“To prevent election from the extreme candidates / parties who want to replace the pancasila ideology for instance establishing the Shariah Unitary Republic of Indonesia or the People’s Republic of Indonesia that based communism or fascism”

Two neighbours go to the polls

Within a one-month period, both Australia and Indonesia conducted national elections this year. The results saw the re-election of incumbent Prime Minister Scott Morrison (ScoMo) and incumbent President Joko Widodo (Jokowi). Their respective coalitions, the Liberal and National parties supporting ScoMo and the PDIP-led coalition supporting Jokowi, have also been successful in securing majorities on the floor of their respective houses of representatives.

The Australian election results were all the more surprising considering that pre-election opinion polls indicated ScoMo would be defeated by Bill Shorten and the Labor Party. By contrast, in Indonesia, polling over the past year has all indicated that Jokowi and his coalition would retain control of the presidency and the Parliament. It is no doubt for these reasons that his opponent, Prabowo Subianto, and his Gerindra Party-led coalition sought, as opposition forces do, to attack the track record of the incumbent administration. They targeted Jokowi’s development program and went further by mobilising primordial sentiments along religious, racial and ethnic lines, including using radical religious groups. In addition the Prabowo camp complained a great deal about media coverage.

In Australia nobody was surprised when Bill Shorten and his Labor Party, despite long term predictions of victory, immediately accepted the election results and called to congratulate ScoMo on his surprise victory. In his concession speech Bill Shorten stated that “after the contest concludes, we all have a responsibility to accept the results, respect the will of the Australian people, and unite our nation”. A very praiseworthy speech.

In contrast, in Indonesia, Prabowo Subianto and his coalition supporters rejected the results of the official count by the Election Commission for the presidential election, although strangely accepted the results of the official count for the parliamentary elections. In 2019 for the first time Indonesia conducted presidential and parliamentary elections on the same day. Since the start of the campaign the opposition, perhaps channeling Donald Trump, asserted that the management and conduct of the election authorities was unfair, building these assertions in a structured, systematic and massive manner.

Even so, in the end, and in accordance with their constitutional rights, Team Prabowo submitted a legal challenge to the Constitutional Court. Despite this, on 21 and 22 May, one day after the Election Commission announced the results of the presidential elections (declaring Jokowi the winner), masses of supporters who are usually seen supporting Team Prabowo conducted demonstrations that ended in chaos. These actions left at least six people dead, hundreds injured, hundreds of suspects arrested, the burning of police cars and the destruction of public facilities with losses to the nation of at least AUD $70 million.

It would be all but impossible to imagine such political immaturity in Australia. The closest that comes to mind was the situation approaching the 1975 election that followed the dismissal of the Government by the governor general. Even then, after the results were announced they were accepted by the losers and the duly elected Government set to work immediately.

Post the 2019 election ScoMo’s Liberal-National Coalition is expected to be stable, with the same basic party configuration as when they entered the election. In contrast, the Jokowi supporting coalition led by PDIP will have to differ somewhat from its composition beforehand. One of the supporting parties, Hanura, (founded by General Wiranto) has failed to pass the electoral threshold of four percent. Meanwhile the Demokrat Party of former President Yudhoyono and the National Mandate Party (PAN) have indicated that they would be happy to join the winning coalition despite having supported Prabowo in the election.

The politics in both countries after these elections may not change much. Both countries will continue to face key similar problems, namely dealing with rising costs of living in the face of the struggle to ensure well-paying jobs for the workforce. Additional challenges for Australia will be managing its immigration policy in the face of slowing economic growth, undertaking concrete action to confront the challenges of the environment and global warming together with political participation and women in leadership.

Meanwhile for Jokowi the biggest problem relates to the matters of age-old divides and the forceful spread of radicalised religion. We’ve seen increased infiltration by an ideology from the Middle East that promotes not national citizenship but rather trans-national religion-ship. This has grown since the final decade of the Suharto era and more intensely still during the democratic era. But, neither nation can hide from the impact of globalisation, in particular the trade war between China and the US together with the rise of China as a multidimensional power in the Asia Pacific region.

The election system for Australia’s House of Representatives

The system used for electing candidates to Australia’s House of Representatives is called ‘preferential voting’, based on single member constituencies. Single member constituencies are also used in the US, the UK, India and Malaysia, for example. But unlike the crude first-past-the-post system these countries apply, Australian voters do not only vote for one candidate. Voters must rank each candidate on their ballot paper from their most preferred candidate to their least preferred candidate. For example, if there are seven candidates the voter marks 1 beside their most preferred candidate, 2 for their second-most preferred and so on, down to 7 for their least preferred candidate. The impact of this system is that the most popular candidate (the one with the most number 1 votes) is not necessarily the winner. The winning candidate is the one considered most acceptable, as demonstrated by securing over 50% of the vote after the distribution of the preferences of voters who placed a 1 next to the less popular candidates.

A classic example of this preferential voting in action – one that demonstrates the victory of the most acceptable, not most popular candidate – is the result from the Division of Blair in southern Queensland in the 1998 federal election.

The result for the Division of Blair in 1998. The table to the left indicates first preference votes among the nine candidates. The table to the right shows the results of the final distribution of preferences demonstrating Thompson’s victory over Hanson. (Photo credit: ABC)

The result for the Division of Blair in 1998. The table to the left indicates first preference votes among the nine candidates. The table to the right demonstrates the results of the final distribution of preferences demonstrating Thompson’s victory over Hanson.

Noting that no candidate secured over 50% of the number 1 votes (the first count), the second preference votes of the weakest candidate (Mark Sloane) were then distributed among the other eight candidates. This process was continued until one of the candidates secured over 50% of the total vote. That, it turned out, was the candidate who had come third in the first count, with only 21.7%, who overtook the first-count winner, despite her having received a far-greater 36% of the number 1 votes. That’s the maths. Now for the politics.

Since bursting onto the political scene in the 1996 election as the soon-to-be-disendorsed Liberal candidate for the safest Labor seat in Queensland, Ms Hanson has been Australia’s leading voice for promoting racial sentiments, demonising racial minorities and promoting anti-immigrant policies. Placing herself on the extreme political fringe, Ms Hanson galvanises lots of political support, but also lots of opposition. As a result it was extremely difficult for her to raise her base of 36% of number 1 votes on first count up to 50% on preferences, given that most of the remaining 64% of voters essentially said ‘anyone but Pauline’.

Among the major four parties in that campaign the weakest was the National Party. Given the 70-year political coalition they have had with the Liberal Party it is hardly surprising that most voters preferred the Liberal candidate to the Labor candidate. This boost to preferences support for the Liberal elevated him above the Labor candidate. As the weakest candidate among the remaining three, Labor voters were put in the historically difficult position of supporting either a Liberal (70-year political opponents) or Ms Hanson, who was even more extreme in her views. In the end most of them favoured the Liberal over Ms Hanson.

The Australian voting system used in the House of Representatives is very effective in preventing candidates and parties that are considered extreme from being elected. This system is indeed often proposed for use in divided and conflict-ridden societies. This is because this system encourages extreme candidates and parties to moderate their positions to become electable, or face ongoing defeat. Perhaps this system would be appropriate for Indonesia, especially to prevent the election of extremist candidates and parties that wish to replace Pancasila with, for example, the establishment of a Syariah-based Republic of Indonesia, or a People’s Republic of Indonesia based on communism or fascism.

The 2019 Australian election violated old axioms

An age-old political truth is Australia is that a divided party will not win an election. Over the last four years the Liberal Party has been led by three people. PM Tony Abbott was replaced by Malcolm Turnbull. Tony Abbott never accepted this result and following his ousting he became a sharp critic of PM Turnbull despite being part of the same party. In August 2018, Turnbull was replaced by ScoMo. The fast changeover of leaders between Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison indicates there is a deep division in the party between the progressive wing (led by Turnbull) and the ultra-conservative wing (led by Abbott).

Morrison represents a relatively neutral figure between these two groups. These changes reflect an instability within the governing party. This usually presages imminent failure by such a government to be re-elected. In the case of the last Coalition government there were other ominous signs. The seat vacated by former PM Turnbull was won in a by-election by an independent candidate – the first time in Australian history that this seat had not been won by a Liberal Party candidate (or one from the party’s ancestors). Another sign was the resignation of the former deputy PM Barnaby Joyce, leader of the National Party, in scandalous circumstances.

Despite the ominous signs for his Government, ScoMo campaigned with confidence and energy as a central campaign leader. He campaigned as one does in a majoritarian system in which every vote does count. He mixed frequently with regular folk and extolled the successes of his administration despite it only being a few months old. Opinion polls did indicate a level of dissatisfaction with him, however, throughout the campaign, he remained more popular than the leader of the opposition Labor Party, Bill Shorten.

It seems that the Australian voters no longer follow the old axiom of rejecting divided parties. They did indeed elect ScoMo as prime minister, remaining loyal to the Liberal and National Coalition. Had he lost the 2019 election he would have been the first Australian prime minister never to win an election since William McMahon in the early 1970s. The success of the Coalition was very much ScoMo’s. Post the election the success of the Government will also be very much determined by ScoMo. Recalling that this new Parliament contains no former prime ministers should add further to the wiggle room he enjoys in leadership.

The victory of the Liberal and National Coalition in the House of Representatives was announced by the Australian Electoral Commission with the following division of seats and comparison to the 2016 elections.

A different story in the Senate

The Senate (akin to Indonesia’s DPD) consists of 76 senators. Voters in each state elect 12 senators for a six-year term. Half of those 12 are elected every three years. Voters in the two special regions (Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory) vote for just two senators, each of whom are re-elected every three years. To pass legislation the Government needs to secure the support of 39 senators.

The latest estimates of likely Senate results, with 85% of votes counted, are as follows:

  • Coalition, 35 senators
  • Labor, 26 senators
  • Greens, 9 senators
  • Others, 6 senators

The Coalition falls a few seats short of an outright majority. The opposition Labor Party has even fewer seats.

Mathematically, the easiest path for the Coalition would be to work with the Greens. Unfortunately, this will not occur as, politically, the Coalition agrees on even less with the Greens than they do with Labor. In this regard the Government will need to negotiate each of its proposed laws through the Senate, hoping to rely on many of the minor parties, most of whose members are either centre-right or extreme right.

The ABC’s Antony Green, a popular TV personality and the election analyst in charge of their election outcome predictions. (Credit: ABC)

The ultra-conservative wing of the Liberal Party began to emerge under the leadership of former PM John Howard and became much more influential under the leadership of PM Abbott. Since then, the party has become polarised. A number of issues were predicted to steadily erode the moderate voting base of the party. These include its lack of concern for the political participation of women, a pro-monarchy position as reflected in a decision to bring back a knights and dames system discarded decades ago, a willful rejection of the effects of climate change, and a tough stance against asylum seekers arriving by boat.

In the 2013 elections the Liberal incumbent in the safe Division of Indi was defeated by independent Kathy McGowan. Retiring at the 2019 elections she was replaced by another independent, Helen Haines. Turnbull’s replacement in his seat was Kerryn Phelps, another independent. Mayo, a safe Liberal seat in South Australia, was won by Rebekha Sharkie from a minor progressive Liberal-leaning party. In the Division of Warringah, long held by the Liberals, the incumbent Tony Abbott met his own fate being defeated by Zali Steggall, another independent candidate. All these victors in safe Liberal seats have been women. This demonstrates the effectiveness of women as candidates, especially given the practical electoral difficulties facing independent candidates. It also shows that many voters in safe Liberal seats are willing to punish the party for being out of touch with modern and moderate values by voting for women who lean Liberal, but are not from the party.

Political fragmentation in Australia

Since the end of World War II, there have only ever been three parties in Government, namely the Labor Party (27 years) and the Coalition of the Liberal Party and the National Party (formerly the Country Party). The Coalition have governed for a total of 47 years since WWII. It has been remarkably stable, with the Liberals remaining in the Coalition even when they won sufficient seats to govern as a single party majority. The strength of the Coalition has been founded upon an effective division of territory, with the Liberals focused on urban areas and the National Party focuses on rural areas. It is a geographic division that has also served the centre-right in Germany (led by the Christian Democratic Union with its junior partner, the Christian Social Union, based in Bavaria.)

Even so, over the past 20 years there has been a splintering of parties from that core Coalition. From the Liberal Party has sprung the One Nation Party, the Conservative Party and the Palmer United Party (now United Australia Party). There are even splinters of splinters such as the Jacqui Lambie Network that emerged from the Palmer United Party. From the National Party has sprung the Katter Australia Party. Each tends to represent a kind of “fan club” of its founder, such as Pauline Hanson, Clive Palmer, Cory Bernardi, Bob Katter and Jacqui Lambie. Each of these parties should be seen as splinters of the extreme of their original parties, not of their moderate wings.

At the same time, the Labor Party itself has not been immune to divisions. While the last split took place in the mid-1950s, it is also the case that many progressive and leftist voters have moved towards supporting the Greens Party.

Demonstration of the migration of voters from the main parties can been seen in the following: some 50 years ago, in the 1969 elections, 47% of voters voted Labor while 43% voted for the Coalition. This meant that 10% of voters supported other parties. Contrast that with 2019 where Labor secured 34% of the vote and the Coalition 41%. This meant that 25% of voters supported other parties. Small parties from the centre-right secured 10% of votes while those of the centre-left secured 12%, including 10% for the Greens (and independents the remaining three percent.)

These results demonstrate a degree of political, or at least electoral, fragmentation. In contrast, Indonesian politics are much more fragmented considering that no party is even able to secure above 20% of the vote. With this greater political fragmentation the role of the leader of the government, as a force for unity, is very important. In maintaining this unity, it is very important that ScoMo and Jokowi are able to maintain the plurality of political life that exist in each nation.

Authors: Reni Suwarso Ph, D & Kevin Evans

Reni Suwarso Ph, D is an IDESSS Director, BWASS Chief Commissioner , Head of UI’s Democracy and Citizenship Cluster, Head of UI’s Water Cluster, and UI’s Political Sciences lecturer.

Kevin Evans is an Indonsesia Director in The Australia-Indonesia Centre

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