88 per cent Muslims. Both may draw a lot of their support from mass Muslim organisations but they are as non-sectarian as anyone when it comes to politics.

The only "Muslim vote" worth noting is the 14.7 per cent who cast their ballots for the syariah-based PKS, United Development Party and now-failed Bulan Bintang Party. In 2009, these and two other Islamist parties won 17.5 per cent, sliding from 21.1 per cent in 2004. The decline in political Islam continues.

This article was published on May 13 in The Straits Times.

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