16 March 2008

Election Laws - President

The packet of election laws is slowly but surely navigating its way through the parliamentary system. The most recent of these is the draft law on the Election of a President. This is a law that has significant and long-term ramifications for Indonesian politics. The current thinking sees a return to the party politics of the past which is counter to the intent in the post-Soeharto period of making the post of President one that was elected directly by the people.

The current law requires that candidates have the support of at least 15% of the parties elected to parliament. This in theory gives the smaller parties more clout in nominating a candidate that might have broad public appeal. This is how it worked for the Democratic Party in 2004 and particularly for their candidate, the current President, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (SBY). The Democratic party secured about 10% of the popular vote but after forming an alliance with other parties got of the nominating threshold.

The proposal is that the threshold be raised to 30%. No one party secured 30% of the popular vote in 2004. The closest was Golkar with 28% and PDI-P with almost 23% followed Golkar. It would seem that increasing the threshold would most benefit these parties because the smaller parties would have to align themselves with the bigger parties if they wanted to get a say in the nominating process. However, if a smaller party came up with a candidate that had widespread name recognition and a high-level of electability then perhaps the larger parties might throw their support behind the smaller party. In this sense, Indonesia already has a history of doing this as SBY was nominated by the Democratic Party and was supported by Golkar who then put Jusuf Kalla on the ticket.

Yet, more critical to the debate here is that the new thresholds seem designed to keep the smaller parties at bay and institutionalize the Presidential nominating process in such a way that new and younger candidates who are not affiliated with a 'big' political party will never see the light of day.

Many people wonder why Indonesia is taking so long to reform on the legal, political, and social fronts after Soeharto fell from power but a quick look at the entrenched interests involved in stalling the reform process reads as a who's who of the New Order's school of politics. A reading of the list of past Indonesian presidents highlights that all of Indonesia's presidents since the fall of Soeharto have cut their political teeth under a regime that was rotten to the core.

So, I am not surprised that the parties of the past and seeking to return electoral laws to the past in a somewhat draconian measure to remove potential political opposition.

The mantra that change takes time is beginning to wear thin and it will not be too far into the future that Indonesian citizens will demand more radical change, at least radical in terms of the amount of time they are prepared to wait to see this change happen.

It would seem that if Golkar and PDI-P manage to insert this 30% clause into the draft and then force it through the DPR that the biggest beneficiaries of this will be Jusuf Kalla and Megawati Soekarnoputri...

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