PARTY SURVIVAL AND ELECTORAL SYSTEM – The pressures on Indonesia’s democracy

Pemilu 2024
Illustration (AGUNG WAHYUDI/IO)

JAKARTA, IO – “There is a possibility, I dare not speculate yet, to return to a closed-list proportional electoral system,” said General Elections Commission (KPU) chairman Hasyim Asyari at the 2022 end-of-year review at KPU office, Jakarta, Thursday (29/12/2022). 

Demas Brian Wicaksono, Yuwono Pintadi, Fahrurrozi, Ibnu Rachman Jaya, Riyanto, and Nono Marijono fled a judicial review against Law 7/2017 on general elections with the Constitutional Court (MK), challenging the open-list proportional representation electoral system. Accompanied by attorneys Sururudin and Maftukhan, the petition was registered under case No.114/PUU-XX/2022. 

They stated that the word “open” in Article 168(2) of the Election Law is contrary to the 1945 Constitution and thus has no binding legal force. This subsequently sparked a public debate, for if the judicial review is approved by MK, the electoral system in 2024 will effectively become a closed-list proportional system, which means that voters will only see the logos of political parties printed on ballots, not the names of party cadres who contest in the legislative election (pileg) as in previous elections. 

Indonesia has adopted the open-list electoral system since MK issued its decision on December 23, 2008 which annulled Article 214(a-e) of Law 10/2008 on general elections for members of the House of Representatives (DPR), Regional Representatives Council (DPD), and Regional Legislative Councils (DPRD). MK stated that the electoral system to be used in Indonesia would be based on a majority vote. 

The government then issued Government Regulation in lieu of Law (Perppu) 1/2009 to amend Law 10/2008, which was then passed into Law 17/2009. This law was used as the legal basis to organize the 2009 election, where a seat is won by a candidate with the most votes, based on the accumulated number of votes acquired by the political party who nominated them, in excess of the parliamentary threshold. 

In the three elections that used an open-list proportional electoral system, voters were able to vote for a candidate based on their ordinal numbers and political party. This is in effect a bias in the system that prevents us from evaluating the results of the legislative election. 

The role of political parties in ordering the candidate list not only compels voters to choose candidates at the top (number 1 or 2), but also leads to elected candidates prioritizing the interests of the political parties that nominated them, instead of the people who voted for them, when they make crucial decisions in the Parliament. 

The promise that an open-list system would make it easier for voters to supervise their candidates in the Parliament has not been fulfilled. The “bearded cadres,” referring to those who come from the elite class or who join a political party due to cronyism have disappeared, replaced by cadres who rely on popularity and money. Meanwhile, the promise to democratize political parties remains lip service. Political parties are not becoming more oligarchic, but rather dynastic and paternalistic. Is this the result of an open-list system? Or is it simply because the electoral system has not been applied consistently? 

Why does an election need a system? 

The 1945 Constitution is arguably the only constitution in the world which clearly states the role of political parties, namely, to become active election participants. Political parties prepare lists of candidates according to ordinal number, campaign material and campaigning, then raise, manage and account for campaign finance, and file petition to MK if they want to dispute the decisions of KPU. This falls under the party’s authority because the seats won in elections belong to the party, not the candidate. 

Ramlan Surbakti in the article “Electoral system: who is it for?” published on March 17, 2017 in Kompas Daily, explained that the electoral system has two key functions. First, as the procedure to convert votes into seats for state administrators in the legislative or executive branch, both at the national and local levels. Second, as an instrument of democratization.