Thu, 25 Dec 2003

Changing electoral behavior

Anton Doni

In 1955 and thereafter, political scientists believed that Indonesians' political choices were bound solely by ideological ties. One's choice was limited to alternatives within his/her ideology: either nationalist, modern Muslim or traditional Muslim. For Indonesians, a shift to another ideology is quite difficult. If you were a modern Muslim, you tended to choose the Masyumi party. If you had a secular or nationalist orientation, you chose the Indonesian Nationalist Party (PNI), and if you were more of a traditional Muslim you chose the Nadhlatul Ulama (NU).

Starting in the late 1960s, the New Order regime abandoned those old choices, and manufactured new parties for the people to choose from, requiring them to desert their previous affiliation. The old symbols of culture-associated parties were suppressed. Some were exchanged for new ones but without the influential figures.

While some believed that suppression under the New Order had eradicated all the old loyalties, many others believed they were sustained. Especially in the 1999 election, many believed that ideological voters were still significant. This belief, to some extent, will therefore hinder real democratic choices in the 2004 election. But what precisely was the magnitude of the loyalty factor in the 1999 election?

At a glance, the ideological attachments seemed significant if we look at the pattern of electoral behavior in some selected provinces: Central Java, East Java, Bali and Bangka Belitung in Sumatra. In Central Java, Bali and Bangka Belitung, the Indonesian Nationalist Party (PNI) won in the 1955 election and the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), a sort of revived form of the PNI, won in 1999. In East Java, NU won in the 1955 election and the National Awakening Party (PKB), the revived form of the NU, took the most votes in East Java in the 1999 election. Without considering that these two winning parties in 1999 were similarly aligned with the reformasi movement in their campaigns, the distribution of political choices would confirm the perception that ideological commitments are still key determinants in voting behavior.

But, are ideological connections the only motivation for Indonesian voters?

First, this does appear to be the case in relation to the "choosing PDI-P" behavior, but there must be some other issues aside from the ideological loyalties. The fact that PDI-P was not the only choice for those with a nostalgia for PNI, simply confirms this possibility. In a significant number of provinces that went to Masyumi in the 1955 election, PDI-P was the choice in 1999. Choosing PDI-P in those regions thus seems to prove that ideological attachments are not the only determinant. Something must have been different. Their number, 11 provinces, is quite significant. The provinces; North Sumatra, South Sumatra, Lampung, Bengkulu, Riau, Jakarta, West Java, as well as East and Central Kalimantan all voted for PDI-P in 1999, but Masyumi took the most votes in 1955 from each.

Second, with such a history of ideological ties, there is no single pattern of voting behavior. Another aspect, in which pragmatic considerations were the dominant issues that guided the voting behavior was also shown by the Indonesian electorate. Taking into account the economic and political context of the 1999 election, those ideas must be in relation to the economic and political crisis, bringing to the front the need for economic improvement, clean government and more freedom.

Third, rising pragmatic ideas were also confirmed in the fact that Golkar, the party blamed by the reform movement but a powerful and pragmatic political entity, was still the most influential party in 15 provinces: All five provinces in Sulawesi, East and West Nusa Tenggara, Papua and West Irian Jaya provinces, North Maluku, West and South Kalimantan, West Sumatra, Riau and Jambi. Thanks to the limited access to reform voices from the student movement in Java, such pragmatic ideas as freedom and clean government were indeed not the main issue for voters in those regions. However, the development achievements under the New Order was what Golkar could exploit as its selling point to garner votes. Development was, of course at a price, but it is a fact that past ideological attachments have a limit to their influence in these regions.

So how about the 2004 election? Different directions have been indicated in various surveys, with some opinions pointing to a pragmatic choice and others saying voters will vote along ideological lines. However, if it goes the way of ideology, it would simply be because the current government has been unable to address their existing pragmatic needs. Thus, it is a fundamentally a pragmatic way of searching for alternatives in this environment of poor alternatives.

If, as it seems from the 1999 results, a more pragmatic electorate voted as a product of a massive political stimuli by the reform movement and systematic political manipulation by the New Order, then the challenge in this current absence of nationwide stimuli will be for a more advanced transformation of the fertile soil of democracy and development to be reinforced in this coming 2004 election through various efforts of political education.