Indonesia Political Update: Prabowo Controls Majority in MPR
After a long plenary session of the People’s Consultative Assembly (or MPR), Zulkifli Hasan has been elected as the Speaker of the MPR for the period 2014-2019. Zulkifli Hasan, a former Indonesian Forestry Minister, is backed by the Merah-Putih coalition and thus his election constitutes another blow for president-elect Joko Widodo (popularly known as Jokowi). The Merah-Putih coalition is a coalition of six political parties that support vindictive defeated presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto.
The plenary session of the MPR - to elect the assembly’s Speakers - started on Tuesday afternoon (07/10) and was finally concluded in the early morning of Wednesday (08/10). Both competing camps within parliament nominated a MPR Speaker. Jokowi’s coalition supported businessman Oesman Sapta Odang to become the assembly‘s Speaker, while Subianto’s Merah-Putih coalition supported Zulkifli Hasan (PAN). Finally, at around 4:15 am, the Merah-Putih coalition controlled the majority of the votes (347 to 330) and thus control the post of speaker in Indonesia’s highest legislative body.
This is yet another blow for Jokowi. In recent weeks, the Merah-Putih coalition has been able to abolish direct elections in the regions of Indonesia (leaving it to regional legislatures to elect regional leaders), and controls majorities in the parliament (DPR) and MPR.
On 20 October 2014 Jokowi will be inaugurated as Indonesia’s seventh president. Earlier this year, the Indonesian rupiah exchange rate and Indonesian stocks strengthened on the ‘Jokowi-effect’ as the market clearly favoured Jokowi to become Indonesia’s next president. Jokowi, with a strong reform program, would be key to reverse the process of slowing economic growth in Southeast Asia’s largest economy and to tackle some of the country’s notorious problems (for example bureaucracy). However, as vindictive Subianto still seems to have presidential ambitions of his own and has gradually gained political power through political institutions (DPR and MPR), reform programs may be thwarted by his Merah-Putih coalition. This coalition opposes Jokowi for the sake of opposition only, and which comes at the expense of social and economic development in Indonesia.
Indonesia’s democracy is currently facing a serious test. Starting from 1998 the country has been experiencing a process of democratization. However, 16 years later it is still a flawed democracy. The country’s political institutions are still dominated by the old elite, who control politics in a sort of oligarchic power structure. Jokowi, however, is special as he does not originate from the ranks of the old elite. He is one of the first fruits of democracy as he rose through the political ranks through direct elections (Indonesians like Jokowi due to his humble and simple background). It is expected that the Merah-Putih coalition wanted to abolish these direct elections in an act of revenge for Jokowi’s success. Moreover, and contrary to political traditions in Indonesia, Jokowi has stated not to offer lucrative cabinet positions in exchange for political support. Although this is correct from an ethical viewpoint, it can also imply a dead end road as the president requires support from parliament to govern effectively.
The legislative branch within Indonesia’s political system is the People’s Consultative Assembly (Majelis Permusyawaratan Rakyat, abbreviated MPR). This assembly, containing 692 seats, has the power to set or change the Indonesian Constitution and appoints (or impeaches) the president. The MPR is a bicameral parliament that consists of the People’s Representative Council (Dewan Perwakilan Rakyat, abbreviated DPR, which has 560 seats) and the Regional Representative Council (Dewan Perwakilan Daerah, abbreviated DPD, which has 132 seats in the MPR).
It has been speculated that the Merah-Putih coalition is out to seek for the impeachment of Jokowi and nominate Subianto as president (through a MPR decision) after also abolishing direct elections for the president. However, the impeachment of Jokowi is not likely to happen as it requires a Constitutional Court ruling that Jokowi has violated Indonesian law or is no longer qualified to carry out his duties as president. Furthermore, a two-third majority in the MPR is required to starte the impeachment process for the president.