[Analytics] Jokowi pursues majority rule, not democracy, in Indonesia

Prime Minister Scott Morrison meets with President of Indonesia Joko Widodo at the G20 in June. CREDIT: ALEX ELLINGHAUSEN. Sketched by the Pan Pacific Agency.

When Prime Minister Scott Morrison flies in to Jakarta this weekend to attend the second inauguration of President Joko Widodo, he’ll heap praise on Indonesia’s popularly elected leader. Joko won re-election back in April with about 55 per cent of the popular vote, defeating his opponent Prabowo Subianto for the second time in a row. James Massola specially for The Sydney Morning Herald.

For more than a decade, successive Australian prime ministers have lavished praise on Indonesia and its leaders for the successful transition to democracy that has taken place since the fall of former dictator Soeharto and the post-1998 reformasi.

Indonesia, we are told, is the most populous Muslim nation in the world. It’s pluralist, tolerant, its constitution embraces major religions and it’s a crucial partner in tackling extremist Islam.

All of this true. And good relations with Australia’s huge, near northern neighbour are crucial, too.

But when you scratch the surface, there is a growing democratic deficit in Indonesia.

Joko has, in recent days, met with both Prabowo and former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and hinted that representatives from Prabowo’s Gerindra and Yudhoyono’s Democrats will be invited into his next cabinet.

Gerindra and the Democrats were allied during the April election, trying to defeat the President, lined up against Joko’s PDI-P and a broad coalition of other parties.

Now they are ready to hop into bed together.

Prabowo is, reportedly, seeking cabinet posts for his vice-presidential running mate Sandiaga Uno and a couple of other senior Gerindra Party figures including Fadli Zon. Yudhoyono is promoting his son, Agus Harimurti Yudhoyono, for a cabinet post.

Imagine, for a moment, that Morrison had thumped Bill Shorten’s Labor Party 55-45 earlier this year – and then turned around and met with his defeated opponent to discuss offering him seats in the cabinet.

And just for good measure, Morrison met the Greens’ Richard Di Natale and was prepared to offer him a couple of cabinet appointments, too.

Of course, the ideological and political differences between Joko, Prabowo and Yudhoyono is nothing like those that separate Morrison, Shorten and Di Natale.

Joko, like Yudhoyono in his second term (2009-14), seems determined to be a consensus and coalition builder – even if it risks his ability to get anything done, given the breadth and conflicting demands of such a broad coalition.

The president’s coalition of parties in the parliament – which will have considerable say over his second term agenda – already holds about 60 per cent of the available seats.

Adding Gerindra and the Democrats will grow that majority even further.

But it will potentially do so at the expense of those checks and balances that can help hold a government to account.

Yudhoyono is widely regarded as having wasted much of his second term because keeping everyone happy in his broad coalition of parties proved such a difficult task.

Joko is setting himself up to face the same problems in his second term.

Already he has squandered considerable political capital by weakening the anti-corruption commission and agreeing to revise the country’s penal code at the urging of his political allies before being forced into a volte-face by the protesters.

The prospect of a new political accommodation with two of the main opposition parties – influential members of the political elite that already exercise so much control over this country – underscores the central question facing Indonesian politics, and the re-elected President.

Does Joko want Indonesia to be a Westminister or western-style democracy, in which winning 50.1 per cent of the vote suffices?

Or does he want to continue to pursue the path of majoritarianism, without an effective opposition in the parliament to provide checks and balances?

Morrison should praise the successfully re-elected President.

But he should be under no illusions about the precarious health of Indonesian democracy.

James Massola is south-east Asia correspondent based in Jakarta. He was previously chief political correspondent, based in Canberra. He has been a Walkley and Quills finalist on three occasions, won a Kennedy Award for outstanding foreign correspondent and is the author of The Great Cave Rescue.

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