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Fragile party coalitions

Publication Date : 19-02-2013


Weeks after Indonesia's General Elections Commission’s (KPU) announcement last month of the 10 political parties that were eligible to contest the 2014 legislative election, the focus immediately shifted away from questioning the accuracy and legality of the commission’s verification process to the intensive negotiations for the inclusion or merger of the other 24 parties that failed the commission’s administrative and factual criteria with eligible parties.

The consolidation process is far from one-way though, with both the winners and losers of the verification process having actively manoeuvred themselves into mutually beneficial positions for political mergers. For the parties that passed, new coalitions will automatically increase their profile and performance in the upcoming elections, while for the parties that failed to clear the KPU hurdle, particularly their individual members, mergers will give them opportunities to get elected and possibly have a say in the subsequent presidential election.

The latest coalition reported in the media is the inclusion of the National Ulema Awakening Party (PKNU) into the camp of the Great Indonesia Movement (Gerindra) Party on Sunday. The decision to join Gerindra, according to PKNU chairman Choirul Anam, was made after the Muslim-based party could not finalise a coalition deal with fellow Islamist United Development Party (PPP).

Previously, the Star Reform Party (PBR) had reportedly joined forces with the National Mandate Party (PAN), while a number of other political parties, such as the National Sun Party (PMB) and the Freedom Bull Nationalist Party (PNBK), have expressed their interest in following suit. Meanwhile, the Christian-based Prosperous Peace Party (PDS) has decided not to be associated with any political parties and leave its individual party members free to join any political parties ahead of the 2014 elections.

A slightly different merger mechanism arises with the decision of media baron Hary Tanoesoedibjo — and his supporters — to join the People’s Conscience Party (Hanura). Hary will be chairing Hanura’s board of patrons as part of the deal.

Hary quit the National Democrat Party (NasDem) last month and relinquished his post as the party’s head of the board of experts over “policy differences” with then chairman of the party’s National Supreme Council, Surya Paloh. Surya was later elected chairman of the party after the KPU declared it eligible for the legislative election.

Several political parties have decided to join forces with election contestants due to similarities in their political platforms. PMB opted to merge with PAN because the two claim to represent Muhammadiyah — one of the mainstream Muslim organisations. Harry decided to join Hanura as they share similar nationalist roots.

But some others, like PKNU and PNBK, have joined parties that are ideologically quite different. PKNU relies on support from followers of Nahdlatul Ulama, the largest Muslim organisation in Indonesia, while Gerindra is basically a socialist-nationalist party. PNBK is essentially a socialist-nationalist party, a sharp contrast to PAN, although the latter has declared itself an “open party”.

All of those facts, despite differences in motives, reveal that the emerging coalition of parties is motivated by short-term political gains as the 10 eligible parties have started drafting their lists of candidates for the 2014 legislative election. This pragmatic arrangement allows for the inclusion of ineligible parties, whose supporters are needed to smooth access to power.

However, without genuine ideological linkages and carefully crafted arrangements to merge leadership structures, these coalitions may create mutually detrimental friction rather than the united strength and electoral success they aimed to achieve.


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