Bypassing the term of office

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Titi Anggraini
Titi Anggraini, Patron of the Association for Elections and Democracy (Perludem)

Jakarta, IO – The political ruckus caused by the election postponement issue raised by Investment Minister Bahlil Lahadalia at the beginning of 2022 had relatively subsided when the Government, the House of Representatives and the General Elections Commission (KPU), on January 24, 2022, unanimously decided the general election is to be held on Wednesday, February 14, 2024. The KPU then issued Decree No. 21 of 2022 on the 2024 General Election Ballot Day. 

However, it was a short calm before the storm, because on February 23, 2022, General Chairman of the National Awakening Party (PKB) Muhaimin Iskandar put forward a proposition to postpone the 2024 general election for a maximum of two years. He reasoned that postponement is necessary so that economic growth will not be disrupted by the elections, in an environment that could inspire uncertainty and exploitation of conflict. By postponing the election, the presidential term of office is automatically extended. 

The day after, a similar proposal was raised by Golkar Party chairman Airlangga Hartarto, and after that , the National Mandate Party chairman Zulkifli Hasan followed suit. The public reacted with controversy, speculation and rejection, because this is not an ordinary case. The proponents are political elites with a large mass and legislatures to back them up. At the moment, there has been no legal scheme to postpone the elections and extend the presidential term of office. However, with those elites’ political power, the proposition has a high chance of being implemented. 

Violation of the Constitution 

The proposition to postpone the election for a maximum of two years is not a small matter. First, it violates the principle of people’s sovereignty as stipulated in Article 1 Paragraph (2) of the 1945 Constitution. The Article states that the sovereignty of the people is applied through an independent and fair election mechanism. Second, postponing the elections violates the commitment to hold elections regularly every five years, as mandated by Article 22E Paragraph (1) of the Constitution. Third, the incumbent president and vice president will retain power exceeding the provisions allowed by the Constitution. Article 7 of the Constitution explicitly states that the president and vice president shall hold office for five years and may subsequently be re-elected to the same office for one further term only. 

Globally, election postponement for up to two years is not a common practice. In its publication titled “Global Overview of COVID-19 Impact On Elections”, IDEA International mentioned that at least 80 countries and regions worldwide have decided to postpone national and subnational elections due to COVID-19. However, the postponement is short-time, within months at the most, unlike what was proposed by Indonesian political elites. 

Their main reason for postponing the election was to protect the voters from COVID-19 exposure, especially during the pandemic peak in 2020. Nevertheless, the decision to postpone the election because of the outbreak must undergo rigorous considerations and procedures and should take into account the legal aspects holistically (Katherine Ellena, 2020). This must be done to maintain the constitutionality and guarantee that the postponement is not against democratic principles. 

The latest data showed that as of the end of 2021, there was barely a country that postponed its election due to the pandemic. So it was very peculiar when the Indonesian political elite proposed such a delay. Not to mention that this proposition was raised in a government system that applies limitations of the presidential term of office by holding elections periodically. 

Academic studies show that political leaders can use election postponement as one of their strategies to evade the presidential term limit. Mila Versteeg et al. (2020) mentioned five common strategies to avoid the presidential term limit, namely attempts to amend the constitution (amendment), creating a new constitution (blank slate), court decisions (legal), promoting ones’ closest associates to become incumbents so they can retain control (placeholder president) and postponing the elections (election delay). Of all the strategies, postponing elections is probably the most popular used by authoritarian regimes to stay in power beyond their term of office. 

A dangerous predicament 

The 2024 election postponement violates the Constitution in terms of the presidential office term limit. This proposition is even more dangerous than the three-term presidential notion. Although both contradict democratic constitutionalism, the three-term presidency still requires the incumbent to fight through elections. The election is a mandatory mechanism to be able to serve in the third term, in which the incumbent may lose and not be elected.

Meanwhile, the election delay allows the incumbent to continue in power beyond his term of office without struggling through an election. This will be the case not only for the incumbent president but also for the sitting members of parliament since the elections are held simultaneously. It would not be an exaggeration to say that the 2024 general election postponement, for whatever reason claimed by the elites, was merely a ruse to bypass the office term limit. 

The proposal should be unanimously rejected because there is no valid and logical reason to postpone the 2024 general election. People must consistently maintain democratic constitutionalism by organizing the 2024 election on schedule.