A good political system is characterized by its effectiveness and efficiency. A good political system is able to accommodate the needs of the citizens effectively, with plenty of channels to voice their views and aspirations. It should also avoid having too many people and too much bureaucracy, so that work can be done efficiently.
Finally, it should be relatively easy for ordinary citizens to understand and process all the information, so that political awareness won't be too hard to achieve. However, the sad part about the Indonesian political system is that it doesn't seem to fulfill any of these.
When examining the Indonesian political system, one word that always seems to come to mind is oversized. Whether it's the central parliament with over 600 members, all of the provincial and municipal parliaments, the 44 political parties in the parliamentary elections, or even the massive pieces of paper used in the most recent elections as ballot sheets, Indonesia's political system is so large and convoluted that it can cause confusion to even the relatively well-versed.
Aside from that, there have been several size-related problems within the system. So, judging by recent occurrences in the past few years, it seems that size does matter in politics, just not in the way that our legislators had hoped.
First, our provincial and municipal parliaments, which were brought on by the decentralization policy, have not exactly been the most productive. Simply put, these parliaments are often idle.
Take, for example, the DKI Jakarta provincial parliament with its 75 members. A quick look at their website will reveal that from mid-2004 until the end of 2007, there have only been a grand total of four laws passed.
Although it's understandable that parliaments don't need to churn out hundreds or even tens of laws per year, what becomes rather difficult to understand is why we need to employ 75 people to do it.
This becomes especially problematic when we consider that these people only deal with provincial-scale laws, as there are many overstuffed municipal parliaments dealing with laws for individual cities and municipalities (usually even fewer laws than the provincial parliaments).
In short, overstuffed provincial and municipal parliaments are not efficient, they are wasteful.
Second, our central parliament has also been a massive waste of resources. Although the central parliament has been more productive than its provincial and municipal counterparts, there remains a significant problem for this parliament: attendance. Parliament attendance rosters show a ridiculously large absentee ratio, sometimes even up to 30 percent.
In fact, this 30 percent absentee figure seems to be understated, because press accounts over the years have shown that many members sign the attendance rosters, and then disappear from the session moments afterwards.
This causes huge negative repercussions: quorums are not met for some parliament commissions; sessions get delayed or adjourned due to low attendance; and, most importantly, the voices of the constituents go unheard, simply because the representative was busy elsewhere.
The worst part: they just increased their numbers from 678 to 692 for the latest electoral period. Considering the excessively high salary paid to these people, it seems like a complete waste of money to pay for a bunch of absentees.
Finally, the incident still fresh in our memories: the election that almost didn't happen on time. With 44 political parties and hundreds of politicians running for office, the ballot sheets were a complete logistical nightmare.
Add to this the sheer magnitude of the information on parties and candidates that needed to be processed by voters that do not have proper access to this information (as a quick trip to any party website can prove), and the end result is a system that does not work.
Many voters declined to vote, and many of those who showed up ended up not casting votes anyway. All of this happened simply because there was no way to properly decide who to vote for.
So, what's the solution to the current challenges we face? In a word: downsizing. The Indonesian government and political system needs to rid itself of the excess weight it is currently carrying.
By trimming the numbers, many benefits can be attained. Smaller central parliaments lead to higher levels of competition, because candidates fight for fewer seats.
This means that absentee members of parliament are less likely to be reelected, because they will get out competed, and the newly elected or reelected members will think twice before skipping parliament sessions, due to fear of losing their spot in the future.
Smaller regional and municipal parliaments lead to massive savings on the payrolls, with minimal setbacks to the work. Having less parties in the election will make things easier logistically, and will also make it easier for voters to make up their minds.
This notion will most likely be received with significant resistance. Shrinking the size of parliaments will bring about the paranoia of the centralist and authoritarian days of old, while more restrictions for parties attempting to qualify for the elections will provoke outcries of large-party hegemony.
And, to be fair, these outcries are not completely unjustified, albeit rather exaggerated.
Smaller parliaments may, to some extent, hinder the productivity and the power of the legislative branch (though not necessarily). Smaller elections would close the channels for new, small parties to participate and try their luck at the elections, although they probably won't get enough votes anyway, much like what happened to around 20 parties that participated in the election back in April.
However, even if we take into account these benefits, they are surely outweighed by the political convolution as well as the amount of money wasted on this overstuffed system.
So, in the end, it seems rather clear that elections with hundreds of candidates spending their fortunes on uninformative posters, as well as parliaments full of empty chairs and idle members, are things we can do without.
The writer is a student of the Faculty of Economics, University of Indonesia.