Indonesia’s next governing-coalition: taking a progressive turn?

Now that the votes are (almost) counted, and parties know exactly what they have to bargain with, party elites will get to work in forming two types of coalition; one to nominate a president/vice-president pair, and one to govern. Sketching a likely scenario of what an eventual governing coalition might look like suggests that Indonesia could be on the cusp of a progressive turn.

First, coalitions will aim to officially nominate a president/vice-president pair for the presidential election due on 9 July. To do this, a party, or a coalition of parties, must reach 25% of the popular vote or 20% of lower house seats. Polls had suggested that the PDI-P might reach this threshold on its own, but that now seems far from certain. That means, all parties will now be scrambling to build a coalition that in total brings them above either of the thresholds in order to nominate a president/vice-president pair. The groundwork for many of those alliances has been laid behind the scenes for months – and has been the fodder of the media for even longer.

But while the coalitions for presidential elections are important, within weeks, parties will also have to form a governing coalition which commands a majority in the House of Representatives (DPR) during the parliamentary period of 2014-2019. In effect, parties will begin to ask themselves whether they want to be part of a PDI-P-led government, or not. It is almost certain now that from 2014 until the next legislative elections in 2019, the PDI-P will hold the highest number of seats in the house. In addition, it is increasingly likely that Jokowi will be elected president on 9 July. As a result, parties will either have to fall in line with a PDIP-led government, or endure five long years in opposition. With this in mind, it’s now time to sketch out a possible scenario of what the PDI-P-led ruling coalition could look like.

The cover of an April issue of Tempo Magazine

The cover of an April 2014 issue of Tempo Magazine

According to media reports – most recently in Tempo Magazine – the PDI-P is inclined to work with the National Awakening Party (PKB) and the National Mandate Party (PAN). Both are linked to the two largest moderate Islamic organizations, Nahdlatul Ulama and Muhammadiyah respectively. A coalition with these two parties would anchor the “secular-nationalist” PDI-P firmly in the pluralist Muslim centre. Tempo also reported that head of Nasdem, media owner Surya Parloh, has been schmoozing up to Megawati for some time.

But a coalition of the PDI-P with these three medium-sized parties will not be enough to form a stable majority-government, despite their surprisingly strong performance in the legislative election. In short, the PDI-P will need the support of one of the medium-sized parties – Gerindra, Golkar or the Democratic Party – to form a stable coalition.

It seems unlikely that PDI-P and Gerindra can work together for a number of reasons. First, Megawati supposedly betrayed the “Batu Tulis Agreement” – an agreement dating from 2009 between the PDI-P and Gerindra according to which Megawati was to support Prabowo for the presidency in 2014, after he ran as her VP in 2009. Second, Jokowi is likely to steal the presidency from Prabowo after Gerindra supported him to run in the Jakarta governor election in 2012. Last, and most importantly, over the coming three months, PDI-P and Gerindra are likely to throw more dirt at each other as the presidential race will pit Jokowi against Prabowo.

As to a deal between the PDI-P and the Democratic Party, the well-known personal animosity between Megawati and SBY means that the Democratic Party is also an unlikely coalition partner for the PDI-P. That leaves Golkar as the only party that can offer enough supportive House of Representatives seats to the PDI-P when it comes to passing legislation. And what better party to govern with than the party that hasn’t spent a day in opposition since – well, ever. Despite on election night expressing coy ambiguity over Golkar’s prospect of joining a PDI-P-led coalition, Bakrie has previously indicated that Golkar will not go into opposition.

In sum, a PDI-P-Golkar-PKB-PAN-Nasdem alliance would not only be a stable coalition, but a progressive one. This becomes clear once we take note of who would sit in opposition in such a scenario: Gerindra, Hanura, Democratic Party, PPP and PKS.

The first three of these parties – Gerindra, Hanura and Democratic Party are personal vehicles for their (former military) leaders. After Prabowo’s likely loss against Jokowi on 9 July, the man – and with him the party – are likely to wither away from their current place in the spotlight. Similarly, it is hard to imagine Hanura surviving another five years merely as a vehicle for Wiranto’s, by now solidly squashed, presidential ambitions, although a question remains over where Hary Tanoesoedibjo can take the party after 2014. Finally, the Democratic Party has already seen a dramatic decline, in large part as a result of a series of corruption scandals. If the party is indeed excluded from government, SBY and his party will not stop falling for some time, admittedly after a decade at the top.

Then there are the Islamic parties: The Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) and the United Development Party (PPP). Both have been part of SBY’s governing coalition, and both played a deciding role in Indonesia losing its international reputation as home to a moderate and progressive Islam. In particular, one could single out Suryadharma Ali, PPP chairman and (almost former) Minister of Religious Affairs, who in recent years oversaw the tightening space for religious minorities, and who in recent days appeared on stage with Prabowo.

In short, under the scenario I have sketched out, personalized parties that exist purely to fulfil the presidential ambitions of their ex-military leaders, as well as the conservative slice of Islamic parties, are relegated to opposition benches. Instead, the most consistent defender of pluralist values – the PDI-P – together with the moderate Islamic parties, takes the levers of government.

With a PDI-P-led government, in which PAN and PKB represent the moderate Islamic voice, and Golkar makes sure the machine putters along, Indonesia could be on the cusp of a surprisingly progressive turn in Indonesian politics.

Dominic Berger (dominic.berger@anu.edu.au) is a PhD candidate at the Department of Political Social Change at the Australian National University.

About Dominic Berger