I love Jakarta, but as anyone who has spent hours in traffic can attest, the city can be downright frustrating at times. Being the naive optimist that I am, I believe that the right governor can solve Jakarta’s myriad problems. This is one reason why the Jakarta gubernatorial election is so important. There is an undercurrent to the election that will not only impact Jakarta, but potentially Indonesia as a whole.
Many see fascinating parallels in the ongoing Jakarta gubernatorial election. It’s a David versus Goliath story, one of my friends says, with the incumbent insider, Fauzi Bowo, and his political connections against the challenger, Joko Widodo, from a small town, Solo.
No, my other friend counters, it’s the Bureaucrat versus the Businessman, pointing to challenger Jowo’s past as a furniture entrepreneur before he became mayor of Solo.
Yet others opine that this is simply a contest between two ideologies. One has the hip, if garish, checkered shirt, whereas the other sports something more traditional that has stood the test of time: a moustache. Others even claim — albeit in the “privacy” of a videotaped sermon — that it really is a contest between the Devout and the Infidel. While respecting most of the aforementioned opinions, I postulate that the most important contest of all is one less obvious: The Party versus the People.
Joko handily won the first round, winning 43 percent of the vote, a much higher number than Fauzi’s 34 percent. The result was nothing short of a disaster for the incumbent.
Consider the math. Let’s assume that people who voted Joko or Fauzi in the first round will stick with their original choice in next week’s second round. That means Fauzi now has to win over a staggering two-thirds of those who voted for the other four candidates. That is a huge challenge even in the best of times.
Fauzi, realizing he has a mountain to climb, has since secured the support of pretty much all other political parties except Joko’s original supporters, the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) and the Great Indonesia Movement Party (Gerindra). Joko, on the other hand, has gone the other direction by continuing to cultivate the people directly.
Thus arises the question: will people vote for the candidate their party supports, or will they vote independent of their party affiliations? If they vote along party lines, then Fauzi will win handily — the parties supporting him won an impressive 85 percent of Jakarta’s vote in 2009’s legislative elections. If voters vote independent of party, then Joko is likely to win — after all he “only” has to get 7 percent more votes. If this happens, it will be nothing short of a seismic shift in Indonesia’s political landscape.
It’s a landscape that has always been dominated by parties. There are several reasons for this. First there is a structural reason: the political party nominates all candidates for political posts, even for the presidency. The bar for an independent’s candidacy is usually discouragingly high. In a setting where each political party fields more than one candidate, such as 2009’s legislative elections, their power is even more pronounced.
Through the nomor urut (number order) system, in which parties choose the order of candidates on the ballot paper, they can essentially tilt the odds to a particular candidate. Candidates ranked number one by a mid-level party will almost be assured election whereas a same-party candidate ranked number two might have the same odds of being elected as Liverpool does of winning the Premier League (sorry Liverpool fans!).
The second reason is financial: election campaigns are expensive, and parties are better-equipped to do effective fund-raising. The third reason is vote-gathering capabilities: parties are able to effectively collect votes for their candidates, through membership loyalty and ability to mobilize people to the voting booths.
The structural reason is not likely to disappear any time soon. The financial reason is a function of network and organization and therefore an inherent advantage for any party. Even in very advanced democracies like the US you see the incredible job parties do in fund-raising. However the third reason, the vote-gathering capability, is in question. Are voters really that loyal to their parties in Indonesia?
In the United States, the two main parties are complete opposites in philosophy and ideology. Loyalty to a particular party, once formed, is therefore fairly permanent. But can you really name the ideological differences between the Golkar Party and Indonesia’s Democrats?
For that matter, aside from the obvious Islamic tint of some parties, can you really name an ideological difference between any of Indonesia’s political parties, something equivalent to the arguments that we see in the United States?
Taking the US example further, we see that in their elections the results are pretty much automatic: 40 percent will vote Republican, 40 percent will vote Democrat, with 20 percent being the swing vote that decides elections. Is Indonesia the same? Or is Indonesia the other way around, with 80 percent swing voters and 20 percent party voters?
This is what makes the Jakarta election so fascinating. What will Jakarta do? Will the parties prevail once more, or will the people be victorious? Even more interesting, how will this influence the 2014 presidential elections?
The Party or the People? We’ll find out on Sept. 20. Isn’t it exciting?
Dharma Djojonegoro is the CEO of a leading Indonesian mining services provider who lives in South Jakarta with his family.