Guide to the 2019 Indonesian Elections: Path to the Presidency

On Wed 17 April 2019, 190 million Indonesian voters will set off to the polls to elect their President and Vice-President. On this day they will also elect 136 members of the national Regions House, a kind of weak Senate, together with 575 members of the powerful House of Representatives. In addition they will elect 2,207 provincial level MPs from the 34 Provinces and also elect 17,610 local councillors across more than 500 local authorities.

This is Part 1 of the Guide to the 2019 Elections Series | Part 2 | Part 3

The Path To The Presidency

To win the election, a Presidential/Vice-presidential team must secure over 50% of the popular vote. If no candidate secures 50% of the vote in the first round then the top two candidate pairs face off in a second round.

The path to winning the election, however, consists of several stages. The process begins with nomination. While Indonesia today, like the USA, operates a presidential system of government, the DNA from the country’s various old parliamentary systems is often close to the surface. For example, candidacy is determined by demonstrating support from parties in the House of Representatives (DPR). A candidate team needs to show they have the support of parties commanding at least 20% of seats in the current DPR or 25% of the votes their parties secured in the last election.

Given that there are no large parties in the current Parliament (the largest party commands less than 20% of the seats and votes), candidate teams invariably form coalitions of support. Coalitions in Indonesia are much more fluid than in Australia as their prime functions are to ensure a party’s preferred presidential/ vice-presidential candidate is able to pass the nomination threshold and then later to participate in post-election cabinets should their candidate be successful.

In terms of ideological coherence, coalitions tend to be formed in order to reach out across Indonesia’s key political cleavages. This often includes efforts to bridge ethnic and regional/geographic divisions. Most significantly it includes a need to reach out to those who see the nation’s most populous religion, Islam, as central to their political thinking and yet also to ensure that concerns of minorities, as well as Muslims who reject appeals to sectarian solidarity are considered. Differences in economic policy do not tend to divide voters or parties. Most campaign teams tend to promote a welfarist approach with autarkist appeals to economic self-sufficiency and declarations to streamline the bureaucracy and reduce corruption.

Who Is Running In 2019?

Nominations closed on 10 August. In the weeks leading up to this deadline party leaders, spokespeople and would-be candidates engaged in a frenetic pace of meetings, counter meetings, balloon floating and popping with the media full of chat shows and panels, general reporting and lots of speculation on permutations of possible candidate pairings. On the final day of nomination, two pairs of candidates came forward. These comprised:

Joko Widodo & Ma’ruf Amin

This candidacy is being supported by 9 parties led by the party of former President Megawati Sukarnoputri (PDIP). President Jokowi is a member of this party. This team is also supported by the party of former President Soeharto (Golkar), the party of former President Wahid (PKB), the party of former Vice-president Hamzah Haz (PPP). Two other supporting parties, which have seats in the current parliament, are both splinters from Golkar and led respectively by a media tycoon (NasDem) and the current Speaker of the Senate (Hanura).

There are also 3 parties without seats in Parliament. One is an old splinter party of Golkar (PKPI), another is a new party led by another media tycoon (Perindo) and the other is a new party led by young people and hoping to propel youth and women in the political process (PSI).

Collectively this coalition represents 60% of seats in the Parliament and 62% of all votes from the last elections.

Prabowo Subianto & Sandiaga Uno

Facing off against this coalition is Lt Gen (ret) Prabowo Subianto, who ran and lost to Pres. Jokowi in 2014. He also has a new vice-presidential running mate, Mr Sandiaga Solehuddin Uno, the current Deputy Governor of Jakarta and a high profile young entrepreneur prior to entering politics. This coalition is supported by Mr Prabowo’s party (Gerindra).

Other members of the coalition consist of the party led by former President Yudhoyono (Dem), the Speaker of the National Assembly (PAN), and the party often seen as Indonesia’s fraternal peer of the Muslim Brotherhood (PKS). Finally there is a new party, led by former President Soeharto’s youngest son, Tommy Soeharto (Berkarya).

Collectively this coalition represents 40% of seats and 36% of all votes from the last elections.

Beyond these parties there are two other parties that have not been included in either coalition namely PBB and Garuda.

Setting aside the new parties, the main changes between the two pairs of coalitions that competed in 2014 and 2019 is that Golkar and PPP have switched from supporting the Prabowo candidacy in 2014 to supporting the Jokowi candidacy in 2019. The following chart outlines the breakdown of support for various presidential coalitions since the first such elections in 2004.


Looking at the relative strengths of the candidacies it may be tempting to conclude that the incumbent should enjoy a relatively easy win. This would be unwise. First voters are perfectly happy to “split” their votes. Many “old hands” have failed to get elected because they presumed creating a huge coalition of party support would guarantee a victory. Indeed in the presidential elections of 2014, it was Mr Prabowo’s coalition that enjoyed a majority of votes (especially considering the “neutral” party ultimately aligned with his coalition) from the just concluded parliamentary elections. In other examples Mr Jokowi won the governorship of Jakarta in 2012 with only 20% support in that region’s most recently concluded parliamentary elections. In June this year the Governor, who won the election in the important province of South Sulawesi, won 44% of the popular vote although only has 27% support in the provincial council. Most telling was the election results for mayor in the capital of South Sulawesi. In that election there was only one candidate and he enjoyed the support of 10 of the 11 parties in the council. Despite that a majority of voters chose to reject this candidate.

With particular respects to the forthcoming presidential election, it would be therefore be unwise to presume an automatic incumbent victory. From having been a witness to all previous presidential elections in Indonesia, it would be fair to say that Mr Prabowo is the best performer on the hustings.

View or download Kevin Evans’ complete Guide to the 2019 Indonesian Elections (1.64MB pdf)