Winners and losers in Indonesia's elections

27 May 2009
Paul Barber, TAPOL

Despite serious problems with flawed voter lists and complicated voting procedures, last month’s elections in Indonesia passed off relatively peacefully with a rainbow of secular and religious parties winning seats in the national parliament and regional assemblies. 

An analysis of the winners and losers is provided in ‘A victory for mainstream politics in Indonesia’, published online today by TAPOL in its latest Election Update.

The victory by Partai Demokrat, the party of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, known as SBY, came as no surprise.  Numerous opinion polls had given him a commanding lead in popularity ratings despite the many economic and humanitarian problems faced by his administration since he was elected President in 2004.

The two other main secular-nationalist parties, Golkar, the electoral vehicle of the Suharto dictatorship, and the Indonesian Democracy Party of Struggle (PDI-P) of former President Megasawti Sukarnoputri, also won significant support, but each fared worse than in 2004.

One of the most striking aspects was the decline in popularity of the Muslim parties.  On average, they have won around 40 percent of the votes in previous elections, but this time saw their share slump to 29 percent.  This is partly due the fact that the three secular parties have been able to accommodate large sections of the Muslim vote.

West Papua, where the elections were marred by violence, has benefited little from the democratic transition since the downfall of Suharto.  The Papuan electorate was allowed to vote only for national parties, none of which showed any great interest in addressing the pressing problems confronting the Papuan people.  By contrast, the people of Aceh were able to set up local parties with the result that one of them, Partai Aceh, won almost half the votes for the local assemblies.

A disturbing feature was the relative success of the new parties established by former generals Prabowo and Wiranto, both implicated in serious human rights violations.  The presidential contest will now be overshadowed by the fact that all three Presidential/Vice Presidential duos include a former general, including SBY, on the ticket.  It is a concern that Indonesia still has many retired generals with ambitions to win a position at the very highest level of governance. 

Current polls suggest that SBY and his running mate, Boediono, will score a landslide victory on 8 July without the need for a second round.

The latest news on this and other election issues is available from TAPOL’s fortnightly news digests.