Jakarta. The year 2014 is seen as the beginning of Indonesia’s new democratic era after a transitional reform period marked by two major political events: the country’s fourth democratic legislative elections and the third direct presidential race.
Following the mayhem surrounding the fall of the authoritarian New Order regime in 1998, instability still marred the first few years of the reform period, when lawmakers elected in Indonesia’s first democratic elections in 1999 made several amendments to the 1945 Constitution, revised electoral rules, created the regional autonomy law and so on to pave the way for a more democratic Indonesia.
The election of former Army general Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono in Indonesia’s first direct presidential race in 2004 gradually brought an equilibrium to the national politics, and this state of stability persisted through Yudhoyono’s second five-year term in office.
Yudhoyono’s decade in power was also marked by the archipelago’s steady economic growth and growing international profile.
The end of Yudhoyono’s presidency also marks the end of the transitional reform period, according to some analysts, and the country’s new era of “mature” democracy underwent its first test this year during the April 9 legislative election and the July 9 presidential poll.
A total of 12 political parties participated in the 2014 legislative race nationwide to elect members of the House of Representatives and provincial, district and municipal legislatures, known as DPRD. An exception was made for Aceh, where three local parties also took part in the competition for local legislative seats.
The number of parties contesting the April elections was a sharp drop from the figure in 2009, when as many as 44 parties competed for the 560 House seats. This was attributable to the introduction of a parliamentary threshold of 3.5 percent as a prerequisite for old parties seeking to compete in the 2014 legislative elections, from the 2.5 percent threshold enacted ahead of the 2009 elections. As a comparison, legislative contests in 2004 drew 24 political parties and in 1999 48 participants. That was after many years when, during the New Order reign, only three political parties had been allowed to contest elections.
The Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) finished on top in the April 9 election, with 18.95 percent of votes. The win was attributed partly to the so-called “Jokowi effect” — referring to the quick rise to popularity of PDI-P politician Joko Widodo.
The former furniture businessman from the Central Java town of Solo became a household name following his re-election as Solo mayor in 2010 and after his promotion of local car maker Esemka, which grabbed the national media attention. Joko had been building his reputation since as a populist figure, winning the heart of many Indonesians.
In 2012, the PDI-P nominated him as its candidate in the Jakarta governor’s race, and he and running mate Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, then a lawmaker of the Great Indonesia Movement Party (Gerindra), beat the incumbent, Fauzi Bowo.
In March this year, barely halfway through Joko’s term as governor, PDI-P chairwoman Megawati Soekarnoputri declared him the PDI-P’s presidential candidate, with analysts seeing it as the party’s bid to win votes in the legislative race held the following month.
Joko by then led various polls by more than 30 percentage points, with other presidential hopefuls, such as former Army general Prabowo Subianto and Golkar Party chairman Aburizal Bakrie, far behind.
The “Jokowi effect,” though, didn’t prove to be a strong enough factor to win the PDI-P enough votes to nominate a presidential candidate on its own. Under electoral law, a party is required to win at least 25 percent of votes in the legislative election or hold 20 percent of House seats to nominate a presidential candidate.
The PDI-P was therefore compelled to align with other parties to nominate Joko, a decision that enraged Prabowo, the founder of Gerindra, which had been in a coalition with the PDI-P since 2009, when Megawati ran for presidency with Prabowo as her running mate.
Prabowo, a former son-in-law of late president Suharto, in March accused Megawati and the PDI-P of breaching the so-called Batu Tulis pact they had signed in 2009, in which Megawati agreed that PDI-P would support Prabowo’s presidential bid in 2014.
The five-year coalition between the PDI-P and Gerindra thus came to an abrupt end. And the animosity continued beyond the April 9 legislative election, with both parties leading two opposing camps responsible for a presidential election considered the most divisive and bitterly contested in Indonesia’s history.
Perhaps it was due to Prabowo’s spite over Megawati’s “betrayal,” or her perceived indifference toward some parties’ approach to the PDI-P as they sought to align with the likely winner — which likely offended many of them as just two tickets (Prabowo-Hatta Rajasa and Joko-Jusuf Kalla) ended up facing off in the presidential contest.
Regardless of which factor dominated, analysts agreed that the months leading up to the July 9 election were Indonesia’s most heated political campaign season ever, marked by an emotional war of words involving supporters of both camps, waged with the help of communication devices and social media platforms.
Smear messages were broadcast daily before going viral through text messages, chat services like BlackBerry Messenger and WhatsApp, and social networking sites, especially Facebook and Twitter, as well as more traditional word of mouth.
Recipients often forwarded the messages without checking facts, treating the unsubstantiated messages as an alternative source of information at a time when the mass media, with many outlets owned or run by people with political affiliations, were deemed untrustworthy.
Citing the result of its survey conducted in May and June, polling institute PoliticaWave said most of the smear messages had targeted Joko.
Joko, a Muslim-born Javanese, was accused of being a Chinese Christian, of being part of a missionary agenda, of being a Chinese-communist and Zionist agent, and so on.
Such smearing, in a predominantly Muslim country where many of the conservative Muslim population are easily provoked by supposedly anti-Islam causes, cost Joko his popularity.
Coupled with the PDI-P elites’ perceived half-hearted support for his presidential bid, Prabowo was able to come close to Joko in polling conducted closer to the election day.
Meanwhile, Prabowo’s political machine, namely six political parties gathered under the Red-White Coalition, or KMP, was seen by analysts as having run a more effective, solid and aggressive campaign to support Prabowo’s presidency.
Most of the parties remain part of the KMP after the presidential election, forming a majority bloc in the House.
In the end, the Joko-Kalla ticket won with 53.15 percent vote. But the thin margin of victory resulted in the losing camp’s rejection of the official election result, accusing the General Elections Commission (KPU) of orchestrating “massive, structured and systematic” electoral fraud in favor of Joko-Kalla.
The KMP brought the case to the Constitutional Court, which declared a month later, on Aug. 21, that it rejected the case entirely, citing a lack of solid evidence.
The court’s verdict sealed Joko and Kalla’s win, and two months later, on Oct. 20, they were sworn in as Indonesia’s president and vice president for the next five years.
Despite the smear and negative campaign war, as well as the KMP’s disappointment over the election result, the 2014 elections were largely considered a peaceful process. There were no violent protests or riots recorded during the events.
But the political rivalry between the KMP and the pro-government Awesome Indonesia Coalition, or KIH, did not end there.
Soon after the new batch of lawmakers was sworn in on Oct. 1, the battle started at the House between the majority opposition and the minority, PDI-P-led KIH.
In what some analysts dub “vengeful politics,” the KMP won vote after vote in the House concerning several critical issues.
Their wins allowed the passage of the controversial law on regional elections and another equally contentious law on legislative bodies, known as the MD3 law.
The regional election law sparked nationwide outcry as it scrapped direct elections of regional leaders introduced during the reform era.
Much of the public anger was directed at then-president Yudhoyono, with the law being passed after lawmakers of his Democratic Party walked out of the House’s plenary session deliberating the bill.
Yudhoyono restored the direct vote mechanism by signing a regulation-in-lieu-of-law, or perppu, concerning the issue in early October, less than three weeks before leaving office.
Lawmakers have three months to decide whether to keep the perppu, otherwise they will have to begin deliberations of an entirely new law on regional elections.
They are expected to make a decision on the issue in January.
The MD3 law, meanwhile, has sparked controversy because it requires Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) investigators seek a permit from the House’s Ethics Council before it can commence investigations into a lawmaker.
This is considered a setback in the country’s antigraft war, with the House being deemed one of the most corrupt institutions in the country and the law giving lawmakers perceived immunity.
The law has also allowed the KMP to sweep up all leadership posts at the House, as well as at the People’s Consultative Assembly (MPR), as it revised the previous rule of granting the House speaker’s post automatically to the winner of preceding legislative elections; in this case the House speaker post should have gone to the PDI-P.
Even after the United Development Party (PPP), formerly a member of the KMP, changed sides to the KIH over the MPR speaker’s election debacle, the five-party KMP remains the majority in the House with a combined 314 seats (56 percent) versus the five-party KIH’s 246 seats (44 percent).
The KIH formed a resistance against the KMP’s dominance in late October, appointing its own set of House speaker and deputies, but the two opposing camps agreed to reconcile in November, before they entered a recess period in early December.
While some analysts have expressed concerns over the fate of Joko’s administration, given the opposition coalition’s domination of the House, others see it in a more positive light: as a sign of a mature democracy, where lawmakers provide a functional service of checks and balances to the government, rather than cater to its every will.