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Jokowi's new challenge is to gain control of Parliament

Publication Date : 26-08-2014


Now that the legal challenge to his election victory has been resolved, president-elect Joko Widodo faces a new battlefront: control of the new Parliament.

After the new crop of MPs are sworn in on Oct 1, the four parties backing Joko, commonly called Jokowi, will have 37 per cent of the seats in Parliament.

But already members of Golkar and the Muslim-based United Development Party (PPP) - two of the six parties in defeated presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto's coalition - have been strongly urging their parties to switch sides.

For now, it appears likely that the PPP will cross over soon, which will raise Joko's support level in Parliament to 44 per cent.

The party's decision to support Prabowo earlier this year had been opposed by many members. Former PPP chairman Hamzah Haz was vice-president when Megawati Sukarnoputri, the chairman of Joko's Indonesian Democratic Party - Struggle (PDI-P), was president from 2001 to 2004.

In the case of Golkar, however, attempts by pro-Jokowi members to move a party congress forward to October may not succeed, leaving Aburizal Bakrie, a Prabowo ally, still at the helm.

But even if Golkar remains in Prabowo's coalition, the parties will control only 46 per cent of the seats.

This is because outgoing president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's Democratic Party, which holds 10 per cent of seats, has said that it will act as a "balancing" force, supporting the government on policies it sees as beneficial to the people and opposing those that are not.

What all these figures mean is that the Jokowi government may have a hard time winning support in the House for major policies.

Still, some political observers believe that things can still change even after Joko is sworn in on Oct 20.

"Things are still fluid. Jokowi's advantage is that he does not have a burden from the past, like strained relations with leaders of parties his current coalition may get additional backing from," Dimas Oky Nugroho of research outfit Akar Rumput Strategic Consulting told The Straits Times.

Coalition-building talks and negotiations are gathering pace, similar to what happened after the April general election results were announced and in the lead-up to the May 20 nomination deadline for the July 9 presidential election.

Senior members of Joko's team say a deal can be agreed to not only before but also afterJoko's administration starts work in October.

Given that the ruling and opposition coalitions could end up with near equal support in Parliament, Jokowi aides see a possible scenario in which both sides need the Democrats' help to secure the deciding vote.

The best scenario is one where Golkar, which has 15 per cent of seats, comes on board.

This will give the Jokowi administration more than 50 per cent of parliamentary seats and ensure that government reforms or policies will get parliamentary backing more easily.

Said Nusron Wahid, a Golkar MP who was sacked from the party for supporting Joko but is contesting the expulsion in court: "Our side needs to have either Golkar or the Democratic Party plus PPP on board. We will strive to achieve that."

Dimas sees a higher chance of the Democrats joining Joko's side, in view of Dr Yudhoyono's commitment to ensuring a smooth transition for the new administration.

"Supporting Jokowi would be positive for the party (Democrats) and could even reshape its image, as people know that Jokowi avoids political transactions," he added.

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