Ruling Party the Only Significant Loser in Indonesia’s Parliamentary Elections

Ruling Party the Only Significant Loser in Indonesia’s Parliamentary Elections

By the numbers at least, there was plenty at stake in Indonesia’s April 9 parliamentary elections. On that single day, more than 200,000 candidates contested almost 20,000 seats in 532 legislatures across the country. But to what extent were these elections a referendum on the sitting government? What do the elections tell us about the July presidential election and Indonesia’s future political landscape? And what do they reveal about the state of democracy in Indonesia?

The only significant loser on election day was Partai Demokrat (PD), President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s party, which won approximately 9 percent of the national parliamentary vote—a sharp decline from the 21 percent it won in the 2009 elections. PD has been wracked by a series of high-profile corruption scandals since 2011. With corruption topping the list of most pre-election surveys of key voter concerns, the drop in the PD’s support was clearly an indictment of the party and a vote for change. This verdict on the existing government trumped Indonesian voters’ general lack of party affiliation; they tend to vote based more on the characteristics of individual candidates than on party backing under Indonesia’s open-list proportional system.

While the elections clearly shuffled Indonesia’s political deck, they delivered no knock-out blows or clear victories. PD felt the sting of voter dissatisfaction, but the party still won more votes than it did in the 2004 elections and will remain significant as the fourth- or fifth-largest party of the 10 in parliament once the final results are announced. Predictions of a precipitous decline in the overall vote for the five Islamic parties were off the mark as well. Collectively, these parties maintained their share of around 30 percent of the total vote. Individually, Islamic parties such as PAN and PKB demonstrated remarkable resilience and some campaign savvy. Meanwhile, although PDI-P won the most seats for the first time since 1999, the widely predicted “Jokowi effect”—a late surge in votes for PDI-P after the party nominated popular Jakarta governor Joko Widodo (known as Jokowi) as its presidential candidate weeks before the election—did not materialize.

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