Fri, 26 Dec 2003

Who will be the winners in the 2004 elections?

Hank Valentino, Senior advisor, the International Foundation for Election Systems (IFES), Jakarta

When Indonesia staged successful elections in 1999, a milestone in democratization was achieved. Voters and citizens celebrated the transparent and public counting of ballot papers at more than 300,000 polling places throughout the country.

Now, almost five years later, new democratic reforms are being implemented as voters will have a voice in the selection of candidates for the House of Representatives (DPR), Provincial Legislative Council (DPRD I) and Regional Legislative Council for regencies (DPRD II), the Regional Representatives Council (DPD), a new chamber in the national legislature) and the direct election of the president and vice president. It is true, in more ways than one, when people say the 2004 elections will be very different.

But, can the lessons learned from the 1999 elections be applied to 2004? What about the electorate: Has it changed? What can we expect in 2004?

While it is too early to predict election outcomes, trends and similarities are beginning to appear among voters. However, it must be noted that these trends could change dramatically between now and the elections.

Look at some of the facts as they stand today: In 1999 there were approximately 118,000,000 registered voters, with over 93 percent voting. In 2004 there are over 143,000,000 registered voters, an increase of over 25,000,000, or 21 percent. Early research data indicates voter turnout will most likely be over 90 percent. Calls for golput (abstention) this time appear to have had little or no impact.

In looking back to 1999 it is interesting to note that three months before the election almost two-thirds (62 percent) of voters had already decided which party they would vote for in the election. That number increased to 64 percent two months before the election.

In an IFES survey completed in July 2003, only 19 percent indicated they did not know which party they would support if the election were held then. While this does not mean 80 percent of the voters had already decided how they would vote in 2004, it does indicate that the political parties and candidates will have a difficult time swaying votes. Usually it is "floating" voters that parties and candidates target first, as they are considered more open to persuasion.

A quick look at respondents who reported how they voted in 1999 and gave their current preferences can give an indication of the party's retention of voters and the number of voters changing parties. An average of 44 percent of those responding to the question indicated they would vote for the same party, while an average of 11 percent indicated they would vote for a different one this time.

One other note of caution for 2004: Be alert to those claims that have tried to categorize or group voters by ethnicity, geographical location, religious preference, gender, age, education level, socioeconomic status, urban/rural or any number of other categories, in order to see if there are trends in a particular grouping. In some cases it is possible to identify trends in these categories, such as Party A appears to have more support in East Java than Party B, or Party C has its highest level of support in Bali or some other geographical location. If one were to review the statistics of the 1999 elections, you would notice, for example, that religious preference alone is not sufficient for predicting trends. Obviously, all Muslims did not vote for the same party. However, combinations of categories can begin to sort out differences and identify trends, such as voters between the ages of 18 to 25 in urban areas of East Java prefer Party X by a margin of two to one.

Parties and candidates have begun this analysis. Potential voters will be scrutinized as never before as parties begin to evaluate their strengths and determine how to overcome their weaknesses and gain voters. As the degree of sophistication increases in the parties, voters will also want more information than they had in previous elections. Voters will not be satisfied at the traditional methods of campaigning of the past. Caravans and demonstrations may command attention, but will not necessarily win the vote.

The polling data available at this time indicates the 2004 elections are going to be very close and competitive. No party or candidate has a significant lead at the national level. The elections are very much in the hands of the voters. Voter demands for reforms have been heard. Some may argue that the setup for the 2004 elections is not perfect, but all must agree it is a step in the right direction.

In the end, it is not the political parties or the KPU that are driving the elections, but voters -- the electorate. These should not be viewed as the KPU's or political parties' elections. The 2004 elections belong to the citizens of Indonesia. Peaceful participation in the electoral process, observance of laws and regulations, and respect and tolerance of the rights and responsibilities of each eligible voter will make the 2004 elections successful. The 2004 elections will be much more than the celebratory event of 1999.

Voters will determine the leaders and future direction of the country. Voters want more information about the parties, platforms and candidates. The voter of 2004 wants to be an informed voter, not just a voter. This places more responsibility on the parties, candidates and the media. The parties and candidates that listen to the electorate and convince voters they are able to respond to their demands will be the winners. In the end, if those parties and candidates do win, the voters and citizens will be the real winners.

Hank Valentino has worked on elections in more than 20 countries and has worked in Indonesia since January 1999. He was the Director of the Federal Voting Assistance Program for the U.S. government.