Upcoming parliamentary and presidential elections in Indonesia are heating up after the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle’s (PDI-P) announcement that Jakarta’s popular governor, Joko Widodo (known as “Jokowi”), will run for president. As the vastly favored candidate, Jokowi’s popularity offers promise for consolidation of democracy.
Improvement in Indonesia’s democratic credentials would not come a moment too soon. Indonesia governance was recently downgraded by Freedom House from “free”—a designation it has for many years been the only Southeast Asian nation to hold—to “partly free.” Parliamentary elections are to be held on April 9, and all parties that acquire 25 percent of the national vote or 20 percent of the parliamentary seats will put forth candidates for the presidential election on July 9.
Indonesia is a multi-party democracy in which parties form broad coalitions in parliament in order to garner enough support to achieve consensus. Under the leadership of current President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, this has led to a certain lack of accountability in Indonesia’s governance. PDI-P is one of the few parties—and by far the largest and most consequential—that has maintained its posture as a true opposition party.
Yudhoyono has been forced to form a politically diversified cabinet that limited the power of the executive and made him beholden to various parties’ special interests. This has limited his success in implementing and passing legislation.
Jokowi’s decision to run as a PDI-P candidate has revitalized the party and given it new hope for resurgence. PDI-P is the legacy of Indonesia’s first President Sukarno. Many considered it a dying party following successive defeats in the 2004 and 2009 presidential elections. While Jokowi is popular among Indonesians—and PDI-P has a very positive non-sectarian history—some have expressed concerns that PDI-P’s nationalist leanings will negatively impact the openness of Indonesia’s markets.
Nonetheless, election watchers anticipate a strong performance for PDI-P and believe that Jokowi’s wave of popularity could lead to a more unified coalition in parliament.
The Freedom in the World report, compiled every year by Freedom House, attributes Indonesia’s downgrade to a new law that restricts the activities of nongovernmental organizations by limiting their freedom of expression, infringing on religious freedom, and restricting freedom of association. Given PDI-P’s history, one can hope that its resurgence will lead to improvement in economic freedom—whoever wins the election.
The 2014 elections could usher in an era of change in Indonesia. It is essential that the new leader of the country emphasize the importance of freedom in civil society and represent the true interests of the people, not the watered-down interests of a consensus government.