Indonesia – What lies ahead for Presidential Elections 2019?

On 23 February, the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) officially nominated President Joko Widodo, popularly known as President Jokowi, as its presidential candidate for the 2019 elections. The 2019 elections will be the first where both legislative and presidential elections are held on the same day since direct elections for the presidency was instituted in 2004. The latest reform follows a Constitutional Court ruling in January 2014, from a challenge to the Presidential Election Law, Law No. 42/2008, that governed the nomination and election of presidential candidates. The Presidential Election Law had stipulated that elections for legislative and presidential elections be held at least three months apart, so that only parties or coalitions that received 25 percent of the national vote or 20 percent of the parliamentary seats are able to field presidential candidates. The Court ruled that this sequential timing was unconstitutional; however, it left the legislature to decide on whether the thresholds for nomination should remain. On July 20, 2017, some 534 of the 560 lawmakers – an estimated 95.4 percent – attended a plenary session to pass the bill to maintain the thresholds. The attendance is testimonial to the significance of the bill: plenary sessions usually see less than half of the representatives of the House present. By the new law, only parties or coalitions with at least 20 percent of the seats in the legislature or 25 percent of the popular vote based on the outcome of the 2014 legislative elections are able to nominate presidential candidates. What lies ahead for the coming 2019 Presidential elections?

The threshold will certainly limit the number of candidates running for elections. So far, only President Jokowi’s candidacy has been formally announced. The President’s candidacy is supported by the National Democratic Party as well as Golkar, if not the other parties of the ruling Awesome Indonesia coalition that include the Hanura Party, the PAN (National Mandate Party), and the PPP (United Development Party). This is a big change from the 2014 elections, when the PDI-P’s surprise failure to garner the support needed to meet the threshold gave it a late start in the political jockeying among parties. Prabowo Subianto of the Gerindra party, the other presidential candidate in the 2014 elections, looks set to run as a candidate again, supported by Gerindra and the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS), and particularly following the recent win by Anies Baswedan – the candidate supported by the Gerindra party-supported– in the Jakarta gubernatorial elections. There is talk of Anies Baswedan running for elections himself, replicating President Jokowi’s strategy back in 2014, although he will clearly need the backing of a number of parties in order to cross that threshold.

An issue that will undoubtedly surface in the presidential elections is religious divisions. Religious-based parties have kept a firm hold on the electorate: indeed, in the 2014 elections, Islamic parties reported better-than-expected results that contradicted expectations of significant setbacks to religion-based parties. Even the PKS (Prosperous Justice Party), which had been caught in a sex-and-corruption scandal, lost only about 1 percent of popular support from the previous election.[1] Religion was also used successfully as a strategy to divide the popular vote in the Jakarta elections: Governor Anies had sought the support of Islamist groups, including militant groups such as the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), known for hard-line stances and attacks against minorities, during the campaign. The former and highly popular governor, Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama, who was running as the incumbent, had his election-bid upended when he was charged, and subsequently convicted, of blasphemy against the Qu’ran. Meanwhile, religiously motivated attacks have been on the rise in Indonesia, prompting the legislature to pass the President’s Perppu to ban organizations that did not support Indonesia’s ideology of Pancasila. That law has been used to disband extremist hard-line Islamist groups, such as the Hizbut Tahrir; however, critics are concerned that the law gives the government the right to disband organizations without due process of law.

As the world’s third largest democracy, and a country with the largest Muslim population in the world, many will undoubtedly be intently watching the local elections in 2018, and general elections in 2019, to see how Indonesia fares amid stalling democratization and even reversals in East and Southeast Asia.

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[1] Yap, O. Fiona. 2014. “Indonesia – Preliminary Results of the April 2014 Legislative Elections.” https://presidential-power.com/?p=1054 April 11, 2014 <accessed 5 March 2018>

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