Indonesia’s presidential election: Divided government?

Indonesia’s presidential election was earlier today–or yesterday, depending on where in the world you are.

Both candidates are claiming victory, but contacts I have who follow Indonesia tend to put more credibility in the claims of Jakarta governor Joko “Jokowi” Widodo.

Legislative elections were held in April, under Indonesia’s “counterhoneymoon” cycle. In those elections, the largest party emerged with 19.0% of the votes and 109 of the 560 seats (19.5%). That was Indonesian Democratic Party – Struggle (PDI-P), led by Megawati Sukarnoputri, and the party that nominated Jokowi. In second place was Golkar, with less than 15% of votes and 91 seats (16.3%). Golkar was the ruling party under the Suharto dictatorship, and is part of the coalition backing Jokowi’s rival, ex-general Prabowo Subianto. Prabowo’s own party is the Great Indonesia Movement, which won 73 seats in April (13%, on 11.8% of votes).

Indonesian law states that only parties with 20% of seats or 25% of the votes in the preceding legislative election may nominate candidates for the presidency; the PDI-P was just short. Thus pre-election coalitions were necessary to nominate presidential/vice-presidential tickets; according to the Wikipedia entry:

The coalition supporting Prabowo/Hatta includes Gerindra [Great Indonesia Movement], PPP, PKS, Golkar, PAN, and Demokrat. The coalition supporting Jokowi/JK includes PDI-P, PKB, NasDem and Hanura.

It appears that the Probowo coalition has at least 314 seats (56%), while Jokowi’s has 191 (34%). If Jokowi has won, Indonesia’s elections might be said to have produced divided government, in the sense that the coalition backing the presidential loser has a majority of legislative seats. However, such a conclusion exaggerates the importance of these coalitions. Indeed, the way I normally code a case of divided government would require either a single party or pre-electoral coalition formed for the legislative elections to have won a majority of seats. Given Indonesia’s electoral cycle, the coalitions formed only between the legislative and executive elections, and can be considered expedients dictated by electoral law. One can expect various parties in the Probowo alliance to defect and back the winner, in exchange for policy concessions, but more importantly for patronage.

One indicator of how relatively unimportant party lines are in predicting Indonesian political behavior is that Prabowo was the vice presidential candidate in 2009 on the ticket headed by Sukarnoputri.

6 thoughts on “Indonesia’s presidential election: Divided government?

  1. and to make it even more complicated: Jusuf Kalla (vice-president during SBY’s first term, and ending third in the 2009 presidnetial elections), is the running mate of Jokowi, while his party Golkar supports Prabowo/Hatta.


  2. How common is it for governments in a presidential system to lack a majority in the legislature? Is it more or less common than governments in a presidential-parliamentary system? Intuitively a government that either needs confirmation by the legislature or can be dismissed in a no-confidence vote should be more likely to have a legislative majority, but is that true? (cf. Taiwan, South Korea) Or is it more about PR or regional differences?


  3. JHQ, presidents lacking a majority is the norm in presidential systems, if we mean a majority for their own party or a coalition that was formed before the legislative election. Of course, many form a post-electoral coalition of some sort to get a majority.

    In semi-presidential systems, I think pre-electoral majorities are actually rarer, although don’t take my word for it. I imagine that formation of post-electoral majorities where the election has not produced a majority would be more common, for the reason you note, but I can’t say.

    I should add that your characterization of South Korea is not correct. There is a “prime minister” who requires confirmation by the assembly majority, but neither this official nor the cabinet depends on assembly confidence.


  4. The KPU, Indonesia’s electoral commission, just declared Jokowi the winner by 53.15% to Prabowo’s 46.85%. Prabowo is rejecting the result, although what that means is unclear.


  5. I’ve just listened to this podcast talking about Indonesia’s democracy. I think it might be interesting to readers of this blog, at least those readers who sometimes listen to things too.

    It mostly focuses on how people get elected and Indonesia’s clientelism, but in the middle it discusses how Indonesia’s electoral law shapes their party system (strong, because a candidate for an single-person office needs the support of 20 per cent of the relevant parliament; weak because once elected, the office holder is not bound to the parties that supported them). Also the formation of coalitions at a local level: essentially ideology is meaningless.

    It is also timely, since Indonesia will be having a presidential election on the 17th April this year, the Jokowi vs Prabowo rematch. I was just there and they’ve definitely geared up for the various elections they have due this year. Unlike in Australia there always seems to be some politician’s face on a billboard somewthere, but they’ve stepped it up a notch or several.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.