Jokowi's poor showing may lead to more compromise politics in Indonesia

COMMENT

Joko Widodo, the man most likely to stride the world stage as Indonesia’s next president, had no sooner made his way onto Metro TV’s live election night set on Wednesday than he was confronted by a beauty parade of potential presidential running mates.

The Jakarta Governor, known as "Jokowi", looked surprised.

But the network’s stunt reflected a new reality after Wednesday’s parliamentary election – that he may no longer be able to set Indonesia’s political agenda just by turning up.

The popularity of the man who leads every poll for July's presidential election had been expected to lift his party, PDI-P, to a parliamentary election vote of about 30 per cent and clear pre-eminence in a likely 10-party lower house. The actual result (on early counts) of just 19 per cent was a serious disappointment.

Now, even if Jokowi wins the presidency in July, parliament will be harder for him to manage. He may even need to forge a coalition to get over the 20 per cent threshold to nominate as president, meaning his running mate may be picked by another party.

So the TV station (which played Metallica's Enter Sandman as he arrived) presented him, complete with matching theme tunes, with some alternatives. First, Jusuf Kalla, the 71-year-old Golkar party patriarch, marched on to a fanfare; then came the Democratic Party’s Dahlan Iskan to Gangnam Style; then Jokowi’s own straight-talking deputy governor, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama (aka Ahok), a member of Gerindra, to music from Pulp Fiction.

Media reports suggest Jokowi has already had discussions with several parties but he insists there will be no coalition, merely agreements to work together to run the country. Incumbent President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has made "coalition" a dirty word by prioritising inter-party harmony over the ability to actually make a decision.

Jokowi also insists he will pick his own running mate – someone, he says, who will "counteract my weaknesses".

Party sources say he wants someone with economic experience, international experience and the ability to speak English. The man who wants to run the world’s third-largest democracy, but whose track record is limited to municipal affairs, lacks all three. But, given the divided state of parliament, he might now be better served by a political hard man who can engineer outcomes.

Of the disappointing showing, most explain it away as the unpopularity or ineptitude of his party. Few yet bring themselves to suggest that Jokowi’s personal pulling power may have been overstated.

On the ground, though, some people say he should stay and finish the job as Jakarta Governor, that his ambition outweighs his ability to deliver, or that he is just the "toy puppet" of political scion and leader of his party Megawati Sukarnoputri.

Whatever the reason for the relatively weak showing, it means compromise politics may continue to be Indonesia’s theme tune for the next five years.

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