By: Nicolaus TB Harjanto, MA., P.hD
The writer has a doctorate from Northern Illinois University in the US and is a member of the Indonesian Political Science Association (AIPI).
The advantage of incumbency is unavoidable in any election. Popularity, access to campaign resources and influence over the bureaucracy are attached to the holders of power.
In the seven years since the inception of direct elections for local executives, there have been many incumbents who have successfully won reelection. Some of them have even succeeded in transferring power to their relatives or wives, reflecting a burgeoning trend political familism.
In the US, according to one study, 94 percent of incumbents were reelected in elections for the US House of Representatives in 2008. From the period of 1964 to 2008, on average 93 percent of incumbent House legislators and 81 percent of incumbent senators retained their seats. This clearly shows how incumbency can affect supposedly level playing field in the election.
There were also losses suffered by successful incumbents. In the 2009 legislative election, for example, several candidates were not reelected, losing to the monetization of politics in the open-list proportional electoral system that favors the most-voted candidates.
The incumbency advantage thesis will soon be tested in Jakarta gubernatorial election on July 11. The incumbent, Fauzi Bowo, has been serving the capital’s government for decades, ever since he started working as a low-ranking official. Lackluster performance means he will have to fight hard for his second term.
Paired at the last minute with little known candidate for vice governor, Nachrowi Ramli, the chairman of the Jakarta chapter of the Democratic Party, Fauzi will face a difficult electoral battle. Unlike in 2007 election when he faced only one challenger, Adang Daradjatun, who ran under the banner of Prosperous Justice Party (PKS), in the upcoming election, Fauzi will fight candidates who are backed by political parties and, possibly, those running independently.
Fauzi’s heavyweight opponents include popular and respected figures like Surakarta Mayor Joko Widodo and his running mate, former Belitung regent Basuki Tjahaja Purnama and former People’s Consultative Assembly speaker Hidayat Nur Wahid from the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) and his running mate, economist Didik Rachbini of the National Mandate Party (PAN). Other contestants seem less threatening for the incumbent.
When an election is an open race between an incumbent and several contenders representing the continuation of mediocrity versus radical change, then electoral surprises might happen — especially in the Jakarta gubernatorial race, where the winner must secure a simple majority of the vote, making a runoff quite inevitable.
Fauzi will likely be able to mobilize many local Betawi people, who account for around a quarter of Jakarta’s population. He will also have influence over a bureaucracy that reports to him. He commands mayors and district heads, as they are appointed by the governor.
He also can use government social programs to lure urban poor voters and other programs for his campaign purposes. His war chest is believed to be the strongest, as his power could generate a large amount of campaign funds.
But, his Achilles heels are easily spotted. As a native and a self-claimed expert on Jakarta, he is viewed as a non-performing leader. Traffic congestion, floods, a lack of public security and poor service remain the topmost concerns as expressed in public debates and daily chats.
The two strongest contenders, the campaigns of Jokowi and Hidayat, may really threaten Fauzi’s reelection bid. The challengers are running for office in Jakarta not merely to seek power, as they are not self-centered and selfish political figures. They have credentials and integrity as leaders and therefore they can energize the grassroots and young voters to work for their electoral success.
However, wining an election is not about any single factor. According to Faucheux, there are eight major factors that will influence the result: the candidate and the voters, campaign strategy, political messages, issues and programs, coalitions, campaign organization, money and popular cues that can serve as a mobilizing identity.
Jakarta voters, especially traditionally apolitical and less-enthusiastic voters, will likely exercise their voting rights, as there are good candidates to choose from. If many of them turn up at the polling stations and the election is free of tampering and systematic fraud, it is even possible that the incumbent will have little chance to make it to the second round.
But, Fauzi remains a giant in local electoral politics and he can make full use of all political means at his disposal to survive.