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Fragmenting political landscape will eventually affect economy

Jakarta Post - July 26, 2011

Debnath Guharoy, Roy Morgan Asked who they would vote for if an election was held today, eligible voters from across the country continued their drift away from the coalition.

In June, the leading the Democratic Party (PD) shed another 4 percent of supporters moving to a new low of 31. This is far removed from its heyday during the last election. Golkar Party shed another point to sink to a new low of just 10 percent giving them the thumbs-up. The other major party in the coalition, the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS), continued to languish with just 6 percent of voter support. At No. 2, the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) moved up by 1 percent to 17. Minor parties, collectively grouped as "others", were the only gainers moving up collectively from 4 percent in May to 8 percent in June. These are some of the key findings of the Roy Morgan Voting Intentions Monitor.

The dwindling popularity of PD is signalling a political future that is unlikely to bolster Indonesia's economic prospects when the current term ends in 2014. Disenchanted voters are moving away in different directions, too many to do the country any real good. With so many choices but no clear alternative, the jigsaw continues to loosen, the overall picture increasingly murky.

Religious parties aren't gaining, but a motley crew of small parties are collectively building traction, splitting voting intentions further away from the majors. If the current trend continues, if this is the political backdrop to the next election, the outcome can only be a weak coalition of several parties with different ideologies and conflicting agendas. Paralysis, not action, is the likely outcome. But three years is a very long time in politics.

One of the key promises that enabled the Democrats to form a coalition the first time was the promise to fight corruption. That pledge was renewed vigorously, resulting in a second term full of hope. It is the disenchantment with broken promises, the unabated continuation of endemic corruption that has primarily influenced the ruling party's fortunes today. Nine out of ten Indonesians continue to believe "corruption is a major problem affecting my country". That number is climbing.

In realpolitic, what does corruption really mean to the average citizen? Listening to a broad spectrum of Indonesians, I think it all boils down to two simple reactions.

The first is anger, ignited by the injustice of endemic corruption: National wealth is being squandered, pocketed by a small but growing band of thieves who thrive unpunished. The second is frustration, the inability to force change: National wealth should be used for better essential services, to improve the quality of life for all. Not enough change for the better is visible. Perception is reality.

In sharp contrast, every other socio-economic indicator is in remarkably good shape. Consumer confidence is at an all-time high. Demand for just about every product and service is very strong and growing. Unemployment is down, so is poverty. Wages are up. Seven out ten Indonesians believe "the country is heading in the right direction", three out of four agree that "democracy is working". So where's the disconnect?

It's obvious. The people have decided to get on with their lives, regardless of what their elected representatives do. Or don't do. There's precious little voters can do about corruption anyway. But they can register their protest at the next election, almost three years from now. All political parties would be wise not to ignore the average Indonesian's involvement with politics. In June, 31 percent of eligible voters say "a fair amount" and another 28 say "a little". Just over 6 percent of citizens 18 years and older said they were interested "a great deal". That's up one point in just one month. But one in three Indonesians continue to say they are not interested in politics. That's a sizeable vote-bank, many of whom could be influenced to cast a vote on election day. Of all people eligible to vote, an overwhelming majority say they "always" vote, with another 20 percent "almost always". That's considerably more than in most democracies where voting isn't compulsory. Only 8 percent said "part of the time" and 4 said "seldom".

What can the ruling party do about connecting with their voters once again? It's blindingly obvious: Deliver on key election promises, like the fight against corruption. If there are signs enough that the fight is being fought, relentlessly, at all levels of hierarchy, the pendulum will swing again. Blaming the media for its misfortunes is unlikely to deliver desired results, either in opinion polls this year or in voting booths some three years later. On the other hand, it could well be argued that a positive swing of voting intentions would impact just about every aspect of life in Indonesia, not least of all its realpolitic. The economy would get another shot in the arm, investors both local and foreign would be even more encouraged. But a coalition in paralysis cannot be good for Indonesia. Today, that prospect is real.

[ These conclusions are based on Roy Morgan Voting Intentions Monitor, a survey with 2090 Indonesians 14 years and older interviewed during June. The national database is now being updated every month. Almost 90 percent of the population is covered, from the cities, towns and villages across this large democracy. The writer can be contacted at debnath.guharoy@roymorgan.com.]

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