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Elections

Corruption was 'decisive issue' in Indonesian polls

Early results suggest the opposition PDI-P is set to win the most votes in Indonesia's parliamentary elections. Analyst Sandra Hamid says the results reflect the voters' desire for change and graft-free politics.

Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim nation and the third-largest democracy after India and the United States, went to the polls on April 9 to elect more than 19,000 representatives at national, provincial and district level.

The main focus was the vote for the House of Representatives - the lower house of parliament - where 12 parties were competing for 560 seats. According to preliminary quick count results, the opposition Indonesian Democratic-Party Struggle (PDI-P) emerged on top with a weaker-than-expected 19 percent of the national vote, the Golkar party came in second with around 14 percent and the Gerindra party of ex-army general Prabowo Subianto was third with 12 percent.

In a DW interview, Sandra Hamid, The Asia Foundation's country representative to Indonesia, talks about the importance of these polls for the upcoming presidential elections on July 9 and explains how the PDI-P results were boosted by the nomination of Jakarta's popular governor Joko Widodo as a presidential candidate, who voters view as having a clean image.

DW: What were the decisive political issues in these elections?

Sandra Hamid: The desire of the Indonesian people to address the biggest issue facing Indonesia, and that is corruption.

How much of the PDI-P's results can be attributed to the nomination of Jakarta Governor Joko Widodo, known affectionately as Jokowi, as a presidential candidate?

His nomination had a very significant impact. He is the PDI-P's ace card to secure most of the votes. We have seen it in the past surveys, and we are seeing it now in the results of these elections. Some would say that he has not delivered as many votes as predicted. But a simple fact remains: he has the lead.

Sandra Hamid, The Asia Foundation's Country Representative to Indonesia

Hamid: "Corruption is one of the most challenging problems facing the country today"

What makes Widodo such a popular figure among Indonesians?

Corruption is one of the most challenging problems facing the country today. Voters believe that in order to address the problem they need a figure with certain criteria. They need a clean leader, who understands the people's problems and works with them to find solutions. Jokowi generally is seen in this light.

As importantly, he also is the anti-thesis of what Indonesians have mostly seen in politicians: distant and not engaging. Jokowi is always seen to be among the people, and he engages with them in ways that seem to be very natural and sincere. People are taken by that.

Do you reckon many people voted for the PDI-P in these elections just to support Widodo's bid for the presidency?

I think that surveys prior to these elections showed that even without Jokowi's nominations the PDI-P was running quite strong. As an opposition party, the PDI-P is reaping the fruit of the disappointment people have expressed about ruling parties and politicians. But still, Jokowi was a factor, as his nomination has been anticipated for quite some time. He was important for PDIP's victory albeit not the only factor.

What effect will the results of this poll have on the upcoming presidential elections?

It will determine what parties have the rights to nominate their candidates for president. They will need 20 percent of the seats in parliament, or 25 percent of the national vote. If they don't have that, they will have to form a coalition - which may determine who will be nominated as president and who will become his or her running mate.

At stake are 560 seats in the House of Representatives. However, the PDI-P only managed to win 19 percent of the vote. Does this mean the party might have to make deals with other parties to nominate its candidate for president?

Yes. We have seen in the quick count that, compared to 2004, this House will have bigger parties with smaller votes, and small parties with more votes. Some people have used the term "fragmented house" to describe the country's parliament.

With no single party winning the elections, there will be a coalition. The PDI-P and Jokowi hinted that they wanted a smaller one than in the previous government - but now, given that they have fewer votes than expected, they may have to reconsider the kinds of coalition they will need to build.

What role did young voters play in these polls, as an estimated 22 million Indonesians - out of 187 million registered voters - were expected to cast their ballots for the first time?

These voters are mostly divided into two sides. On the one side, there are those who are well informed, have access to information through social media and other applications developed by civil society to inform voters.

On the other side, there are those who are not informed, have no reference to Indonesia's past and perhaps share some of the frustrations that they have either experienced or heard over the years from their and friends about politics and politicians. These two camps may have ended up voting for the same parties for different reasons.

Jakarta governor and presidential candidate Joko Widodo, of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), reacts during a party campaign at Cengkareng soccer field in Jakarta March 16, 2014. REUTERS/Beawiharta

Hamid says the nomination of Jowoki as presidential candidate had a very significant impact on the election results

The official results are set to be announced on May 7. Do you expect these elections to be free and fair given the high level of corruption in the country?

The elections are generally be free and fair. We have very credible election commissioners. Moreover, the large number of Indonesians overseeing the vote-counting process will help safeguard the integrity of these elections. I am not saying there won't be any problems, but with over 185 million voters, buying votes to completely alter the electoral results is simply not an option.

Sandra Hamid is The Asia Foundation's country representative to Indonesia. She is a cultural anthropologist and development specialist with strong interests in political participation and civil society.

The interview was conducted by Gabriel Domínguez.