The latest survey by the Indonesian Survey Institute (LSI), conducted on Feb. 1-12, showed that if the general election were held today, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s Democratic Party (PD) would only receive 13.7 percent of the vote, a significant drop from the 21 percent it received in its 2009 election victory.
Declining support for the Democrats is primarily a result of a series of high-profile scandals implicating party executives that have, for the last nine months, come under the spotlight.
However, the survey found other political parties were not taking advantage of the decrease in PD’s popularity. Nearly 29 percent of respondents said they were undecided or would not vote for any party.
Despite the fact that PD fell behind its chief competitor the Golkar Party, the margin between the two was slight and could be within the margin of error of 2.2 percent used in this survey.
Golkar would only gain 15.5 percent of the vote, well above its achievement in 2009. Support levels for other parties tended to stagnate (the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle with 13.6 percent, Gerindra with 4.9 percent, the United Development Party with 4.9 percent, the National Awakening Party with 4.6 percent, the National Mandate Party with 4.1 percent) or even decrease (the Prosperous Justice Party with 3.7 percent and Hanura 1.2 percent).
The survey, along with a poll from the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), showed that the Democrats’ fall in public support did not automatically benefit other parties.
Both polls had much in common as they found a huge constituency of undecided voters. The number of undecided voters in the LSI’s survey increased from 22 percent in December 2011 to 28.9 percent in February 2012.
It can be said that the other parties had failed to attract the Democratic Party’s wavering supporters to vote for their parties.
There is an emerging consensus among undecided voters, or those who have electoral sentiments but are stilling waiting to see, that all parties in Indonesia are the same. A growing public distrust of political parties is deemed by the assumption that graft and bribery cases plaguing party leaders and individual members are not monopolized by the Democrats.
The lack of a credible alternative to the Democrats thus explains why support levels for other parties remain stagnant or are even decreasing. It is crystal clear that the apathy toward political parties is increasing.
From an optimistic perspective, however, this condition creates an opportunity for other parties, including new ones, to be a viable alternative to the Democrats so that they can gain votes from undecided voters. If all political parties fail to restore public faith, relationships between parties and voters will weaken.
In political terms, the process that refers to a decline in party loyalty is called party de-alignment. According to Biorcio and Mannheimer (1995), party de-alignment can be explained by two dimensions.
First is the psychological dimension, which refers to the general decline in party identification or party closeness. A series of surveys conducted by the LSI show that only 20 percent of the respondents have party identification. If the voters were to vote now, their choice of party would be undecided and could easily change, as happened in 1999, 2004 and 2009.
Second is the rational dimension. Parties are in crisis because they fail to perform the functions considered essential to political parties in a democratic polity.
In other words, political parties are seen by many as unable to represent people’s interests. Surveys by the LSI consistently reveal that , compared to other democratic institutions, trust in political parties is at its lowest ebb.
Voter behavior in Indonesia is strange, as while on the one hand they still believe in democracy as a normative values, more than 70 percent of respondents believe in democracy as the best form of government.
On the other hand, their trust in political parties continues to decrease. If the image of the political party is worsening, more people will not vote in the next general election in 2014.
A barrage of scandals plaguing political parties will also discourage people from voting in the next legislative elections.
We have observed that electoral participation continued to drop drastically in the last three legislative elections. The trend was based upon official results in the 1999 legislative elections as the number of absentees was recorded at only 6.3 percent, but increased to around 16 percent in 2004.
Worse, the number of absentees in the 2009 parliamentary elections increased to 29 percent. After three elections, there was a 23-percent decline in the number of voters. By comparison, in stable democratic countries like the US, the 40 percent rise in the number of absentees was achieved after around 200 years but in Indonesia the rise has reached 29 percent within 12 years.
Similar conditions could happen in the 2014 presidential election. The latest survey by the LSI found that the majority of voters were still undecided about their presidential hopefuls.
By using top of mind simulation, undecided voters accounted for 61.6 percent of the respondents. When they were given semi-open questions with lists of candidate names, old figures like Megawati Soekarnoputri, Prabowo Subianto, Jusuf Kalla, Aburizal Bakrie and Wiranto still emerged. New figures such as Mahfud MD, Dahlan Iskan and the likes have very low popularity and have no political vehicles. Some have even been involved in legal or bribery cases, so their popularity is very low.
If there are only Prabowo, Aburizal and Megawati on the table, more people will stay away from the ballot box in the 2014 election. If the voters’ choice in the upcoming presidential election is limited, there will be no future for Indonesia. And if other presidential candidates of higher integrities do not appear, the prospects for a presidential election in 2014 remain gloomy for the nation.
The writer is a lecturer at the faculty of social and political sciences at State Islamic University Jakarta, and a researcher at the Indonesian Survey Institute (LSI).