Opinion: A guide to the 2004
International Crisis Group (ICG), Jakarta
Indonesia faces at least two and probably three national
elections in 2004, including a presidential vote, but they are
unlikely to bring fundamental change. Citizens are increasingly
disillusioned with the half-decade of democracy and "money
politics" they have experienced since the collapse of
Soeharto's authoritarian New Order.
The first election, on April 5, 2004, will fill almost 16,000
seats in legislatures at the national, provincial and district
levels. The second, on July 5, 2004, will be its first direct
presidential vote ever. If, as is almost certain, no candidate meets
the criteria for election in the first round, a run-off between the
top two vote-getters will take place on Sept. 20. The process needs
to be completed before President Megawati Soekarnoputri's term
expires on Oct. 20.
Public disillusionment with the performance of democratic
government since the first post-authoritarian election in 1999 has
been spreading rapidly. The elected government is widely seen as
having failed to cope with the massive challenges that the nation is
facing. Elected politicians at all levels are commonly perceived as
venal and corrupt.
And the ordinary people who constitute the poor majority complain
that democracy has not brought any improvement in their economic
welfare. Indeed, a credible public opinion poll indicated that 58
percent of respondents believe that conditions were better under
Soeharto's New Order.
Political reformers have called for a thorough overhaul of the
constitution and the electoral system to ensure that leaders are
responsive and accountable to the voters. The most important reform
has been the adoption of direct presidential elections in place of
the indirect system that was mired in the backroom dealing of
political parties and "money politics".
Reform of elections to the legislatures has been more limited.
Apart from the removal of appointed military and police
representatives, those bodies will be elected through proportional
representation, much the same way as before.
The main difference is that the old province-based constituencies
will be reduced in size in the large provinces so that
representatives, theoretically at least, will be closer to their
constituents. This limited reform, however, may entrench rather than
overcome the political fragmentation that has bedeviled
Public opinion surveys indicate that the two leading parties in
1999 -- President Megawati's PDI-P and Golkar, the party of the
Soeharto government -- are again likely to occupy the top positions.
However, the polls suggest that many who voted for the underdog PDI-P
in 1999 have been alienated by its behavior and are returning to
Among potential presidential candidates, Megawati retains the
most support, but the gap is narrowing. Golkar, however, has been
unable to capitalize on its growing support because of inability to
determine its presidential candidate. The party's chairman, Akbar
Tanjung, is appealing against a three-year prison sentence for
corruption. Meanwhile seven potential candidates (including Akbar)
remain in the race for the party's nomination, which will be
determined only in April 2004.
Six months ahead of the first round of the presidential election,
four possible scenarios suggest themselves.
If the PDI-P clearly wins most votes, it is likely that Golkar
will be satisfied with the vice-presidency and will join a coalition
supporting the re-election of President Megawati.
If Golkar wins more votes than -- or roughly the same number as
-- PDI-P, it is likely to nominate its own presidential candidate.
Following Golkar's "pre-convention" in October 2003,
retired Gen. Wiranto has emerged as a leading candidate.
The second possibility, however, could lead to a nightmare for
Golkar. If it nominates its own candidate, Megawati could respond by
offering her party's vice-presidential nomination to a Golkar
candidate, perhaps Akbar Tanjung or Coordinating Minister for
People's Welfare Jusuf Kalla. This could not only split Golkar's
votes, but lead to a major division within the party itself.
The PDI-P's nightmare scenario, on the other hand, follows from
the first scenario above. A Megawati-Golkar team would almost
certainly come out far ahead of its nearest rival in the first round
of the presidential election although without sufficient support to
win outright in that round.
The candidate running second might take only 10 to 15 percent of
the votes but could then launch an "Anyone-But-Mega"
campaign in the second round. Such a campaign could mobilize Muslim
votes against the secular-nationalist Megawati. The most dangerous
potential run-off rival for Megawati would be the current chairman
of the People's Consultative Assembly, Amien Rais, although his
prospects of reaching the second round seem bleak.
Another dangerous rival would be Coordinating Minister for
Political and Security Affairs General (Ret.) Susilo Bambang
Yudhoyono, if his tiny Democrat Party is able to secure the backing
of one of the larger parties. In December 2003 another possible
challenger emerged, former President Soeharto's eldest daughter,
Siti Hardijanti Rukmana, but her chances look slim at this stage.
Whatever the result of the presidential election, the next
government will be based on a coalition of rival parties. In the
absence of a strong leader capable of imposing cohesion on such a
government, its performance will be hamstrung by many of the
problems that hampered the previous three.