Democrats-led Bali may switch allegiance

Five years ago, fisherman Yande Darmanta, 33, backed the Democratic Party of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono because life was good and he felt the country was doing well.

But a few years back, bigger fishing companies with huge nets began encroaching on his turf, and he turned to being a guide who takes surfers out to sea to ride the waves.

When The Straits Times visited him in Badung regency last week, Mr Yande was mulling voting for change: either for the Indonesian Democratic Party-Struggle (PDI-P) of Jakarta governor Joko Widodo, known as Jokowi, or the Gerindra Party of former general Prabowo Subianto.

"Jokowi is down to earth, has a good track record and is willing to meet people in person. Indonesia also needs a strong leader like Prabowo, who can protect everyone, promote pluralism," said Mr Yande.

The PDI-P, the successor to the Indonesian National Party of founding president Sukarno, whose mother was Balinese, has traditionally been the party that garnered the most votes on this resort island since Indonesia's recent democratisation.

But the party's share slid from 79 per cent in the 1999 general election to 51 per cent in 2004, and 39 per cent in 2009, with the Democrats gaining ground in the last round, thanks to the popularity of its chief patron Dr Yudhoyono, fresh from his first successful five-year term from 2004 to 2009.

With the Democrats now sliding in ratings, the PDI-P is set to see its vote share surge again, but it is not assured of an easy ride as Gerindra puts up a fight. Bali's 2.9 million voters like a plural platform that guarantees equal rights to minorities. Both the PDI-P and Gerindra are committed to this.

Some 90 per cent of Balinese are Hindus and though the world's most populous Muslim-majority country of 250 million is officially secular, many Balinese feel it is losing this tolerant edge amid pressure from a more vocal, radical fringe.

Last year, for instance, the government decided to move the finals of the Miss World competition here after Muslim groups protested against holding them in Jakarta. Balinese groups stood guard at seaports on the island to prevent radicals from coming on shore and disrupting the event.

Although Bali has only nine seats in the national Parliament, leaders of all the major parties have made this island a mandatory campaign stopover the past week.

Dr Gusti Putu Bagus Suka Arjawa, the dean of Udayana University's social and political science department, told The Straits Times that while several PDI-P members have been involved in internal bickering, Mr Joko's appeal will help lift the party.

Gerindra is also helped by a batch of popular local leaders. For example, former Democrat leader Gede Winasa, who was Jembrana regent from 2004 to 2009, has joined Gerindra to contest a seat in the national Parliament.

Like many villagers, Ms Jumainah Syamsul, 39, who runs a ramshackle hut selling fruits and drinks, remembers the politician as a leader who ensured her family received help with food staples, such as 10kg of rice every three months.

"They say Bali is a paradise on earth," she said. "It is a paradise to everyone else but us."


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