Indonesian Presidential System and Lessons for Turkey

Turkey’s transition to a presidential system has already started to shape the Turkish political scene. Long before the 2019 presidential election, political parties have commenced debating the pros and cons of forming alliances and which candidates to support in the first or second round of the presidential election. The debates about the presidential system in Turkey revolve around either the past experiences of Turkish politics or lessons that can be learned from mature democracies with presidential systems, mainly the United States of America or the semi-presidential system of France. This opinion piece aims to bring the presidential system experience of a rarely studied emerging democracy and a rising power to the attention of scholars and policymakers in Turkey. Indonesia, the largest democratic Muslim country in the world, has been ruled by a presidential system since the early 2000s and its experience offers valuable lessons for Turkey. In contrast to the mature democracies of the USA and France, Indonesian case with its relatively recent experimentation with the presidential system, evolving institutional framework, political party alliances for the presidential race and their implications for the political system provides a good venue to examine the potential implications of the presidential system in Turkey.

Dewan Perwakilan Rakyat (DPR), Indonesian House of Representatives

The Democratization Process in Indonesia

Indonesian democratization process goes back to the Asian crisis in the late 1990s. Indonesia was one of the worst affected countries from the Asian crisis, its economy experienced a 13% contraction in 1998 and the resulting social unrest and chaos brought the removal of Suharto from the presidency after 30 years in office. This was a major breakthrough for the democratization process in Indonesia. After major political and economic reforms, first parliamentary elections in Indonesia were conducted in 1999. After this first democratic general elections, the president was elected by the parliament. However, this system was amended and since 2004 presidents are elected by the popular vote. What makes the Indonesian case peculiar is that the presidential system operates under a multi-party system. Relatedly, presidential candidates run for office under the alliance of several political parties represented in the parliament.

Political Parties in Indonesia

Since the 1999 elections, several political parties have emerged in the Indonesian political scene. Broadly, these political parties can be grouped as secular vs Islamist parties. In addition, these parties can be distinguished with their relations with the pre-democratic political system in Indonesia. Since 1999, at least eight parties have been represented in the Indonesian House of Representatives (Dewan Perwakilan Rakyat) and the parliamentary election results below illustrate the major parties represented in the parliament.

Table 1: 1999 Parliamentary Election Results (% vote)

1999 Parliamentary Election Results (% vote)
Indonesian Democratic Party – Struggle (PDI-P) 37.45
Golkar 20.89
National Awakening Party (PKB) 17.44
United Development Party (PPP) 10.68
National Mandate Party (PAN) 7.31
Crescent Star Party (PBB) 1.82
Justice Party (PK) 1.31
Justice and Unity Party (PKP) 0.94

Source: http://archive.ipu.org/parline-e/reports/2147_arc.htm

Table 2: 2004 Parliamentary Election Results (% vote)

2004 Parliamentary Election Results (% vote)
Golkar 21.57
Indonesian Democratic Party – Struggle (PDI-P) 18.53
National Awakening Party (PKB) 10.56
United Development Party (PPP) 8.15
Democratic Party (PD) 7.45
Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) 7.34
National Mandate Party (PAN) 6.44
Crescent Star Party (PBB) 2.62
Reform Star Party (PBR) 2.44
Prosperous Peace Party (PDS) 2.13
Justice and Unity Party (PKP) 1.25
United Democratic Nationhood Party (PPDK) 1.16

Source: http://archive.ipu.org/parline-e/reports/2147_arc.htm

Table 3: 2009 Parliamentary Election Results (% vote)

2009 Parliamentary Election Results (% vote)
Democratic Party (PD) 20.85
Golkar 14.45
Indonesian Democratic Party – Struggle (PDI-P) 14.03
Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) 7.88
National Mandate Party (PAN) 6.01
United Development Party (PPP) 5.32
National Awakening Party (PKB) 4.94
Great Indonesia Movement Party 4.46
People’s Conscience Party 3.77

Source: http://archive.ipu.org/parline-e/reports/2147_arc.htm

Table 4: 2014 Parliamentary Election Results (% vote)

2014 Parliamentary Election Results (% vote)
Indonesian Democratic Party – Struggle (PDI-P) 18.95
Golkar 14.75
Great Indonesia Movement Party (Gerindra) 11.81
Democratic Party (PD) 10.19
National Awakening Party (PKB) 9.04
National Mandate Party (PAN) 7.59
Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) 6.79
Nasdem Party 6.72
United Development Party (PPP) 6.53
People’s Conscience Party (Hanura) 5.26
Crescent Star Party (PBB) 1.46

Source: https://www.indonesia-investments.com/news/todays-headlines/official-result-of-the-indonesian-legislative-election-2014-released/item1978?

The number of parties in the parliament necessitate the political parties to form alliances for the presidential race. Furthermore, an election law enacted in 2008 puts requirements on the part of political parties and only political parties which received at least 25% vote in the parliamentary elections or 20% of the parliamentary seats can propose presidential nominations. As a result, presidential candidates are nominated with respect to the alliances formed for the presidential race.

Presidential Elections in Indonesia

First direct presidential elections were conducted in 2004. Golkar had emerged from the 2004 parliamentary elections as the victor followed by the PDI-P. Nevertheless, retired General Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono as a nominee of the PD, PKP and PBB (all of them received less than 10% in 2004 parliamentary election) ran for the presidency while Golkar nominated Jusuf Kalla as his running mate. As a result, Yudhoyono became the first President of Indonesia under democratic popular vote. In 2009, PD, PKS, PAN, PPP, PKB alliance nominated incumbent President Yudhoyono for the presidential race this time with running mate Boediono and they won the presidential race by a wide margin.

Probably the most contentious presidential race to date in Indonesia took place in 2014. Governor of Jakarta Joko Widodo (Jokowi) was nominated by PDI-P, PKB, Nasdem, Hanura, PKP for the presidential race with running mate Jusuf Kalla. On the other hand, former General Prabowo Subianto was nominated by Golkar, Gerindra, PD, PAN, PKS, PPP, PBB. Subianto coalition was holding 63% of parliamentary seats and had gained a total of 59% in parliamentary elections. Nevertheless, Widodo won the presidential race with 53% and became the first civilian democratically elected President of Indonesia with a popular vote.

Lessons for Turkey     

Indonesian presidential system with a multi-party political system illustrates the potential implications for the Turkish presidential system. First of all, political parties in Indonesia need to form coalitions as a result of 2008 election law to nominate their presidential candidate. These coalitions bring the diverse group of parties (secular or Islamist, socially conservative or progressive, liberal or social democrat for economic policy, etc.) together to propose a viable contender in the race. Secondly, president-elect needs to form a cabinet that takes into account the diverse and even conflicting interests and preferences of political parties that formed their coalition. This makes the President’s job much more difficult. Thirdly, even though the President may be the leader of the country, the parliamentary majority may be formed from the opposing alliance. Thus, presidential performance may depend on the relations between the cabinet and the parliamentary majority.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan, President of Turkey

While Turkish presidential system is yet to start in 2019 with the first direct presidential elections, Indonesian case illustrates the potential implications of a presidential system with a multi-party political system. As of January 2018, we are not aware of what the adjustment laws to the presidential system will bring to the Turkish political system yet alliance talks between political parties and the projections of first and second round results have already started to influence the political arena. In order to have a better understanding of the Turkish presidential system and implications on a wider scale, we need to pay more attention to the similar case studies where the presidential system is in place. Moreover, emerging and rising powers such as Indonesia bring a much more fertile ground to compare the Turkish case with respect to political and economic dynamics. If we can enhance our knowledge in these rarely studied cases, we can bring much more fruitful comparative studies to inform contemporary debates not just in Turkey but also in numerous countries. Hopefully, this short opinion piece can generate lively discussions around this topic.

About the Author:

Mustafa Yağcı

Mustafa Yağcı is an Assistant Professor of International Political Economy at İstinye University department of International Relations. He received his PhD in Political Science and International Relations from Koç University in December 2016. His research interests lie at the intersection of International and Comparative Political Economy, Political Economy of Development, Institutional Theory and Public Policy. He has published articles in the journals of Policy and Society, Insight Turkey and Perceptions. His co-authored book chapter on the comparative historical analysis of Malaysian and Indonesian national development experience is forthcoming for the edited book “Industrial Policy and Sustainable Growth” from Springer.


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