The election in 2004 marked a milestone in Indonesia’s democracy in that voters elected their president and vice president directly instead of leaving the decision to the legislature. It was also the first time Indonesia applied an electoral threshold which stated that each party had to reach a minimum of 3 percent of the popular vote to get seats in the parliament. The presidential threshold was 50 percent of the total votes. If no candidate reached the 50 percent, there would be a runoff election between the two candidates with the highest number of votes. The 2004 election was held in three stages. The first stage in April 2004 was to elect members of the House. The second one in July 2004 was to elect the president and vice president. The third in October 2004 elected the president and vice president in a run-off election, since none of the candidates acquired the presidential threshold of 50 percent votes in July election.

Seven parties were eligible to put its members in the House of Representatives: Golkar Party, Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), PPP, PKB, Democratic Party, Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) and National Mandate Party (PAN). Democratic Party’s Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and Jusuf Kalla were elected as the president and vice president with 60.62 percent of popular vote, ahead of Megawati Sukarnoputri and Hasyim Muzadi who received 39.38 percent of votes.

The complex electoral contest of 2004, in which more than 145 million voters cast ballots for tens of thousands of local and national candidates and then returned to the polls twice more in the largest direct presidential election in world history, was widely viewed as a critical test for both reformasi and the future of Islamist politics. Although local contests generated some violence, the election process itself went far more smoothly than generally predicted, and the results did much to suggest that reformasi had indeed brought Indonesia to the threshold of a sustainable, moderate, democratic polity, the world’s third largest. [Source: Library of Congress *]

Yudhoyono’s victory was part of a pattern suggesting to pollsters that, given both chance and choice, Indonesian voters were more inclined to vote individualistically than along familiar party or ideological lines. The outcome also suggested that in this Muslim-majority nation, most voters had little real interest in parties or candidates that identified themselves primarily with Islamic aims rather than national or local goals such as development and reform. Some close observers in the West, who only two years earlier had seen a bleak sociopolitical future for Indonesia, now gushed about the country’s transformation with the advent of a robust democracy. It soon became clear, however, that after the momentous 2004 elections, Indonesia passed into a post–New Order, post-reformasi era, the character and direction of which were still uncertain. On the one hand, concern that the nation was still very fragile proved in many respects unfounded. *

According to Lonely Planet: In the 2004 presidential elections “candidates continued to promise political reform and a crackdown on corruption, as well as making new promises to stamp out terrorism. The election became a battle between Megawati and Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (SBY). Although fronting the newly formed Democratic Party, SBY was already well known to voters. As a long-serving general, he had been regarded as a military reformist, but was also directly involved in the East Timor occupation. He was also Minis―ter for Security and Political Affairs in both the Wahid and Megawati governments. [Source: Lonely Planet]

General Election in 2004

In general election held in April 2004, Indonesia voted to fill the 550-seat lower house parliament, the 128-seat upper house and local and provincial councils. It was Indonesia’s second democratic vote and by some counts the largest one day election ever. There were 24 competing parties but only seven got the seats in the House.

Golkar won with 21.6 percent of the vote (down from 22.5 percent it won in 1999) and took 128 seats (up from 120 in 1999).Megawati’s Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) came in second with 18.6 percent (down from 33.7 percent it won in 1999) and won 109 seats (down from 153 in 1999). The National Awakening Party (PKB) was in third 12.5 percent and the United Development Party (PPP) in forth with 11 percent.

Gen.Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s newly created Democratic Party came in forth with 7.5 percent of the vote, a respectable showing for a new party, and 57 seats. The Prosperity and Justice Party performed the best among Islamic parties. It took 7.3 percent of the vote, up for, 1.4 percent in 1999, and took 45 seats.

Some 87 percent of Indonesia’s 147 million voters voted at 600,000 polling stations guarded by 275,000 policemen. The ballot was the size of a newspaper and contained hundreds of candidates in dozens of parties. One voter in South Jakarta told Reuters, “Its confusing because the ballot paper is so big. After you open it, it’s hard to close it back up.” There were few reports of violence, voter intimidation or irregularities at any of the election stations even in troubled areas like Aceh and West Papua. A small bomb went off at the National Election Commission. No one was hurt. That was the biggest disruption.

Presidential Election in 2004

In July 2004, Indonesia held its first ever presidential election. The main candidates were Megawati; Gen.Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono; Gen. Wiranto of the Golkar Party, a career military man indicted by a United Nations tribunal for crimes against humanity in East Timor; Suharto’s daughter Tutut reemerged as the presidential candidate for the PKPB Party.

Yudhoyono won the first round presidential election in July, 2004 with 33.6 percent of the vote, shy of the majority he needed to claim outright victory. He was forced into runoff with Megawati, who was second with 26.6 percent of the vote. Wiranto was third with 23 percent. Megawati did much better than expected. Wiranto did more poorly than expected. He had received an endorsement for Nahdlatul Ulama, Indonesia’s largest Muslim organization but took only 33 percent of the members vote. Yudhoyono took 32 percent.

On preparations for the election, Alan Sipress wrote in the Washington Post, “ As the campaign wound down, workers across Indonesia began setting up 575,000 polling stations, many consisting of little more than a tarp strung between bamboo polls. About 153 million Indonesians are eligible to vote, and election observers said they expected that more than 90 percent would participate in choosing the president, a task previously carried out by the parliament. [Source: Alan Sipress, Washington Post, July 5, 2004]

In September 2004, Yudhoyono won the runoff with Megawati. He took 62 percent of the vote to Megawati’s 38 percent. Eleven days before the vote the Australian Embassy in Jakarta was bombed. Terrorist attacks often help candidates with military backgrounds.

One voter told AP, “I voted for Yudhoyono because he is smart and good looking. I want the country to be safe, I want prices to be lower and I want everybody to have an opportunity to go to school.” Another told the New York Times, “I fell in love with him right form the start, he’s smart, he knows how to argue, he showed, some intellectual strength.”

Campaigning in the Presidential Elections in 2004

On the campaigning before the 2004 presidential elections, Alan Sipress wrote in the Washington Post, “The three top contenders visited the graves of their ancestors, with Megawati paying respects to her father, Sukarno. The next day, several presidential and vice presidential candidates, not including Megawati, appeared on an election eve television program singing and reading poetry. [Source: Alan Sipress, Washington Post, July 5, 2004]

Megawati appeared in a girl scout uniform; participated in a puppet show; posed for pictures with Miss Universe; reviewed highway, bridge and reforestation projects; sang and danced in front of a crowds of 100,000 people. Yudhoyono sang on the Indonesian version of American Idol. But neither was a match against Wiranto.

Wiranto, who had previously released a CD, looked like a professional crooner the way he handled the microphone and led the crowds in the popular Indonesian pop song “Rise and Fall”. Sipress wrote in the Washington Post, “Hundreds pressed forward towards the stage, forming a throbbing mosh pit beside the mountains of amplifiers. They waved their hands, cheered their general.”

Yudhoyono and Megawati appeared in separate live television broadcasts a week before the election. They rejected a Western style debate and instead gave speeches and answered questions by panelists. Megawati’s performance was awful. She came across as nervous and confused and appeared unable to comprehend some of the more complicated questions. In any case many Indonesians didn’t even bother t tune in.

Issues in the 2004 Presidential Campaign

According to the Jakarta Post: “Despite pages upon pages of promises, alas, most of the platforms presented by the two candidates do no present enough meat for voters to make a discernable difference between them other than gender...Their platforms remain couched in a lot of rhetoric, tailored to conceal rather than to articulate.”

Paul Dillon wrote in Aljazeera, “Although terrorism fails to register as a campaign issue Indonesia's bloody recent past, has contributed to calls for tough love, what Paul Rowland of National Democratic Institute for International Affairs in Jakarta calls a "firm leader, but not an iron fist". This may work to Yudhoyono's benefit. He is seen as a proponent of military reform and a bulwark against hardliners in the highest ranks who yearn for the unquestioned authority they had during the Suharto years. [Source: Paul Dillon, Aljazeera, July 4, 2004]

"Part of the problem in Indonesia has been a recent history of weak civilian leadership," says Ohio State University political scientist William Liddle. "The threat [to democracy] is not from individual retired military officers ... but serving members using issues like separatism, regional ethnic tensions and religious fervour to step in and say: 'We must save our people from themselves.' SBY might be the figure to put these people in their place." It is a sentiment found on the streets of the capital. "My parents talk about how the Suharto years were better, but I know the reformist students were brutalised by the army and police," says 17-year-old Subianto, whose cigarette tray is covered by Yudhoyono's image. "I think we need a strong leader who can control the corruptors and keep us safe." [Ibid]

Awkward Transition from Megawati to Yudhoyono

After Yudhoyono was formally declared the winner of the 2004 presidential election, Megawati took her time conceding, creating an awkward atmosphere during the transition. “After the euphoria of its first presidential election, Indonesia was in an odd and unexpected period of political limbo. On October 4th, the electoral commission announced the official result, confirming a 21 percent margin of victory Yudhoyono, that the early projections suggested. The tiny handful of contested returns are far too few to affect the final outcome. That triggered the traditional stream of congratulatory messages from the world's leaders. But Mr Yudhoyono declined immediately to declare victory or name any of his cabinet. He said he was waiting for President Megawati Sukarnoputri to concede, something she was taking her time doing. Nothing has been divulged by anyone in her inner circle, so Indonesians have been left guessing as to her motivation for acting as she has. Perhaps she was waiting, as her vice-president suggested, for a miracle. Or perhaps she was refusing to face reality—despite tearfully telling the nation in an official speech on October 5th that everyone should accept the results. [Source: The Economist, October 7, 2004 |=|]

“Not wanting to upset the Megawati loyalists, Mr Yudhoyono was spending his unexpected spare time (the inauguration in not due until October 20th) being examined on his doctoral thesis in rural economics and visiting East Java to pay respects to his mother and the grave of the nation's founding president, Sukarno. Predicting his government's composition has become everyone else's favourite way of filling in the interval. Speculation is rampant but few leaks and little consensus have emerged. Mr Yudhoyono has repeatedly said his priority is job creation, so the economic portfolios will be particularly closely watched. The current finance minister, Boediono, whose fiscal prudence is widely respected, is in the running to keep his job—a fact that has helped lift the Jakarta stockmarket more than 6 percent in the past week. |=|

“Mr Yudhoyono's critics regularly voice concern about the number of ex-military men surrounding the president-elect. Even Agus Widjoyo, a retired lieutenant-general considered a reformer and touted for a security portfolio, has his detractors. It is in this field that Mr Yudhoyono has the most to prove. A further danger sign is that the president-elect has been emitting mixed messages. He has flip-flopped between saying that the government would be appointed entirely on merit—and that 40 percent of appointees will be political. Mr Yudhoyono has won praise by insisting that all ministers sign contracts to which they will regularly be held accountable. In the absence of any more definitive indicators, this is perhaps a sign that the new president may prove to be the new broom the scores of millions of Indonesians who voted for him are expecting. “ |=|

Indonesian Legislative Elections in 2009

The 2009 election was the third election in the post-Suharto era. Legislative elections were held in April 2009. Up for grabs were 132 seats in the Regional Representative Council (DPD) and 560 seats in the People's Representative Council (DPR). Starting with that election an open list of legislative candidates was made available in which people could check candidates of each party before selecting one of them. A total of 44 political parties — 38 national ones and additional 6 local parties for Aceh province—participated in the elections. Only nine won enough votes to hold seats in the House of Representatives,

Yudhoyono’s Democratic Party won the largest share of the vote, with 20.85 percent followed by the Golkar Party, with 14.45 percent. The Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) came in third, with 14.03 percent of the vote, followed by Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) with 7.88 percent, National Mandate Party (PAN) with 6.01 percent, National Awakening Party (PKB) with 4.94 percent, Great Indonesia Movement (Gerindra) Party with 4.46 percent, and People’s Conscience Party (Hanura) with 3.77 percent. When the new legislature was seated, Yudhoyono's party accounted for nearly 22 percent of the DPR's seats, tripling the number of seats it held before the election.

Election results saw a drop in votes for Islamic parties compared to 2004, when they collected a total of 38 percent of votes. Although 87 percent of Indonesia's population are followers of Islam, the four Islamic parties in this election (the United Development Party, the National Mandate Party, the Prosperous Justice Party, and the National Awakening Party) only collected 24 percent of votes. The Prosperous Justice Party gained 12 seats but fell short of its goal of garnering 15-percent of total votes cast. In addition to growing concerns for the economy, observers believed that many voters shied away from Islamism after several local elections resulted in victories for Islamic parties. Once elected, these officials began experimenting with sharia, or Islamic law, prompting resistance among the local population. Most notably, legislators had proposed an anti-pornography bill in 2006 to gain the favor of religious groups. However, the bill's vagueness meant that practicing yoga could be construed as a pornographic action. Additionally, several corruption charges were brought against officials representing Islamic parties, which had previously been considered clean compared to other political parties. The trend of voting for secular parties was not limited to Islam-based parties. The Christianity-based Prosperous Peace Party received only 1.48 percent of votes, and Catholicism-based Indonesian Democratic Party of Devotion received 0.31 percent. [Source: Wikipedia]

Presidential Election in 2009

President Yudhoyono was elected to a second and final five year term in presidential elections in July 2009. He and his new running mate, former Bank Indonesia head Budiono, received 60.80 percent of the popular vote, higher than the 50 percent needed to avoid a run-off, and won the most votes in 28 of Indonesia’s 33 provinces. PDI-P’s Megawati, and her running mate, former army general Prabowo Subianto, a member of the with Gerindra party,as her running mate, were second with 26.79 percent of the vote, followed by former Vice President Jusuf Kalla, a rich businessman and the wily, wise-cracking chairman of the Golkar party, and Hanura’s Wiranto, with 12.41 percent.

"In theory, the significance of this election is in the context of our efforts to consolidate democracy," Indonesian Institute of Sciences political analyst Ikrar Nusa Bhakti told AFP. "In practice, it's a battle of egos." "One thing we need to emphasise here is that the world's third largest democracy isn't necessarily the third best," University of Indonesia political analyst Makmur Keliat said. [Source: AFP, July 6, 2009]

Fifteen days after the election was held Yudhoyono and Budiono, were declared the official winners as president and vice president, respectively, for the 2009–14 term. vote. The election itself was largely peaceful, but not without grumbling in some quarters about how the KPU had managed the process. There were challenges to the results, particularly of massive fraud involving voter rosters. Megawati pressed the issue particularly hard, claiming that 28.5 million of her opponent’s votes had been rendered invalid. On August 12, however, the Constitutional Court declared that the claims of both Megawati and the Golkar candidate, Yusuf Kalla, “lacked legal basis,” as the court found “no systematic, structural, and massive violations on the KPU’s part.” Although some observers expected further difficulties, such as violence or new procedural challenges, the court’s ruling appeared to have defused a potentially very troublesome issue. [Source: Library of Congress *]

AFP reported: The presence of ex-military men in all three leading campaigns is evidence, analysts say, that old military elites remain powerful in Indonesia 11 years after the fall of general Suharto, who died of natural causes in 2008. During months of public negotiations over power-sharing deals, Megawati and Kalla both chose former generals with records of human rights abuses from the Suharto era as their running mates. Megawati teamed up with notorious special forces ex-commander Prabowo Subianto, who is accused of serious abuses including the kidnapping of democracy activists in the late 1990s. Kalla chose former military chief Wiranto, who has been indicted by United Nations prosecutors for crimes against humanity over East Timor's bloody independence referendum in 1999.” Yudhoyono’s “choice of respected economist and former central bank chief Boediono as his running mate has also left him open to opposition charges of "neo-liberalism," a label he rejects. "We're certainly not neo-lib. A neo-lib government doesn't stress the importance of the government's role and good governance," Democratic Party economic advisor Darwin Saleh said.”

Debates Before the Presidential Election in 2009

Two and half weeks before the July 2009 elections, tens of millions of Indonesians settled in front of their televisions to watch three candidates—former Vice President and President Megawati Sukarnoputri, incumbent Vice President Muhammad Yusuf Kalla, and incumbent President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono—debate major issues prior to the presidential election to be held on July 8. By all accounts, the audience was largely disappointed. Megawati, daughter of Sukarno, the often-radical nationalist and fiery orator who was Indonesia’s first leader, discussed the national challenges of getting motorcyclists to wear helmets and government offices to issue identification cards in a timely fashion. Yusuf Kalla, whose background is in business, spoke about the necessity of setting goals and deadlines but mentioned no specifics or priorities. President Yudhoyono, a former army general, emphasized the need for the rule of law, lest Indonesia be compared unfavorably to countries with better legal systems, and he proposed more online systems for identification cards and drivers’ licences so that identities could be checked and “people can see what is normal and what is not.” Many ordinary people who watched said they were simply bored, missing real clashes of opinion and discussion of large issues such as the economy and human rights. Some, while not especially excited, did say the debates changed how they would vote, while others admitted that, as a result of watching the debates, they had decided to abstain from voting altogether. [Source: Library of Congress *]

The next day, however, popular columnist and media figure Wimar Witular noted that while he agreed the debate had been “neither inspiring nor exciting,” that was not the important point. “Eleven years ago,” he wrote, “it would have been a Star Trek–like fantasy [to think] that presidential candidates would someday engage in an open debate on national television.” However “boring” or overcautious, and despite the failure of the candidates to engage each other on large and substantive matters, it had been a historic event. In contrast to a political history dominated by commanding, larger-than-life figures like Sukarno and Suharto, Indonesian political decisions were now in the hands of a broad electorate, voting for presidential candidates who were undeniably “ordinary” people. This was an impressive step in the nation’s journey from authoritarianism to democracy, and should not be forgotten. *

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, NBC News, Fox News and various books and other publications.

Last updated June 2015

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