In Indonesia, fair and peaceful elections must be the priority

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 15 April, 2014, 5:18am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 15 April, 2014, 5:18am

Nothing compares with the exercise in democracy under way in India's election. If India were not the world's biggest democracy, Indonesia's current election would be held in similar awe. They are going to the polls at the same time - India to choose a national government, Indonesia to choose a parliament ahead of a presidential election later this year. Indonesia is the world's fourth most populous nation, biggest Muslim nation and third biggest democracy. What also sets it apart is a remarkable transition from post-colonial military-backed dictatorship to civilian rule under a democratic system. Both countries suffer inequality, corruption, poor infrastructure and inadequate services that remind us that no system of government is perfect.

In Indonesia, disillusionment with two-term president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has been followed by dismay at the likely outcome of the parliamentary election, because of its implications for the election of his successor. The early front runner for the presidency is the popular governor of Jakarta, Joko Widodo, known as Jokowi, candidate of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle, or PDI-P. Going by usually reliable exit polls, the party failed to win either 25 per cent of the vote or 20 per cent of the seats, one of which is required for it to nominate Widodo in its own right to run in the presidential race. That means Widodo will have to forge a coalition with smaller parties to support his candidature, which could compromise his broad electoral appeal, including a particularly strong following among the poor and emerging middle classes.

The stock market reacted badly to Widodo's disappointing showing. Indonesian elections, however, are not so much about personalities as the transition to a stable democratic system, without giving in to the tendency of leaders in Muslim nations to pander to religious pressures. It would be regrettable if Widodo's mandate for economic and social reform is weakened. But a fair and peaceful presidential election will still consolidate the transition to a stable democratic system.