Indonesia: Low voter turnout a worry in upcoming elections

Updated On: Feb 09, 2009

With legislative elections scheduled for this April 9, politicians and political spectators have an especial interest in the golput phenomenon – registered voters who choose to stay away from the voting booth or cast blank ballots, and what to make of it.

Analysts believe that the golput is becoming an ever more significant demographic, noting that the golput figures of over 25% during  the 2004 elections outnumbered the top vote-getting Golkar party which received just 21.6% of the popular vote.

Non-participation in elections is a growing phenomenon in Indonesia. In the Suharto –era, golput figures estimated on average around 10%, in part because of Indonesians’ fear of repercussion from the military-backed New Order regime. The 1999 elections saw a high of 95% voter participation. Today, regional elections have golput figures ranging from 43% to as high as 70%, as in the Central Java gubernatorial election of 2008.

Interpretations of this phenomenon vary widely. The Indonesian Ulama Council (MUI), an umbrella organization of major Islamic groups, issued a fatwa stating that it is “a moral sin” not to cast a vote in this year’s elections.

Meanwhile, analysts say that reasons for non-participation vary widely: some cannot be bothered to vote; some may be disenchanted with the democratic process and political candidates that have failed to address the systemic economic and political problems that impact on voters’ lives.

Whatever the reason, the increasing golput figures have resulted in a weakened electoral mandate for Indonesia’s political leaders, for instance, causing complicated coalition building between Golkar and Yudhoyono’s Democratic Party in the last elections in order to garner the 25% threshold legally required to nominate a presidential candidate.

If Indonesian politicians are looking to gain a stronger mandate this year, they will have to take a harder look at the causes of voter frustration in order to win voters back to the polling booths.

Asia Times, Indonesia’s Silent Voters Being Heard, 3 Feb 2009, http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Southeast_Asia/KB03Ae01.html

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