Indonesians go to the polls on Thursday to vote for a new parliament. Nearly 170 million voters will choose their representatives for the 560-member legislature. Security has been beefed up across the country to maintain law and order.
An election official arranges ballot boxes at a government office in Jakarta, Indonesia
Conducting polls in Indonesia is a daunting task for the election commission, let alone for logistical reasons. After all, it is a country with 17,000 islands. 38 parties are contesting the 560 seats in parliament. But not many will be able to overcome a threshold of 2.5 per cent which allows the parties to have seats in the legislature.
Opinion polls suggest President Yudhoyono’s centrist Democratic Party or PD appears be the most popular party. In the last general elections in 2004, it received nearly 7.5 per cent votes. But according to a survey conducted by the Indonesian research institute LSI in March, the Democratic Party is predicted to get almost 24 per cent of popular votes.
The party of former president Megawati Sukarnoputri, the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), is expected to emerge as the second largest party with almost 17 per cent. And the Golkar party led by Vice President Jusuf Kalla, who is currently part of the ruling coalition, is expected to be the third largest grouping with 15.9 per cent. But the opinion polls are still fluctuating considerably, with nearly 20 per cent of voters remaining undecided.
It is also unclear if any party will actually win a majority. Hence there are already behind-the-scene negotiations going on among different parties for possible alliances. Ideological differences are almost irrelevant, explains political expert Alfan Alfian.
"During the negotiations, pragmatic interests are stressed more than ideological thoughts," says Alfian. "The real direction is determined by certain party elites, who have greater influence in their parties. They prefer to determine the policies and possible alliances with a pragmatic point of view only."
Islamic Parties unpopular
Though 90 per cent of Indonesians follow Islam, none of the country’s half a dozen Islamic parties ever got a majority. In the 2004 elections, they won only 38 per cent of votes together. A recent survey shows support for the Islamic parties has slipped further.
That is because voters care more about social and economic issues than religion, says Burhanuddin Muhtadi from research institute LSI. "The weakness of the Islamic parties is that they have not succeeded in focussing on other issues, which are of more importance to the voters, such as health care, food prices or education."
Here the Prosperous Justice Party or PKS, which advocates Islamic law, is an exception. In the last polls it won 7 per cent of votes. In its campaign this time, the party is focusing on issues such as corruption, unemployment and good governance.
But despite the fact that the party is not faring well in the polls, its founder Hidayat Nurwahid, is optimistic about getting a better share of the vote.
"In 2004, the research institute LSI predicted that we would get only 2.9 per cent vote. But we won nearly 7.4 per cent. So we have reasons to believe that we can get up to 20 per cent of the vote this time."
The outcome of the polls will decide which parties or alliance will be able to nominate its candidate for the presidential polls, due on July 8.
The president in Indonesia is directly elected by the people and is the head of the state and the government.
If none of the candidate wins a majority in the presidential polls, a run-off will take place in September.