Framing Indonesia’s Election Thresholds

By Jeremiah Magpile & Jennifer Frentasia

An official educating high school students on how to vote in Indonesia's 2009 National Legislative Elections. As the 2014 elections will be fiercely contested, incumbent DPR members are currently in talks to alter parliamentary and presidential thresholds to each party's advantage. Source: Yudha P Sunandar's flickr photostream, used under a creative commons license.

Legislators in Indonesia’s House of Representatives (DPR) are considering the thresholds of support parties must meet in order to nominate presidential candidates. Though the election is two years away, campaigns are already in full swing.

The current law states that parties or coalitions of parties must win at least 25 percent of the national popular vote or 20 percent of DPR seats in the most recent parliamentary election in order to nominate a candidate. Parliamentary elections will be held in April 2014 and will play a large role in how coalitions for candidates form ahead of the presidential election that July.

The House is debating four options. The first would retain the current rule, used in the 2009 elections, while the second would increase the presidential threshold to 25 percent of seats or 30 percent of the national vote. These options are good news the largest parties, Golkar and the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), since either option would effectively bar smaller parties from fielding candidates and siphoning votes.

However, it could pose a problem for current President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s Democrat Party (PD), which is losing popularity and may not fill 20 percent of seats in 2014. It would also put popular candidates, like the Gerindra Party’s Prabowo, at a disadvantage. Several polls place Gerindra well behind the major parties in popularity, though Prabowo himself leads most presidential polls.

Recent survey data on Indonesian Political Party support. Created by CSIS Chair for Southeast Asia Studies. Please note the last four percentages in the 2nd row are estimations.

If a party falls short of either threshold, it will need to make alliances to field a presidential candidate. This is likely to result in the vice presidency or choice ministerial positions going to minority parties as part of the bargain. This is precisely the case now, since no party came close to the 25 percent threshold in 2009. The higher thresholds being discussed would mean these coalitions would form early, keeping the major parties dominant, but also weakening their position if elected.

The third option the DPR is considering would decrease the threshold to 15 percent of seats or 20 percent of the national vote. This level would allow Golkar and PDI-P to field their own tickets and increase PD’s chances to do the same. PD is pushing for this threshold as a response to the party’s decreasing public support and perceptions that President Yudhoyono has already entered his lame duck phase. This option would still prevent most parties from fielding their own ticket, but could allow smaller parties to form influential coalitions without the big three.

The fourth and most drastic proposal being discussed would allow any party in the DPR to nominate its own presidential candidate, but would increase the threshold at which parties can hold parliamentary seats from 2.5 percent of the national vote to 3.5 percent. Several minority parties filed a judicial review in support of this motion, but the Constitutional Court ignored it. Smaller parties like Gerindra, and the newly formed Nasional Demokrat (Nasdem) party would benefit most from this rule, as they would easily meet the 3.5 percent parliamentary threshold and be able to field their own presidential candidates – their only hope of doing so without a coalition.

Another possible side-effect of this fourth proposal might be to force consolidation of the Islamic parties. Only four of the ten Islamic parties made it over the 2.5 percent threshold in 2009, and polling suggests support for all of them is dropping. If trends continue, several might struggle to reach 3.5 percent.

Looking down the road, the 15-20 proposal is likely to win out, as PD supports it and Golkar and PDI-P are not vehemently opposed. Under this scenario, major parties are likely to garner enough support to field their own candidate, but none have the popularity to win an outright majority in the election. Parties will therefore form large coalitions without clear platforms to cobble together support.

The victorious party will have to share power and please the minority parties in its coalition. This practice, seen in the 2004 and 2009 presidential elections, cultivates desynchronized policies and spawns leaders beholden to multiple agendas. Unless the DPR finds the courage to change that pattern, Indonesia’s central government will remain weak and ineffective.

Mr. Jeremiah Magpile and Ms. Jennifer Frentasia are researchers with the CSIS Chair for Southeast Asia Studies.

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5 comments for “Framing Indonesia’s Election Thresholds

  1. Rita Davis
    November 4, 2012 at 00:48

    I did not even know that and I live here. Thanks for this. I am surprised that the procedures for the election process have not been spelled out in their constitution and it leaves much to the discretion of the current DPR members?

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