Page 1 of 4 Election threatens democracy in Indonesia
By David Adam Stott
Compared to its Asian neighbors, Indonesia was late to join the so-called third wave of democratization that began in southern Europe in the 1970s. After the fall of the authoritarian Suharto regime (1967-98) it successfully conducted free and fair elections in 1999, 2004 and 2009, becoming arguably the most politically free country in Southeast Asia. 
A burgeoning civil society and a relatively open media have helped consolidate democracy but tensions remain between Suharto's legacy and the direction of Indonesia's democratic transition. In particular, Suharto-era oligarchs remain dominant and the armed forces retain significant influence even though their power appears to have declined and is less absolute than in much of Southeast Asia.
The pluralism of Indonesia's national motto, Unity in Diversity, is also being jeopardized by the failure to safeguard religious
minorities against attacks from hardline Islamists. Against this backdrop Indonesia will administer its fourth round of post-Suharto elections in 2014, with legislative polls in April, followed by direct presidential elections in July.
This year's elections are a litmus test for Indonesia's own democratic transition, which could signal either a generational change in government reinforcing democracy or the return of dictatorial or repressive forces to office. Of the confirmed candidates for the presidential elections, the voting public currently faces a stark choice between military proteges of Suharto or oligarchs who made their fortunes under his authoritarian rule. However, according to public opinion polls, the favorite to win the presidency is the current Governor of Jakarta, Joko 'Jokowi' Widodo, a non-establishment figure with a wide popular base.
While a Jokowi presidency would represent a clean break from the Suharto era, the party with which he is associated is adamant that it will only select its presidential candidate after the April legislative elections. Nevertheless, his populist and innovative approach to running the largest city in Southeast Asia has raised hopes among the electorate that Jokowi will also be able to reinvigorate the country's stalled reform drive at the national level. Indeed, Indonesia's first two direct presidential elections, in 2004 and 2009, were also won on a platform of political reform and clean government by retired general Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who will soon reach the end of his term limit. Pro-poor policies and the prosecution of high-profile corruption cases during his first term contributed heavily to his success in the parliamentary and presidential elections of 2009. 
Yudhoyono's legitimacy was also boosted by a resources and consumer boom which delivered steady economic growth of nearly 6% a year during his decade in office. An expansion of the middle class accompanied Indonesia overtaking Malaysia as the world's biggest exporter of palm oil, Thailand as the top exporter of rubber, and Australia as the largest exporter of coal.  High prices for these and other resource commodities, largely fed by demand from China, increased the legitimacy of Yudhoyono personally, enabling him to bring valuable stability to Indonesia amid global economic turbulence. However, the president's personal approval ratings dipped during his second term as fuel subsidies were reduced and members of his own party became snared in corruption scandals.
The pro-poor policies introduced prior to the 2009 parliamentary election were mostly temporary. Despite improvements, Indonesia was still ranked 114 out of 177 countries by Transparency International in its latest annual survey on corruption perceptions.  Disenchantment with the slow pace of reform, disillusionment with money politics and the lackluster performance of many elected officials is widely expected to result in falling voter turnouts in 2014, especially if Jokowi is not nominated as a presidential candidate. Foreign investors have also signaled their continuing frustration with a graft-ridden legal system, opaque government policies and the country's creaking infrastructure.
Consolidating the gains made under Yudhoyono, a Jokowi victory could indicate a shift away from Suharto-era vested interests to a less-patrimonial style of politics and a new generation of leader. Regardless of outcome, Indonesia's elections are among the most significant of 2014 given that it is the world's third-largest electoral democracy, an ongoing test case for the transition from authoritarian rule and a prominent model for democratic survival in multi-ethnic states. The significance of these factors is compounded by Indonesian aspirations to play a leadership role both among developing countries and in Southeast Asia, as the region's biggest country and economy. Given the continuing instability in Thailand, the recent unrest in Cambodia and Myanmar's delicate democratic transition, democratic consolidation or reversal in Indonesia would carry symbolic weight at a regional level.
This article opens with a brief history of post-reformasi elections in Indonesia, followed by an overview of the main parties and candidates with a short analysis of political Islam. Thereafter it will consider the influence of the media and the military upon Indonesia's continuing democratic transition.
Post-Reformasi elections in Indonesia
Electoral reform in Indonesia marks the country's biggest departure from the Suharto era. Whilst parliamentary and presidential elections did take place under Suharto's so-called New Order they were heavily manipulated by the regime to ensure success for the president's own electoral vehicle Golongan Karya, usually shortened to Golkar. Electoral rules in place between 1973 and 1998 permitted only two opposition parties to contest parliamentary elections, thus forcing the merger of the main opposition parties. The four largest Muslim parties became the United Development Party (Partai Persatuan Pembangunan, PPP), whilst five secular parties formed the Indonesian Democratic Party (Partai Demokrasi Indonesia, PDI).
Criticism of government policy by the PPP and the PDI was not allowed and government approval was required for all campaign slogans. Every candidate from every party was screened by the regime and fully half of all members of the national parliament were directly appointed by Suharto. Only Golkar was allowed to canvass support below the district level through local government officials and regional military commanders, and all government employees were required to support Golkar. 
This gave the party a huge advantage over its rivals in mobilizing across the archipelago, a situation that largely still persists in the more remote areas of the country. Golkar's record in the post-Suharto reformasi era has been mixed. Whilst it has repeatedly attempted to reduce the pace and depth of reform it has also made some important contributions to Indonesia's democratic transition since 1998. This apparent paradox has prompted one observer to note, "Just like Indonesian politics in general, Golkar too is an ambiguous amalgam of progressive reformism and conservative status quo attitudes." 
Presidential elections were also held every five years during the New Order but these merely rubber stamped Suharto's re-selection. This remained the case during the March 1998 presidential election which unanimously selected him for another five year term which was due to end in 2003, by which time he was almost 82 years old. However, two months later Suharto was forced to resign amidst a deep economic crisis, violent mass protests and a loss of elite support. Vice president BJ Habibie replaced his mentor and, in order to boost his own legitimacy, hurriedly announced parliamentary elections for the following year.
By demonstrating his own reformist credentials he hoped to secure a full term as president in his own right. With the New Order restrictions lifted some 48 political parties contested the 1999 parliamentary elections. The president was still to be chosen by the upper house, the People's Consultative Assembly (Majelis Permusyawaratan Rakyat, MPR), following the elections. However, Habibie withdrew his candidacy after his accountability report was rejected by the new parliament and his party Golkar subsequently threw its support behind Abdurrahman Wahid. Even though Wahid's National Awakening Party (Partai Kebangkitan Bangsa, PKB) only placed third in the legislative elections, with less than 13% of the vote, he was also leader of the Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), a traditionalist Muslim body that is Indonesia's largest civil society organization.
Wahid also proved adept at building the necessary alliances to become president, relegating Megawati Sukarnoputri, whose PDI-P (Partai Demokrasi Indonesia Perjuangan, Indonesian Democratic Party - Struggle) had actually gained the most seats in the elections, to the position of vice president.
Wahid made a bright start as president in 1999, bringing a much more pluralistic approach to the office. He opened up democratic space in West Papua, began peace talks with the Free Aceh Movement (Gerakan Aceh Merdeka, GAM) and lifted the New Order restrictions on Chinese cultural expression. These attempts at peacebuilding, alongside efforts to reform the military, provoked resistance from the political elite and Wahid became mired in a corruption scandal. This provided the pretext for the MPR to impeach him on charges of graft and incompetence in July 1999, and Megawati assumed the presidency.
Having convincingly won the 1999 parliamentary elections, Megawati's elevation represented a triumph for democracy. Her party was widely perceived as the main opposition in the late New Order period, and Megawati herself is the daughter of Sukarno, Indonesia's founding president who was ousted by Suharto in 1967. Despite bringing a measure of political stability to Indonesia, however, her conservative administration came to be seen as listless and lackluster. In particular, Megawati showed little appetite for military reform, was perceived as soft on regional terrorism and appeared unwilling to tackle corruption.
Nevertheless, important constitutional reforms were instituted during her stewardship, including the establishment of the Corruption Eradication Commission (Komisi Pemberantasan Korupsi, KPK) and the Constitutional Court, and the introduction of direct local elections. These institutions would be developed further during her successor's presidency. In contrast to his predecessors Habibie, Wahid and Megawati, Yudhoyono vowed to lead the anti-corruption drive personally, and reaped the rewards at the ballot box. 
The next round of national elections took place in 2004, contested by 24 political parties, and constitutional reform meant that the parliament would now be fully elected, with no reserved seats for the military. The president was now also directly elected in separate polls after the new parliament had been formed. The elections of both 1999 and 2004 were conducted relatively cleanly, leading democracy advocacy group Freedom House to categorize Indonesia as a "free" country in 2005 after adjusting its status to "partly free" following Suharto's fall.
Meanwhile, Freedom House, which publishes annual reports that analyze the extent of civil liberties and political rights throughout the world, downgraded the status of Thailand and Philippines from "free" to "partly free" in 2006 and 2007 respectively, underscoring Indonesia's progress in a regional context.  It is also worth noting that Indonesia's elections of 1999, 2004 and 2009 were concluded mostly peacefully, again in contrast to the experience of Thailand and the Philippines in the same period.
Further highlighting how free and fair Indonesian national elections have become is the fact that in the first direct presidential elections of 2004 Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono was able to defeat incumbent Megawati. She enjoyed the support of the largest party in parliament but Yudhoyono was able to convert his personal popularity with voters into victory. Indeed, ruling governments lost both the 1999 and 2004 presidential elections, and Yudhoyono's triumph in 2009 marked the first time since 1998 that a sitting president has been re-elected to the highest office.
Yudhoyono initially gained a reputation as a progressive military reformer in the late Suharto period, and had enhanced his standing with cabinet posts under Wahid and Megawati. His high personal approval ratings as president also enabled his relatively new Democratic Party (Partai Demokrat, PD) to become the largest party in parliament in 2009, overtaking Golkar and PDP-P.
This clearly demonstrates that, unlike regional neighbors Singapore, Malaysia and Cambodia, Indonesia has an electoral system that has not been unduly manipulated to favor the ruling party.  At the same time, the emergence of new parties such as Yudhoyono's PD has not led to the collapse of other major parties, unlike in Thailand, the Philippines, South Korea and Japan where parties often disappear after contesting one or two elections.  The five largest parties from Indonesia's 1999 legislative elections were still represented in parliament after the 2009 elections (see table below), although the number of minor parties has ebbed and flowed. Some 38 national parties contested the 2009 legislative election but new rules have trimmed their number to 12 for this year's April elections.
Another distinguishing feature of party politics in Indonesia which has likely contributed to this stabilization has been the fact that political parties do not usually engage in robust ideological debates with one another. Whilst the lack of substantive issue-oriented political debate raises doubts about the quality of Indonesia's democratic transition, it has enabled the country to avoid the political polarization that has paralyses party politics in Thailand and elsewhere. Instead Indonesian politics have become increasingly personalistic since the introduction of direct presidential elections in 2004, and the implementation of similarly direct elections for provincial governors, mayors and district heads in 2005. 
This lack of ideological polarization has enabled all governments since Wahid's first cabinet of 1999 to be multi-party coalitions where power sharing appears to be the dominant mantra. Yudhoyono continued this trend in 2004 when naming his first United Indonesia Cabinet in which only the PDI-P of the established political parties was not represented. Thus, in the 2009 legislative elections these other parties were unable to effectively challenge Yudhoyono's PD on policy differences. The president repeated this strategy for his second United Indonesia Cabinet, formed at the beginning of his second term, in which again the PDI-P was the only major party not represented. 
Parties and candidates
Electoral rules first applied in 2004 specify that a political party, or a coalition of parties, must secure a minimum of 25% of the vote or 20% of the seats in the April legislative elections to select a candidate to contest the July presidential elections. To win the presidency therefore, a candidate must be skilled at building alliances with other parties. While the Constitutional Court recently ruled that this threshold is unconstitutional, electoral changes will not come into force until the 2019 polls.
The court also decided that the present requirement for voters to first elect parliament followed by a president is also unconstitutional; meaning that from 2019 simultaneous polls will be held. It is anticipated that this ruling may increase the number of candidates seeking to attain the highest office since until now presidential hopefuls have needed to secure the backing of large political parties.
In the three elections since 1999 the largest political parties have been Golkar, Suharto's former election vehicle, and the PDI-P, widely seen as the main opposition in the late Suharto period. The PDI-P won 33.74% of the vote in the 1999 legislative elections, with Golkar second on 20.46%. However, both parties have been in decline, with Golkar losing the strength it derived from the New Order's military and bureaucratic apparatus and the PDI-P failing to develop its reputation as the standard bearer of populist, secular nationalism.
Since its founding in 2001 a new electoral force in Indonesian politics has emerged, that of Yudhoyono's election vehicle PD. In addition to Golkar and the PDI-P, support for other established political parties has also declined, especially the PKB of former president Wahid and the venerable PPP (third and fourth respectively in the 1999 elections). Following the template successfully implemented by Yudhoyono's PD, two other election vehicles for Suharto-era generals have also emerged since 2004. They are Gerindra (Partai Gerakan Indonesia Raya, Great Indonesia Movement Party) under the leadership of Prabowo Subianto and Wiranto's Hanura (Partai Hati Nurani Rakyat, Partai Hanura or People's Conscience Party). These new parties have contributed to an increasing fragmentation in the party system and their longevity is questionable without their charismatic leaders.  Indeed, Yudhoyono's PD is widely predicted to see its share of the vote slashed in the April parliamentary elections with its founder no longer on the ballot.
The favorite to win the 2014 presidential election is Jokowi, the current Governor of Jakarta who has yet to be officially nominated as a candidate. An opinion poll conducted in mid-January by Kompas, Indonesia's largest daily newspaper, found that he would win 43.5% of the vote, whilst another poll by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), an influential Jakarta think tank, predicted he would win 34.7%. It is widely assumed that Jokowi will be selected by Megawati's PDI-P, whom he represented in the Jakarta gubernatorial elections, and its failure to officially nominate him has angered some PDI-P members.
There has been speculation that the party's matriarch would like one last run at the presidency for herself, in which case Jokowi could be her running mate. Megawati herself has placed a distant fifth in most presidential surveys, having lost the previous two presidential elections to Yudhoyono. Jokowi has frequently appeared in public with Megawati, whether to either promote his candidacy or reflect some of the governor's personal popularity onto his party's leader. Regardless, Megawati has announced that the party will only nominate its presidential candidate after the April parliamentary elections, although this could be a strategic mistake.