Tue, 23 Mar 1999

Voting pattern may change

This is the second of two articles on the pattern of the Indonesian voting prepared by Lance Castles, a visiting lecturer in political science at Gadjah Mada University in Yogyakarta. He has written a number of books on Indonesia, including Indonesia, Political Thinking 1945-1965.

YOGYAKARTA (JP): Indonesian polls released in recent months clearly show a pattern of voting preferences, bearing a strong resemblance to that of the elections in 1955.

The most useful indication was a poll in November, which asked telephone respondents in five cities -- Jakarta, Medan in North Sumatra, Padang in West Sumatra, Yogyakarta and Surabaya in East Java -- on who they regarded as the best person to be president.

Differences were revealing and, in some cases, pronounced. Megawati Soekarnoputri of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI Perjuangan), for instance, polled two-and-a-half times better than Amien Rais of the National Mandate Party (PAN) in Yogyakarta, but he beat her fivefold in Padang. The main conclusions that can be drawn are as follows.

* Amien and Megawati were streets ahead of the other candidates, with a likely combined total of about 70 percent.

Purely on poll evidence, more respondents said they would vote for Megawati than Amien, but the voting on the election day will probably reveal the reverse, giving PAN a further 6 percent of the overall vote and cutting PDI Perjuangan down by 8 percent. This is because 41 percent of poll respondents were non-Muslims, compared with only 13 percent in the population at large, and adjustments should be made.

* There are two significant but much smaller parties, the National Awakening Party (PKB) and the United Development Party (PPP), which can be expected to get about 12 percent of the vote each.

PKB might do better if rural voters go for it rather than for PPP -- the polls, being purely urban, cannot help us here. But it is worth remembering that the urban vote is one-third of the whole, so that the final percentage will not deviate too much from 12 percent each.

* The earliest poll in August showed Amien beating his rival Yusril Ihza Mahendra of the Crescent Star Party (PBB) seven-to- one; by February this had risen to 20-to-one. This trend seems to show that, within the aliran (underlying religious-cultural commitment) boundaries, at least, people tended to desert an apparent loser.

Since PBB is widely believed to be more urban than rural, it may well fail to meet the 2 percent needed to be represented at all.

For this kind of reason parties like the Justice Party and the Indonesian Uni-Democracy Party (PUDI) barely showed in the polls. They will certainly not occupy any seats.

* Golkar is only getting about 7 percent and declining. Even the first poll in August showed it to have no prospects. Many people believe that it will perform well because it is supposedly strong outside the cities, where simple voters will choose it out of habit, bribery or fear of the village chiefs.

This is completely unconvincing. Rural voters are not dumb and isolated. They are under the same electronic barrage as the rest of the electorate. The parties and their posko (command posts) penetrate into the most remote villages, often being demonstratively located opposite police stations to "show the flag".

* An important change has taken place since 1955. This can be shown by a simple calculation. At that time, the non-Muslim parties, mainly the Indonesian Nationalist Party (PNI) and the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI), got 56 percent of the vote and 18 percent went to Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), for a total of 74 percent.

Since PKB is clearly allied to Megawati, and PDI Perjuangan inherits all except about 7 percent (expected to go to the Golkar party) of the said 56 percent, Megawati would be a certain winner if the old voting pattern still prevailed.

But the fact is that there has been a clear swing to the parties which are "Islamic in spirit". PDI Perjuangan plus PKB appear to command only about two-fifths of the electorate, compared with three-quarters for the equivalent group in 1955.

Three factors contribute to this trend.

One is demographics. Family planning caught on earlier and more thoroughly among the Javanese, so that they have declined as a proportion of the population. And they were the stronghold of the non-Islamic votes.

Secondly, there has been an Islamic revival, which means that more people translate being Muslim into voting for a party which is perceived as Islamic, even though ironically the main beneficiary of this trend is PAN, a party which has eschewed all religious symbolism and tirelessly proclaims its openness to all groups even at the leadership level.

Finally, the total elimination of the PKI and its affiliated organizations has probably left the survivors vulnerable to recruitment by buoyant local representatives of the santri (devoted Muslims) aliran.

One woman said that in her village, all the residents switched from PKI to NU. So, some old PKI strongholds in Java may turn out to now go 40 percent or more for the Muslim parties.

However, there is another possible reason for the trend that has noting to do with aliran. It may be that independently thinking younger votes simply like Amien better than Megawati (Ye gads, the death of all punditry and old-handery!) What can be said for this interpretation?

The strongest evidence is a large-scale poll reported at the universities in Bandarlampung. It showed Amien and Megawati to be far ahead of the other candidates, but Amien somewhat ahead of Megawati. Yet surely Bandarlampung (80 percent of its population is Javanese) is aliran-wise, straight PDI Perjuangan territory?

Recent discussions with nonacademic people, including hotel and supermarket staff, showed that after an initial refusal to state a voting choice, the "respondent" turns out to have been previously a supporter of Megawati, partly because she was perceived as unfairly treated, but is now considering switching to Amien, who seems better suited to the needs of the time. The trouble with telephone polling is that it cannot pick up this kind of phenomenon.

Perhaps this "decline of aliran" phenomenon was foreshadowed in research by J. Kristiadi of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) some years ago in rural and urban locations in Central Java.

He found that most voters said they followed the advice of panutan (local leaders), such as an ulama, official or employer.

However, the younger and better educated voters said they made up their own minds, which could be interpreted as a move toward non-aliran voting.

Furthermore, even some older voters said they voted for PDI on the advice of an official. This surely means that they were making up their own minds on which advisor they would follow.

How do these odds and ends of information relate to the extraordinary reluctance of respondents in polls to state their choice?

Anything from 65 percent to 85 percent of "don't knows" are recorded. If these people are conscious adherents of an aliran- based party, or bucolic clients of Golkar, why on earth don't they say so?

It is not that they are alienated from the system, since less than 3 percent say they will not vote. The obvious explanation, surely, is that they have been habitually voting for a particular party, but are now hesitating. PAN seems the likely beneficiary of this trend. There are going to be some very surprised people when the voting results are announced in June.