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Mid-size parties become coalition kingmakers in Indonesia

Publication Date : 28-04-2014


Speaking in front of dozens of retired military generals at the Veterans Association (Pepabri) headquarters on Jl. Diponegoro, Central Jakarta, on Tuesday, Gerindra Party presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto took a few minutes to share the story behind his withdrawal from the Golkar Party, once the country’s largest party, and his decision to establish Gerindra in 2008.

Prabowo claimed the shortsighted interests of Golkar politicians had made him feel uneasy and prompted his decision to quit the party.

“Golkar is already in the hands of big capital owners and businesspeople. The party’s mind-set is [all about] money and trade,” said Prabowo, who contested the party’s presidential convention in 2004 but lost to Wiranto, now Hanura Party chairman.

Prabowo’s disappointment over the performance of “older” political parties came as no surprise, as his attempts to form political coalitions ahead of the presidential election have faced a major setback, with the Islamic-based United Development Party (PPP) on the verge of retracting its support for his bid due to escalating internal rifts.

As Prabowo spoke to the veterans, a dozen PPP top executives, led by chairman Suryadharma Ali, gathered in their party headquarters, which is located only 100 metres away from the Pepabri headquarters, to respond to pressure from a group of party executives and influential local leaders who wanted to annul PPP’s endorsement of Prabowo.

Suryadharma, however, ended up on the losing side of the debate, after the PPP’s national meeting held the next day in Bogor, West Java deemed that Suryadharma’s earlier support for Prabowo was against the party’s statutes.

The majority of quick counts have put the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), Golkar Party and Gerindra in the top three positions after the April 9 legislative election, garnering around 19 per cent, 14 per cent and 11 per cent of the popular vote, respectively.

With the presidential threshold set at 25 per cent of the popular vote, or 20 per cent of the total of 560 House of Representatives seats, the three parties also have the best chances of forming coalitions with the remaining nine parties in order to pave the way for the presidential bids of their respective candidates.

PDI-P presidential candidate Joko “Jokowi” Widodo is currently the only politician to have secured a ticket after his party earlier this month sealed an alliance with the Nasdem Party, which managed to secure almost 7 percent of the votes in its maiden election participation.

While Golkar’s Aburizal Bakrie needs to secure support from at least one other party after reportedly securing a deal with Hanura, which clinched at least 5 percent of the vote in the legislative election, Prabowo’s presidential bid is verging on a fiasco after the retreat of the PPP, which secured around 6 percent of the vote, from his coalition.

Gerindra deputy chairman Fadli Zon, however, said his party was still optimistic about its chances of securing official support from the PPP and other political parties for Prabowo’s bid.

“We are ready to start over in our political negotiations with the PPP after the reconciliation [of PPP executives]. We are also intensively approaching other political parties to form a coalition ahead of the presidential election,” Fadli said.

On Wednesday, for example, Prabowo reportedly paid a visit to Lembang, West Java, to meet the Prosperous Justice Party’s (PKS) chief patron Hilmi Aminuddin. The result of the meeting, however, is still unknown.

Gerindra’s efforts in seeking coalition partners, however, have been disrupted by a new move from President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, the chairman of the Democratic Party, to establish and lead a coalition of medium-sized parties.

As soon as pollsters’ quick counts of the legislative election showed that the Dems only received around 10 percent of the vote — a huge loss from the 20 percent garnered in 2009 — Yudhoyono told the press that his party was eager to cooperate with Gerindra.

But despite the party’s low vote, he seemed to be seeking a sizeable role if the Dems were invited to join a certain alliance.

“If the Democratic Party joins a coalition as merely [a means] to add more votes to reach the presidential threshold, with no significant role for us, there would be no benefit for us in the coalition. We will be independent in choosing whether to join a coalition or form an opposition camp,” Yudhoyono said in an interview published on YouTube earlier this month.

The secretary of the Dems’ supreme assembly, Jero Wacik, also recently indicated that the party remains confident about nominating its own candidate.

“The [party] with only 11 percent [of the vote] has the guts [to nominate a presidential candidate]. We netted only 1 percent less, so why shouldn’t we [do the same]?” the energy and mineral resources minister said, likely referring to Gerindra.

Yudhoyono and other executives of his party have reportedly intensified internal discussions on the topic. On Friday, Yudhoyono told participants at the party’s ongoing presidential convention that it would stay on track in trying
to have its winner nominated as a presidential candidate, brushing off analysts’ suggestions that it would be more realistic for the party to propose the convention’s winner as a running mate for Jokowi, Prabowo or Aburizal Bakrie of the Golkar Party.

Some surveys named State-Owned Enterprises Minister Dahlan Iskan as the most electable potential candidate among the convention’s 11 participants. But Pramono Edhie Wibowo, Yudhoyono’s in-law and also a contestant, is reportedly favored by the Yudhoyono family. Almost no pollsters, however, have put the electability of Dahlan or Pramono above that of Jokowi.

A day later, Yudhoyono gathered with leaders of the party’s provincial branches at his residence in Cikeas, West Java, for discussion of the same nature.

Although the plans have not yet been finalised, it was enough to change the shape of the ongoing political maneuverings, particularly in relation to mid-sized parties that now have better bargaining power to jostle for positions among the bigger parties.

Yudhoyono’s move could also cost Prabowo and Aburizal their presidential bids, said analysts.

The parties currently in talks with Prabowo and Aburizal could see Yudhoyono’s coalition as attractive enough to deserve their attention. This could make Prabowo and Aburizal’s goal of luring coalition partners even more challenging, said Arya Fernandes, a political analyst from Charta Politika.

Yudhoyono’s charisma and the fact that he is currently the incumbent government leader, according to Arya, will help the Dems to mobilise support from mid-size parties, particularly those that are currently members of the government’s coalition, including the PPP, the National Mandate Party (PAN), PKS and the National Awakening Party (PKB).

“The Dems have the esteem, as the ruling party, to nominate their own presidential candidate. Given recent developments, I can see that this option is now Yudhoyono’s priority,” he said.

PAN chairman Hatta Rajasa, who has been touted as a potential running mate for Prabowo, could also be considering joining Yudhoyono’s camp. The fact that Hatta’s daughter is married to Yudhoyono’s son has reportedly strengthened the relationship between the two parties.

“Should the Dems’ coalition materialise, Golkar and Gerindra could end up with vote shortages. So these three axes [Gerindra, Dems and Golkar] are now racing the clock to seal deals with the mid-size parties.”

He said that these mid-sized parties were becoming “wild” in their behavior, in the sense that they would be unpredictable up until the last minute of negotiations.

“Factors that must also be taken into account are the […] relationships between party leaders, and political transactions. The question ‘what do I get if I support you’ will prevail,” Arya said.

Aburizal, when asked about Yudhoyono’s possible moves on recent occasions, has appeared calm.

“One thing is for sure, for whoever wins the presidential election, the next government must secure support from more than half of the House of Representatives,” Aburizal said on the sidelines of a meeting with members of the Islamic Students Alumni Association (KAHMI) last week.

Many see Aburizal as a paradox, given his own poor electability as a presidential candidate, as opposed to the powerful electoral support for his party, which put it in second place after the April 9 legislative election, according to quick counts.

Aburizal’s statement could indicate that he is not worried about his presidential bid. Several days after the legislative election, Aburizal held a meeting with Jokowi at Golkar headquarters in Jakarta.

“We have agreed that, even though we will compete against each other, both Golkar and the PDI-P will support whoever wins the presidential election,” Aburizal said after the meeting, indicating that Golkar would still vie for a power share even if Aburizal loses the race.


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