The General Elections Commission (KPU) has, after some delays, finally published the preliminary list of 11,868 legislative candidates for the total 560 seats in the 2009 elections. The list was published early last week in Republika daily and on state-owned television channel TVRI, and is open for public scrutiny until Tuesday. However, the delays, the short period for scrutiny and questions over the competency of some candidates -- some are celebrities or family members of party elites -- have raised concerns over the quality of the next elections. Political observer from University of Indonesia Ani W. Soetjipto discussed the issue with The Jakarta Post's Erwida Maulia on Saturday. Following are some excerpts.
Question: How do you see the composition of the interim list of legislative candidates in terms of competencies?
Answer: In general, some parties submitted names for the list only for the sake of filling it. Their competency was not the main consideration. For new parties, I think (the problem is) they're not ready to enlist enough candidates to reach the maximum of 120 percent of the total ( 560 ) seats at stake, and place candidates in each of the 77 electoral districts. That is why some parties are not running candidates in some electoral districts.
Unfortunately, the seven or eight relatively well-established older parties have made it seem that they're only after the short-term goal of winning as many votes as possible when enlisting their candidates. Most of their candidates are popular figures expected to win votes.
I've also noticed a nepotism phenomenon, in which wives, children or children-in-law of party elites can be found in many parties' lists of candidates. They looked for figures simply based on their popularity and not on their competency.
The competency aspect will be tested. They might be popular public figures but that doesn't mean they have the competencies to be legislators. So (voters) need to first see their track records: whether or not they have the capability and the competency to be legislators.
With such a list, what do you think will be the impact on the quality of the next House of Representatives?
I don't expect that the 2009-2014 House will be much better than the current one. Not only because of the (quality) of the legislative candidates offered by parties, but also because of other conditions, including that the wider public is not well aware of the publication of the interim list of candidates. How many people know and care about scrutinizing the list?
Secondly, the KPU's role in informing the public about this. I have no idea if parties actively inform to their constituents about the list so they can scrutinize it.
Thirdly, because attempts by civil society movements to reach the public are limited. Many of our voters live in rural areas and have no idea about corrupt politicians, which is an urban phenomenon.
In these conditions, I'm really worried that people will in the end vote without knowing anything about the candidates.
The preliminary list has only been published after a number of delays and KPU violations of its own scheduling regulation. What do you think will be the consequences of this?
It is very difficult to find the edition of Republika carrying the list (last Tuesday). The KPU only published it for one day, not five days in a row as required by the law. How can we get input from the public with one day of publication? The list won't be available for public comments after Oct. 14. It looks like there will only be slight changes to the list.
Who will sit in front of the TV to scrutinize the list? This is very ineffective.
What about the requirement for 30 percent of candidates to be female? Has that been properly met by parties?
Only four parties failed to fulfill the 30 percent quota. But, if we look at the details, female candidates are not running in every electoral district. Parties have 30 percent of women from their total candidates across all the districts, although what the law mandates is 30 percent in each district.
Secondly, the system of placing female candidates alternately in the list. Parties still put women at number 3, 6, 9 and so on, on the list. Some are placed at number 1, but that also doesn't automatically give them a bigger chance of winning. For example, the Golkar Party has 13 female candidates at the top of ( 13 ) electoral district lists, but they can't automatically win because Golkar selects candidates based on a majority vote, not on the party ranking. The Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) adopts the ranking system, but it has only three female candidates at the top of electoral district lists.
I think the chance that women's representation will be improved in the 2009 elections is still small. Judging from the available data, there are only 27 female candidates who can surely win the elections. In general, I'm not very optimistic that the number of women in the House and regional councils will increase significantly.
How will all these problems impact on the quality of the 2009 elections?
The quality will be worse than that in the 2004 and the 1999 elections. It will be worse in terms of democracy, organization, preparation and the dissemination of information to the public.
The 2009 elections are not well organized; everything is always late and wrong. There are always delays. Parties have picked their candidates perfunctorily. Voters are not optimally informed. We don't even know whether the public knows about the changes in the election laws and in scheduling. Do they follow the changes? As a result, the upcoming 2009 elections will be of poorer quality.
What can civil society groups do to change this situation?
The scale of work for NGOs now overseeing the elections is not as massive as in 1999 or 2004. These watchdogs must shout louder in reporting, scrutinizing and overseeing the performances of the KPU and the parties, while massively informing the public and making them care more about elections. If no one cares about voting, our situation over the next five years will not change.