Indonesian voters get a genuine choice, but an increasingly narrow one

Mar 28, 2019

IN A METAL pavilion down a backstreet in Yogyakarta, a mid-sized Indonesian city, Tutiek Widyo is making her pitch to the crowd. She is a candidate for the local legislature from the National Mandate Party (PAN), a small Islamic outfit, in the general election on April 17th. Dressed in a bejewelled headscarf, Ms Tutiek patiently spells out her credentials to the audience, who are mostly elderly. They nod and smile politely, but appear more interested in the free tea and gudeg, a local speciality made from stewed jackfruit.

Yogyakarta is a stronghold of PAN, partly because it is also the headquarters of Muhammadiyah, an affiliated Muslim organisation. Even so, Ms Tutiek needs to whip up as much support as possible. A recent change to electoral laws means that parties need at least 4% of the popular vote to gain seats in the national parliament, up from 2% in 2004. Polls show PAN hovering dangerously near this threshold. Abduljalie, a retired tailor wearing a chequered sarong, says he has voted for PAN at every election since it was founded in 1999. It is crucial that PAN be represented in parliament, he continues; he would never vote for anyone else.

Other parties are also at risk. Of the ten in parliament, four will not meet the 4% threshold and two others are hovering just above it, according to...

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