Archive for the 'Political coalitions' Category

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!

PDI-P and PKS for President and Veep: Or, William Riker goes to Indonesia

In 1962, political scientist William Riker published The Theory of Political Coalitions. The key idea in this book was that of the minimum winning coalition, for short MWC, which goes like this:

Politicians seek to maximise votes in order to maximise seats in parliament, in order to win the cabinet. The less parties you have to share with, the more seats you get in cabinet. A political coalition is a zero-sum game with (partially) rational actors. Each actor has full information about the weight of other players (coalition building takes place after votes are counted), and parties cannot share a ministerial position. What one actor has, the other loses.

Therefore, parties will seek to form a coalition that is as small as possible, while still winning. That may not be so odd, but Riker went further to say that parties do not give anything for policy, so they will  form whatever coalition they like, regardless of policy.

Now, you might say that this is plain silly. Because we know that parties have profiles, and some profiles just do not match. Would a far-right party gladly join a far-left party if the votes add up? Noo. Besides, if voters are expected to be rational, they would be quick to punish parties that do not keep their promises. You might go on to observe that Riker’s theory actually predicts only few cases. For Riker, though, this was not important. What is important was that his theorem gets you thinking about what explains varying constellations of coalitions, including size and durability.

Political scientists have long pondered his theorem, refining and deepening our understanding of the workings of different systems. They note that a coalition must not only be WINNING, it must also be VIABLE, which often means that members of a coalition must be relatively closely positioned, for instance on a ‘left-right’  policy dimension. They note that a,s a rule of thumb, ruling is costly in terms of votes; voters will usually punish the government in the next elections, hence it can be a good idea for a coalition at the outset to be larger than minimum. Further, there are differences between how influential the government is, as opposed to the opposition. For instance, in the Danish system, we had a minority government for several years taking the lead on fiscal and monetary policy while largely following the word of the opposition as regards foreign policy. All these points, and more like them, help to explain why only a small number of actual coalitions resemble the minimum winning coalition in Riker’s understanding.

Every now and then, however, political events present us with what seems at the outset a pure form of Riker’s minimum winning coalition. The most recent I have seen is this Jakarta Post article reporting that in the upcoming presidential elections, a coalition between PDI-P (People’s Democratic Party of Struggle) and PKS (Prosperous Justice Party) fares very well in a poll.

The poll says that Susilo, the incumbent president, is the most popular presidential candidate, but that with his current vice president, Jusuf Kalla, the team would only get 20 per cent. With Yogyakarta sultan Hamengkubuwono X, Susilo should get ten percentage points more, but still be behind the pair of Megawati of PDI-P and Hidayat Nuw Wahid of PKS.

As the Jakarta Post article states:

“Indonesian Science Institute (LIPI) researcher Alfan Alfian said the Puskaptis survey was suggesting an almost unthinkable coalition of the PDI-P and the PKS in the presidential election. “It is interesting because the two parties promote different ideologies,” he said.”

The response, so far, from PDI-P is:

“We will study the survey, including its methodology and respondents… We will open our minds to public aspirations, including opinion surveys. We want to know the public’s response if Megawati pairs with Hidayat, Akbar Tanjung, Sultan or Kalla.