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Asia

Opposition on track to victory in Indonesian poll

Indonesians are gearing up to elect a new parliament on April 9. With the campaign in full swing, the polls indicate that the opposition Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle has the best chances of victory.

Although it does not take place until July 9, the presidential elections in Indonesia are already having a profound influence on the election of a new parliament on April 9. According to the latest polls, the opposition PDI Perjuangan party (PDI-P), led by former president Megawati Sukarnoputri, is likely to emerge as the winner of the parliamentary elections with another political outfit, Golkar party, finishing a close second.

PDI-P is likely to win 37 percent of the vote and would then be charged with forming a government. Observers like Gun Gun Heryanto argue that the nationalist PDI-P's decision to nominate the popular governor of the capital Jakarta, Joko Widodo, popularly known as "Jokowi,"for the presidency has given its campaign for the parliamentary elections a huge boost.

The 'Jokowi' effect

"PDI Perjuangan, which has not been in power for the past 10 years, has had a lot of time to consolidate and develop its organization. Plus, that PDI-P has named "Jokowi" for the presidential election would boost the vote for the party," Heryanto said.

"Jokowi" is a media darling in Indonesia and now probably the most popular politician in the country. In a relatively short span of time his "no nonsense," straight-forward style of leadership has catapulted him into the national limelight. At the same time he has carefully projected himself as a man of the people who pays regular visits to the less fortunate of his countrymen in the outer suburbs of Jakarta.

Governor elect Joko Widodo (2R) smiles as he gives his remarks in a press conference in Jakarta on September 20, 2012 (Photo: ADEK BERRY/AFP/GettyImages)

Jokowi is one of the most popular presidential candidates

This tactic has gone down well in a country growing tired of a generation of political leaders with their roots in the era of the Suharto dictatorship between 1966 and 1998.
As the bandwagon gathers speed, photos of "Jokowi" are being plastered across the front pages of international and foreign magazines, including Germany's Der Spiegel, which describes him as a potential future president of Indonesia. The German magazine even wrote that "Jokowi" was growing into an important leader in Asia. The latest polls make him a clear winner of the presidential elections in July.

Dented popularity

In the face of the media hype surrounding "Jokowi," the popularity of the ruling party, the centrist Democratic Party - under President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono - is declining sharply. With 186 million votes and 560 seats at stake in the world’s third largest democracy, the Democratic Party is now languishing in a distant fourth place.

The polls give the ruling party a mere 10 percent of the vote. The party's slump is home-grown, according to expert Gun Gun Heryanto. "The Democratic Party is experiencing turbulence, due to corruption issues. Many Democratic Party politicians have been arrested under corruption charges. This issue hits the incumbent Democrats very hard," the political analyst said.

But there are other important issues too which have harmed the government's standing. An inability to improve the country’s poor infrastructure and rising labor costs are threatening many jobs. Moreover, foreign investors are concerned about twists and turns in recent government policy.

The recent law banning the export of minerals unless they have been processed in factories in Indonesia is a major disincentive to two major US investors: Freeport-McMoran Copper & Gold and the Newmont Mining Corporation.

With the new law in place mining companies must now pay a special levy ranging between 20 to 60 percentby 2016 to export raw materials or invest hundreds of millions of dollars in new plants in Indonesia. No-one is really sure just what the longer term economic impact of the move will be, but many voters fear more job losses

With the ruling Democratic Party faltering, it is the Golkar Party which appears likely to mount the strongest challenge to "Jokowi’s" PDI-P at the polls.

Observers note that certain nostalgia about the Suharto years is growing in the face of corruption in high places and unresolved economic problems.

'A milestone'

An Acehnese woman casts her vote into a ballot box at the polling station in Kahju village, Aceh before the voting begun in Banda Aceh, 09 April 2009 (Photo: EPA/HOTLI SIMANJUNTAK +++(c) dpa - Report+++)

A woman casts her vote into a ballot box at the polling station

Siti Hediati Suharto, daughter of former President Suharto, is doing all she can to promote her father's image as a leader who stood for economic prosperity and law and order. Her campaign has a distinctly nationalist and backward looking tone: "The reform era started 16 years ago and we’ve been changing presidents, but it seems Indonesia isn’t going anywhere", she recently told the Reuters news agency. Opinion polls predict her party to win around 17 percent of the vote.

Prabowo Subianto, the chairman of the Gerindra party, or the Greater Indonesia Movement Party, will also be his party's candidate for the presidency in July. But his challenge, too, has lost momentum in recent weeks with his party scoring only 15 percent in the latest polls. Subianto, a former commander in the country’s special forces, has a chequered past making him suspect to many voters. He was allegedly involved in human rights violations in the 1990s.

According to Philips Vermonte, a researcher at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) thinktank, a PDI-P victory would signify the first return to power by a former ruling party through the ballot box. "Then… there are the opportunities for the formation of a government with a professional cabinet, not a cabinet that accommodates leaders of the parties." He regards this development as the consolidation of democracy in the world's largest Muslim country and a major achievement and milestone in its history.