Indonesia’s Regional Elections: A Look at West Java and North Sumatra

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Indonesia’s Regional Elections: A Look at West Java and North Sumatra

An early assessment of what recent outcomes might mean.

Indonesia’s Regional Elections: A Look at West Java and North Sumatra

In this Oct. 17, 2014 photo, Indonesian President-elect Joko Widodo, right, shakes hands with defeated candidate Prabowo Subianto in Jakarta, Indonesia.

Credit: AP Photo/Tatan Syuflana

As I observed previously, Indonesia’s simultaneous regional elections are no easy feat. Some 150 million voters will elect governors, mayors, and district heads across the country with the Election Commission (KPU) aiming for upward of 77 percent turnout.

The significance of these elections is also not to be understated: to an extent, they will offer a useful pulse check not only on where parts of the country are on key issues, but what national elections will look like next year, when Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo is running for re-election.

But not all regional elections are equal, with particularly populous provinces given far more attention than others. This week we look at two of the most talked about provincial gubernatorial races – West Java and North Sumatra – as part of a continuing effort to observe some of the more important and colorful races and understand what they mean.

No Romp in West Java

Ridwan Kamil often enjoys the same lightly critical profiling by Western media as Jokowi and former Jakarta governor Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama – illiberalism and unpopular policy are overlooked for a great narrative. In the case of Ridawn, the former Bandung mayor and now West Java governor-elect, coverage has typically but not exclusively focused on his background as an architect and his creative responses to big city issues facing the West Javan capital.

But this has also come at a cost of ignoring incidents in which he used his profile to personally attack critics and demean the LGBT community (not that that is necessarily a particularly far-right position in some strains of Indonesian politics today). That his win in this vital race is being heralded as a bolster against political Islam in the notoriously devout province is telling of just how powerful the ideology has become over the last decade.

Indonesia’s first-past-the-post voting system (with the exception of Jakarta gubernatorial races) means that quick count results showing around 33 percent of the vote for the Ridwan-Uu Ruzhanul Ulum ticket is enough for the pair to claim victory. At the time of publishing, official counts are continuing. Arguments about the merits of preferential voting aside, the result is reflective of tight polling, with runner ups Sudrajat-Ahmad Syaikhu four percentage points behind.

Ridwan and Uu ran with the support of two Islamic parties – the National Awakening Party (PKB) and the United Development Party (PPP) – and the ostensibly secular National Democratic Party and Hanura Party. With the exception of the PPP, these parties supported the Joko Widodo-Jusuf Kalla ticket in the 2014 presidential election. The province is the largest in the country and carries a heavy weight in presidential votes, turning the gubernatorial poll into a gauge of sorts ahead of next year’s election.

In this respect, the result is good but not great for the president. A sympathetic lawmaker winning on the back of a coalition of moderate supporters by one-third of the electorate is hardly a winning endorsement, particularly when the closest challenger ran with pro-Prabowo Subianto parties Gerindra and Prosperous Justice Party (PKS). Meanwhile, for the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), the party of Jokowi, candidates TB Hasanuddin and Anton Charliyan are trailing in last place, hovering at around 10 percent of the vote.

Still, the likely result is a good one for West Java. Many of the arguments in support of Ridwan focused on the work he has done in transforming Bandung through infrastructure development, creative fixes to the challenges of city life including the expansion of green spaces and revolutionizing the way citizens interact with the government through online initiatives. If he is able to roll out similar programs across the entire province – a very big if – his leadership will be an exciting time of change in West Java.

Easy Win in North Sumatra

Meanwhile, the North Sumatra race was always going to be a long shot for Djarot Saiful Hidayat, running as the PDI-P candidate. Acting and then becoming governor of Jakarta last year after Ahok was forced to stand down raised his national profile significantly but damaged him in the North Sumatra race. Born and raised in East Java, Djarot has no obvious links to the province, raising a persistent and obviously vital question – why run? Choosing Medan-based businessman Sihar Sitorus as a running mate was meant to alleviate concerns of fly-in candidature, but did little in the face of the opposing ticket.

By contrast, retired military general Edy Rahmayadi and running mate Musa “Ijeck” Rajekshah are both familiar faces in the province. Edy, considered a North Sumatran native, according to The Jakarta Post, appropriately paid dues to the Batak community after adopting the clan name “Ginting” last year when he began the long campaign last year.

The race had been billed as a tight one, with both tickets alternating topping polls but the 9 million strong vote was decisive, with just over 59 percent behind Edy-Musa. Pro-Djarot voters in Medan told VICE on the day their support had been won by his wholesome image, particularly helpful in North Sumatra where previous governors have been jailed on corruption charges. But tellingly, one voter said he was “suspicious” of the apparent ease with which Djarot had obtained the necessary identification to be eligible to run, reflecting an undercurrent of wary cynicism of supposedly “clean” lawmakers.

Party alliances have been very strong in this particular race. Third candidate Jopinus Ramli Saragih, who dropped out after his diploma was revealed as fraudulent, had been running under the Democratic Party, the National Awakening Party (PKB), and the Indonesian Justice and Unity Party (PKPI) banners. The Democratic Party shifted its backing to the Edy-Musa ticket immediately while the other two quietly sat it out. This gave the winning ticket the backing of a coalition spanning 60 seats in the local parliament, making the 20 Djarot-Sihar supporting seats look paltry in comparison.

These North Sumatra and West Java results specifically underline how much the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) is itself struggling in some of these local elections. After blowing it in the Jakarta gubernatorial, the party has produced few major wins to speak of so far. Incumbency appeared to be key to the PDI-P strategy, with Ganjar Pranowo retaining the Central Java governorship. But even here, with Ganjar facing questioning in the e-KTP scandal the following day at the Corruption Eradication Commission, it’s hardly an inspiring win.

In North Sumatra, throwing in a candidate with no connection to the area and a personal brand seen as strongly linked to Jakarta power was always going to turn out poorly. In West Java, much like in Jakarta previously, foot-dragging over whether to support Ridwan wasted time and resources better spent on supporting candidate TB Hasanuddin.

The party clearly has its collectives eyes on a solid victory for Jokowi next year, and to be sure, there might be some more encouraging storylines further on leading up to the national election. But at least thus far, some of these election outcomes have only compounded questions about PDI-P’s strength and its strategy for consolidating political power.