What Indonesia’s Election Result Means For the Ruling PDI-P

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ASEAN Beat | Politics | Southeast Asia

What Indonesia’s Election Result Means For the Ruling PDI-P

Cast into opposition for the first time in two decades, the PDI-P has a critical role to play as a check on the incoming administration’s power.

What Indonesia’s Election Result Means For the Ruling PDI-P

Presidential candidate Ganjar Pranowo of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) shows his ballot before casting it during the election in Semarang, Indonesia, Feb. 14, 2024.

Credit: AP Photo/Wenes Furqon

On Wednesday, Indonesia held simultaneous elections for the presidency and its national and regional legislative assemblies. The results revealed a complex political landscape. Based on quick counts from various survey institutions and Kompas daily R&D, the ruling Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) faced a setback in the presidential election but performed well in the legislative election. Although the official results will not be released until next month, they offer a clear indication of PDI-P’s current position and the role it should play.

The PDI-P encountered a significant challenge in the presidential race, as its supported presidential candidate, Ganjar Pranowo, until recently the governor of Central Java, secured only around 16-18 percent of the vote. This was well behind both ex-Jakarta Governor Anies Baswedan, who garnered 24-26 percent, and the eventual victor, Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto, who achieved a commanding victory with approximately 56-58 percent of the votes according to various quick count results. Prabowo’s victory marks a pivotal moment in Indonesian politics, signifying a shift in the electorate’s preferences and a potential realignment of political forces.

The defeat of the Ganjar-Mahfud ticket, particularly in traditional PDI-P strongholds such as Central Java, East Java, and Bali, reveals a complex interplay of voter dynamics that transcends party loyalty. Despite its setback in the presidential election, the PDI-P’s candidates performed well in the legislative portion of the election. According to quick count results from Litbang Kompas, the party secured the highest share of votes in the national legislature, winning 17-18 percent of the vote, followed by Golkar, Gerindra, and the National Awakening Party.

The party’s success in the legislative arena reaffirms its enduring strength and resilience as a stalwart of the nation’s political scene. This paradoxical shift underscores the broader narrative of political realignment and the emergence of new fault lines in the Indonesian electorate. It also compels the PDI-P to reassess its strategies and redefine its role in the evolving political landscape after being the ruling party for the past 10 years.

The PDI-P’s strong performance in the legislative elections stands as a testament to the party’s enduring strength and resilience. This outcome reaffirms the PDI-P’s stronghold in the legislative domain. It provides a crucial platform for the party to recalibrate its political strategy and reassert its influence as a formidable opposition force.

However, the significance of the PDI-P’s legislative triumph cannot be overstated in the context of Prabowo Subianto’s ascendancy to the presidency, which could signal a shift toward competitive authoritarianism in Indonesia. Competitive authoritarianism, characterized by the illusion of electoral competition while the principles of fairness and equality are eroded away, is reminiscent of the political trajectory in Russia under Vladimir Putin.

In this context, the PDI-P’s role as a counterbalance to the ruling administration could be indispensable for preserving the democratic fabric of the nation. Concerns about this shift are rooted in several factors, including allegations of electoral fraud, as highlighted in the “Dirty Vote” film, released last week, which alleged that President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo had made efforts to manipulate the electoral outcome in favor of Prabowo and his running mate, Gibran Rakabuming Raka, who happens to be Jokowi’s eldest son. Additionally, Prabowo’s background as a former son-in-law of the dictator Suharto and his record of human rights violations raise apprehensions about his commitment to democratic principles.

Moreover, the tendency of some of Prabowo’s supporters to silence criticism by reporting dissenters to the police reflects an intolerance toward freedom of expression, a fundamental pillar of democracy. These elements combined suggest that Prabowo’s presidency could potentially steer Indonesia toward a more authoritarian style of governance, where the trappings of electoral competition exist, but the essence of democracy is undermined.

The asset of opposition that the PDI-P brings to the table could be invaluable at this critical juncture. With a significant representation in the legislature, the PDI-P has the opportunity to champion the cause of democratic integrity, transparency, and accountability. The party can leverage its legislative clout to scrutinize government policies, advocate for reforms, and mobilize public opinion in favor of democratic principles.

Furthermore, the PDI-P’s return to the opposition bench after a decade in power presents a unique opportunity to redefine its political identity and reconnect with its grassroots support base. By championing the cause of social justice, economic equity, and political inclusivity, the PDI-P can rejuvenate its ideological appeal and strengthen its position as a vanguard of democracy in Indonesia.

The imperative for the PDI-P to embrace its role as an opposition party extends beyond the mere mechanics of legislative balance. It is rooted in the party’s ideological foundations and its historical commitment to championing the underprivileged and marginalized segments of Indonesian society. The PDI-P’s leftist leanings, inspired by Sukarnoism or “Marhaenism,” emphasize social justice, nationalism, and the empowerment of the ordinary people, or marhaen. This ideological stance naturally positions the PDI-P as a party that can effectively critique and counterbalance policies that may favor elitist interests or undermine social equity.

The return to an opposition role also aligns with the PDI-P’s inherent characteristics as a party with a militant and loyal grassroots base. This grassroots network, cultivated over decades, provides the PDI-P a robust platform for mobilizing public opinion and organizing resistance against undemocratic governance shifts. The PDI-P has a storied history as a formidable opposition force during the Suharto era, showcasing its resilience and dedication to democratic values. Under the leadership of Megawati Sukarnoputri, the party then ascended to power, further solidifying its significance in the political landscape through the presidencies of Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (2004-2014) and Jokowi (2014-2024). All this puts the party in an ideal position to provide a robust opposition counterweight to Prabowo’s administration.

The role of a strong opposition is crucial in the context of competitive authoritarian regimes, where the ruling party often seeks to co-opt or neutralize potential challengers. By maintaining its distinct political identity and ideological clarity, the PDI-P can prevent the erosion of democratic norms and ensure that the political arena remains a space for genuine contestation and debate. This is particularly important for safeguarding the rights of minority groups and ensuring that the government remains accountable to all segments of society.

For the PDI-P, embracing the opposition mantle has strategic implications for the party’s future. It would allow the PDI-P to distance itself from unpopular government policies and reposition itself as a champion of the people’s interests, particularly the wong cilik (ordinary people). This can be a valuable asset in rebuilding the party’s image and regaining public trust, especially in the aftermath of an electoral setback. The PDI-P can galvanize its base and attract new supporters disillusioned with the status quo by articulating a clear and coherent alternative vision for Indonesia.

However, the road ahead for the PDI-P as an opposition party is fraught with challenges. The party must strike a delicate balance between constructive criticism and collaboration. It is imperative that the PDI-P’s opposition is not perceived as obstructionist but as a genuine effort to enhance governance and uphold democratic values. Moreover, the PDI-P must remain vigilant against attempts to undermine its political legitimacy and suppress its voice in the legislative assembly. The party must harness the power of digital media and grassroots mobilization to amplify its message and galvanize public support for its democratic agenda.

This week’s Indonesian elections have underscored the critical importance of a vibrant and resilient opposition in safeguarding the nation’s democratic ethos. The PDI-P’s consistent success in the legislative elections positions the party as a pivotal force in the political landscape, capable of challenging the drift toward the next ruling administration. Should the quick count results closely align with the official election outcomes as declared by the General Election Commission, it is imperative that the PDI-P remains vigilant and does not succumb to the allure of Prabowo’s post-election narrative of unity, which, in essence, seeks to diminish the role of opposition in Indonesia.

The absence of robust checks and balances within the government structure is detrimental to the health of the nation’s democracy. The Indonesian populace desperately needs a well-informed, resilient, critical, and articulate opposition. Historical precedents demonstrate that the PDI-P is uniquely positioned to fulfil this role, if it so chooses.