The naïveté of local election bill
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The House of Representatives has begun to discuss the local election bill. Unfortunately, most of the public criticism is directed at technical issues, such as the gubernatorial elections by provincial council, the proposals of gubernatorial appointments and the government’s proposal to separate the elections of district heads and those of their deputies.
Strangely, many stakeholders are less serious about discussing crucial problems in the governance of elections. To design a good election, the bill should carefully review the chapters of election violations and sanctions. Many election-related conflicts become chaotic because of incomplete regulations.
Indonesian democracy is characteristically procedural rather than substantive, spontaneous, and consolidated without established social and economic support. Election designs seem to be born without maturity. Candidates frequently pursue instant processes to raise their popularity.
The gap between election regulations and the capacity to implement them often exists.
Local elections are full of activities, actors, media and informal agreements steering policymaking in the regions. Policy choices are isolated, determined exclusively by certain actors and interests.
The danger of informality occurs when individual interests are accommodated more than public aspiration. Informality may destruct the order of public political trust, particularly when government and non-government actors collaborate to struggle for the sake of self or group benefits.
In other words, the output and outcome of policy are inherently public goods, but often can only be accessed and experienced by a limited group of people.
Such projections are less anticipated in the ongoing review of the local election bill. Some vulnerable points appear in the drafts, namely campaigns, violations and sanctions.
In regulating campaigns, the bill seems to capture the formal perspective that campaigning is an official stage of local elections. The draft of Article 86 defines it explicitly in a limited meaning as actions undertaken by candidates’ campaign teams.
In fact, activities of candidates’ supporters outside the official campaign team are much larger.
Suppose the election inspectors discover violations, they will find difficulties in adjusting sanctions to parties outside the official teams. For instance, we frequently find many candidates’ visual aids displayed in public spaces well before the polls.
Meanwhile, the draft on bans in campaigns, mainly relating to the use of local regional budgets and facilities, only benefits incumbents who can get a free ride on ongoing government programs and increase their likeability among potential voters.
Consequently, we often find that two years prior to the respective polls, incumbents or their relatives and colleagues drive local government programs in accordance with their election targets.
Also, bans on the engagements of local officials, public servants, village heads and their staff are difficult to avoid.
Prior facts show that policy transactions among incumbents and bureaucracies, including village heads, are difficult to be detected by election commissions and election inspectors.
The campaign fund is in the same boat. The bill cannot anticipate unreported donations. A businessman can take the initiative and distribute the campaign materials of his chosen candidate with his own funds; such funds are difficult to be scrutinized by auditors.
A main weakness of the bill concerns money politics. It is only defined as a cash disbursement to voters to influence their choices, which is far from sufficient. I prefer to address money politics by adding the definition to include “and/or other materials” as addressed in Article 97 of the draft.
Indonesia Corruption Watch (ICW) monitored 244 elections in 2010 and discovered many variations of money politics. In addition to the predominant cash disbursements, ICW confirmed there were other forms such as grocery donations, hand tractor donations, road construction, hijab distribution, gas tubes, umbrellas and fertilizer.
ICW also included local government programs prior to local elections, such as charitable medical services, social services, sport tournament donations and many other activities that evidently benefit the incumbents.
Therefore, policymakers should thoroughly review various practices beyond formal definitions during elections, especially those regarding the incumbents and their families.
The writer is a lecturer at the political science department at Brawijaya University in Malang and a doctoral student at Flinders University, Adelaide, South Australia.