Indonesia Election to Determine Presidential Candidates

By Margaret Conley, ABC News, Jakarta, Indonesia

Today’s Indonesian parliamentary election is crucial for the country's upcoming presidential election scheduled for July.

After weeks of campaign rallies, platform promises, and media blitzes across the sprawling archipelago of about 235 million people, it was the public’s turn to cast their ballots.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s Democrat Party is favored to win today’s voting, clearing the way for him to win a second five-year term. Yudhoyono has been largely credited with instilling stability and improving security in the country, which is the world’s third largest democracy and most populous Muslim nation.

Early results show the Democrats in the lead but not by enough to ensure Yudhoyono can rule without forming a coalition.

Only political parties (or a coalition of parties) that garner at least 25 percent of today’s popular vote, or a fifth of the 560 seat parliament, can place a presidential candidate on the ballot for the next election set for July 8.

“Setting aside three decades of fraudulent elections during the Suharto dictatorship, no Indonesian president has ever been re-elected,” said Jeffrey Winters, author and professor of politics at Northwestern University. “It would be a sign of greater democratic stability if SBY,” as Yudhoyono is known locally, “won a second term.”

Former president Megawati Sukarnoputri, daughter of Sukarno and of the Democratic Party–Struggle, is the incumbent’s main opponent, and vice president Jusuf Kalla of the Golkar Party may also run against him, leaving open the possibility of a new running mate for Yudhoyono.

These elections will set the tone for the future, domestically as well as internationally.

“The country sits on three of the world's most strategic straits, and nearly all of the oil and gas flowing to Northeast Asia flows through the archipelago,” explains Winters. “It is crucial for American security that Indonesia remains a moderate, pluralist, democratic nation.”

In sync with Indonesia’s national motto “Unity in Diversity,” voters had 38 parties to choose from.

“Every citizen has the right to express their politics, their vote,” says political analyst Sri Budi Eko Wardani of the University of Indonesia.

Turnout was expected to be high, with more than 170 million registered voters and offices and banks closed for the public holiday.

More than 500,000 election booths were spread across more than 900 islands, including the far-flung region Papua, where army helicopters were used to transport ballots.

Throughout capital city Jakarta, large color-coded paper ballots are stacked on tables at various poll locations, some set up inside tents.

Officials stood watch with police vehicles at several locations, and voters left the polling stations marked with an inked finger. The ink, estimated to last three days, was used to protect against voter fraud.

The area’s analysts are keeping close watch on the results of the smaller Islamic parties during this election.

“The irony is that the momentum of the conservative Islamic movement is stronger than ever,” says Winters, “while the Islamic parties themselves are fraught with problems of leadership, organization and corruption.”

“The consequence is they don’t have significant solid numbers to be in power,” says Chusnul Mar'iyah, former election commissioner, with the reminder that Indonesia is still a mostly moderate country.

Ensuring the legitimacy of this complicated voting process is another area in question in a country struggling to cope with corruption.

“The transparency of the results becomes an important issue,” says Mar’iyah.

“It is a logistical nightmare, because each citizen must cast four complicated ballots, each of which, when unfolded, is too large to be laid flat in the voting booth,” says Winters. “This totals nearly 700 million ballots cast by ...voters who are poorly educated in general and were not treated to very informative campaigns by the parties.”

Despite mostly peaceful voting, there was violence in Aceh pre-election and in Papua overnight, where at least five people were reportedly killed.

“It would also be an important achievement if Indonesia could once again hold peaceful elections,” says Winters, “despite being in the middle of a global economic crisis.”

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