No Jokowi factor, but will there be compromise?

Mr Joko “Jokowi” Widodo (centre, in white) may be the new-generation leader a youthful electorate is looking for, but the party he represents, the Indonesian Democratic Party-Struggle, has its roots buried in the past. It got its act together too
Mr Joko “Jokowi” Widodo (centre, in white) may be the new-generation leader a youthful electorate is looking for, but the party he represents, the Indonesian Democratic Party-Struggle, has its roots buried in the past. It got its act together too late before the election. -- PHOTO: THE JAKARTA POST/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

Instead of promising a new beginning, as in the heady post-Suharto days of 1999, Indonesia's fourth general election appears to have consigned the country to five more years of messy coalition politics, uncertain policies and shaky governance.

With presidential pace-setter Joko "Jokowi" Widodo failing to ignite the Indonesian Democratic Party-Struggle (PDI-P) and smaller parties doing better than expected, a new PDI-P-led government will need at least four partners to enjoy a comfortable majority in the 560-seat House of Representatives.

Mr Joko is still the hot favourite to win the presidency. Indeed, one recent poll gives him 55 per cent support, ahead of Great Indonesia Movement (Gerindra) leader Prabowo Subianto on 20 per cent and Golkar party chairman Aburizal Bakrie on 9 per cent.

But if he holds his current course, he will have to accommodate parties he had no intention of accommodating and make compromises he had no intention of making, while PDI-P leader Megawati Sukarnoputri peers, ever-present, over his shoulder.

Unlike outgoing President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, however, Mr Joko is not obsessed with consensus. As Jakarta governor, he listens patiently to all sides before he acts, relying on a vibrant social media for support when the going gets tough.

Insiders say Ms Megawati has given him the authority to choose a vice-president, one who will hopefully provide real backup on a wide range of duties and issues and help keep the lines of communication open to a notoriously rambunctious Parliament.

With registration day looming in mid-May, the choice of a running mate has narrowed to four or five candidates. But former vice-president Jusuf Kalla, 71, appears to have the inside running - and a mandate from some key Golkar figures to accept the post if it is offered.

Provisional results suggest PDI-P (114 seats) teaming with Golkar (90), National Awakening Party (47), National Mandate Party (43) and National Democrat Party (37) to form a possible new government, but in a two-step process that will be cemented only after the presidential election.

Buoyed by Gerindra's improved 12 per cent showing, party leader Prabowo may provide Mr Joko with a much sterner test than it appears now, particularly if he can draw his wildly popular, but novice opponent into a televised debate on national issues.

Secure in third place in the quick count behind a disappointing PDI-P (18-19 per cent) and a stationary Golkar (14 per cent), Gerindra will need the support of only two other parties to get over the threshold that will allow the retired general into the July 9 race.

Those may well be President Yudhoyono's Democrat Party, which predictably slumped from 20.8 per cent to 9.6 per cent, and the Justice and Prosperity (PKS), which did better than predicted, despite all of its own corruption baggage.

Ms Megawati has already made it clear she wants neither of those two parties in any ruling coalition, the former because of Dr Yudhoyono's perceived betrayal in the 2004 presidential election and the latter because of its syariah base.

Confined to just 12 parties, the latest general election was a major disappointment for those who thought the Jokowi factor would drive PDI-P over the 30 per cent mark and lay the groundwork for a tighter and more effective governing structure.

In the end, it was no factor at all. While Mr Joko may be the new-generation leader a youthful electorate is looking for, the party he represents has its roots buried in the past.

The fact that it took Ms Megawati until last month to abandon her own ambitions and finally settle on the high-flying governor as the party candidate may partly explain why PDI-P failed to live up to expectations.

One survey had the party plunging to as little as 16 per cent in February, before floating back to 24 per cent after Mr Joko was officially nominated in time for the start of the two-week election campaign in mid-March.

But a late March poll conducted by Indikator Politik Indonesia (IPI) showed 30 per cent of voters were unaware of Mr Joko's nomination and more than half of those were non-reading rural poor from where PDI-P draws much of its support.

Mr Joko himself was critical of PDI-P's election machinery, with those around him blaming the party's lacklustre showing on a lack of motivation among party officials, some of whom were opposed to his candidacy for selfish or ideological reasons.

It wasn't until halfway through the campaign that PDI-P began replacing television advertisements exclusively featuring Ms Megawati and her politician-daughter, Puan Maharani, with pieced-together publicity highlighting Mr Joko. Too late by far.

Analysts believe an added burden on the party was its poor choice of candidates. The fragmentation of the vote has driven home a hard truth that, for many constituents these days, the local candidate counts more than the party.

An open party list appears to have played a major role in that development. It also explains why six of the 10 parties that gained seats won at least one province.

It is also why many of the votes shed by the discredited Democrats seem to have by-passed PDI-P and flowed to Gerindra and two surprise packets - the new National Democratic Party (NasDem) and the reunified National Awakening Party (PKB).

Led by bearded Golkar defector and media mogul Surya Paloh, who attached himself to the PDI-P bandwagon from the outset, NasDem seized an eye-opening 6.4 per cent when pollsters thought it would have trouble meeting the 3.5 per cent threshold for obtaining seats in Parliament.

Analysts believe NasDem made some good choices for candidates but, perhaps more tellingly, it was the beneficiary of votes from disaffected Golkar rank and file, who have little love for Golkar party chairman Aburizal Bakrie or any confidence in his election chances in July.