Monday, February 13, 2017

Reflections on the Indonesian elections

I know far less than I should about the Indonesian system of Government. I mention this now because of the elections to be held next Wednesday, 15  February 2017.

According to Wikipedia, at sub-national level Indonesia is divided into provinces.There are presently 34 provinces of which eight including Acheh  and the Jakarta Special Capital Region have special status.

Each province is headed by a governor and has its own legislative body, called Dewan Perwakilan Rakyat Daerah (literally "Regional People's Representatives Assembly"). Governors and representative members are elected by popular vote for five-year terms.

In turn, provinces are made up of regencies and cities with their own local governments and parliamentary bodies. A regency is headed by a regent (Indonesian: Bupati), and a city is headed by a mayor (Indonesian: Wali kota). With the exception of the Jakarta Special Capital Region where the Governor of Jakarta has the power to appoint and dismiss mayors and regent within the Region, the regent or mayor and the representative council members are also elected by popular vote for a term of 5 years.

In turn, regencies and cities are broken up into districts.

Provincial elections are held on a rolling basis. In this election, electors are electing governors of seven provinces, mayors and regents for 18 cities, as well as local leaders in 76 districts. There are a total of 41 million eligible voters and 337 pairs of candidates for the Feb 15 polls.

Much attention has been focused on the race for the Jakarta Special Capital Region. where incumbent Basuki Tjahaja Purnama (popularly known as Ahok), a Christian Chinese Indonesian, has been subject to blasphemy charges following a campaign by the Islamic Defenders Front  The campaign included mass street protests reportedly attended by more than a million demonstrators, many bused in for the occasion.

 The campaign against Ahok has received considerable negative coverage outside Indonesia. (Here, here are examples). While I share the concerns, I am cautious about coming to judgement at this point.I simply don't know.

What does seem to be clear, is that all Ahok's opponents are using the affair to their own political advantage, playing to divides in Indonesian society for political gain. This includes action to try to force his suspension from office as Governor; his present term expires in October.

I guess my instinctive reaction is to say so what's new? The approach followed by the various protagonists including the appeal to religious and ethnic prejudice for political gain is not dissimilar from what happens in this country, The key issue is how those actions play out over time.

In the short term, the public opinion polls  (I have no ability to judge the polls) suggest that Ahok retains a solid base of support despite the campaigns. No candidate seems likely to score more than 50% of the vote, so a run-off will be necessary. With one exception that would seem to be an out-rider, Ahok has been consistently holding at one or two in the polls, meaning that he will go through to a second round. In that event, expect more agitation.

In the longer term, we just have to wait and see how things work out. Indonesia is a complex country still defining its position. I may be wrong, but I think that Indonesia will work its way through the various conundrums, if with the normal hiccups along the way.

Certainly I hope so. In Australian terms, Indonesia is a critical partner. It's also a partnership where in both economic and political power terms, Indonesia to Australia is becoming like Canada to the US or Australia to New Zealand as Australia declines in relative terms, Indonesia advances.

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