Prabowo backers form grand coalition in Parliament

A combination photograph shows Indonesian presidential candidates Joko "Jokowi" Widodo (L) voting in Jakarta and Prabowo Subianto voting in Bogor, July 9, 2014. Indonesia's third direct presidential election kicked off on Wednesday.

JAKARTA - Leaders from the seven parties backing Mr Prabowo Subianto's presidential bid signed a deal yesterday to form a "permanent coalition" in Parliament over the next five years.

The move, they hope, will strengthen his claim to the top job against rival Joko Widodo even as the vote count is ongoing, with the final results expected to be announced next Tuesday.

"This permanent coalition represents almost two-thirds of the Indonesian people," Mr Prabowo told nearly 1,000 supporters in central Jakarta.

"Don't be afraid, we will win. We promise there will be an efficient, stable government that can bring about improvement in the people's welfare," he added.

Six of the seven parties control some 63 per cent of seats in the incoming Parliament, which begins its term in October. The seventh, Crescent Star Party (PBB), did not win enough votes in the April general election to take up seats.

However, seven reputable pollsters have said a quick count of votes - a historically-accurate indicator of results - at a representative sample of polling stations put Mr Joko, or Jokowi, ahead by about five percentage points. Mr Prabowo cited four questionable pollsters who put him ahead.

Still, the coalition move appears to be a gambit by Mr Prabowo and his partners to swing public sentiment in his favour.

Given Mr Prabowo's camp will likely be in opposition in Parliament, a permanent coalition would be a bad thing for the next government, Mr Tobias Basuki of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) told The Straits Times.

"There is a war of opinion going on now, though it is clear Jokowi won the election. This will be the case if there is no tampering with the ballots," he added.

The "permanent coalition" event was held at the monument where Indonesia's founding fathers proclaimed the country's independence in 1945, and yesterday, Mr Prabowo's Gerindra Party and its partners seized on this to say their bloc would better defend the country's sovereignty.

"We know the next House will have 10 political parties," Golkar chairman Aburizal Bakrie said. "Wouldn't it be good if the next president can better communicate to Parliament, with two broad coalitions?... This way, our presidential system can function well."

Yesterday's move came after the parties ganged up last Tuesday to amend a law that would otherwise have given Mr Joko's Indonesian Democratic Party-Struggle (PDI-P), with the largest number of seats, the automatic right to fill the Speaker's seat. The amended law requires the post to be put to a House vote.

PDI-P secretary-general Hasto Kristianto said they will challenge the amendment in the Constitutional Court.

There is another controversial aspect to the law - it could shield MPs from corruption investigations by requiring law enforcement agencies to get the go-ahead from a parliamentary ethics tribunal before summoning MPs.

But Mr Prabowo's "permanent coalition" already showed signs of being hobbled early.

Mr Bakrie's Golkar party shows signs of internal friction when MP Nusron Wahid told The Straits Times that he was certain that Golkar and the Islamic United Development Party would switch sides.

"But the timing of the coalition announcement can also be seen as an effort by the parties to put pressure (on Jokowi) and reach a compromise that they be given a share of power," he added.

This article was first published on July 15, 2014. Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to for more stories.