Making and Breaking Coalitions

So what’s it going to be: SBY-Kalla, Megawati-Kalla, or?

As several articles  in The Jakarta Post observe, the game of making and breaking coalitions is on for this year’s elections. The legislative elections will be held on April 9. It will be the third democratic elections in the country since the fall of Suharto in 1998.

It is of course interesting to study the polls for the elections. Who will Indonesia vote for? What values and policy platforms will be strengthened and what weakened? It is also interesting to study how the parties seek to woo voters, and how they seek to get the most influence with the votes they have.

The most recent polls (reported here) point to at least three things. One is that the three main nationalist parties – Golkar, PDI-P and Partai Demokrat – are expected to do well in the elections, securing at least half of all votes among them. Second, a survey seems to show that lots of voters identify with national party leaders rather than local candidates. As The Jakarta Post states:

In the absence of an identifiable theme, voters need a common figure as a focal point for their choice. As the CSIS data shows, nearly one-third of those who opted for the Democratic Party did so not because of the program, but because of the figure behind the party – President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

Similar numbers were also found from supporters of the PDI-P. The presence of chairwoman Megawati Soekarnoputri held twice the attraction of the party’s political platform.

Even though voters will have the choice to directly select legislative candidates, voting behavior is predominantly determined by the party’s national figure.

It is not clear from the article what type of survey data the findings are based on.

The  third interesting point is that there are lots of undecideds. Apparently half of all respondents in the CSIS survey who expressed a preference for a party, said that they could change their minds.

An interesting thing is also the point in the article that “Partai Demokrat will be the PKS of 2009”. I have been on the team that has expected substantial success for PKS. I have based this on my own experiences in Bandung district and watching the effectiveness of the PKS campaign there. That along with the upward-going trend of electoral support for the party. In last year’s gubernatorial elections, PKS did very well indeed, and campaign-wise they seem to move toward the centre of Indonesian politics, while seeking to draw the centre towards them. As Patung over at IndonesiaMatters has noted in several fine posts, PKS’s campaign has made extensive use of nationalist symbols and figures.

It has seemed to me that PKS would have a lot going for it, and I am a bit surprised that PDI-P in the survey look to do so relatively well in the elections. It is my impression that Megawati’s popularity has been on the wane, so either I am underestimating her appeal and strength among the people, or some other elements of PDI-P, its platform and organisation, have an appeal with voters?

I also consider it a weakness of Golkar and PDI-P that they have been marred by internal conflicts. PKS in this respect, and PD because of the indisputability of SBY, come off with at least a more clear and understandable platform. (I know that having a clear message is not all – or at least it should not be all – that matters in politics. But my Danish experience suggests that a government can sit for quite long by focusing on clarity of  their platform, rather than on the principles underlying that platform.)

In any case, I would be very happy to hear other people’s views on what distinguishes the different parties. On what dimensions and issues do the parties stand out? What are the relative strengths and weaknesses of various parties? What are the likely constellations of parties, and what would these entail for policy on different issues, and in different regions? And so on and on.

As The Jakarta Post states: The Race is on!

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A dull file…

"Politics is a dull file which cuts gradually and slowly arrives at its end.” (Montesquieu)

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