According to the schedule compiled by the General Elections Commission (KPU), there will be 10 regional elections — three gubernatorial and seven regental/mayoral elections — within the next six months, with the regental election in Purwakarta on Saturday and the mayoral election in Bekasi on Sunday, both in West Java, being the nearest ones.
Having been held nationwide since 2005, direct regional elections have so far provided benefits, but have not been without their problems. Studies have revealed that the organization of direct regional elections has cost the state a significant amout — a total of some Rp 100 trillion (US$10.4 billion) was spent on financing direct regional elections in 2005-2009 alone.
Beside the official financing by the regional budget, direct regional elections obviously also involve non-budgetary, unaccounted for funds — also known as sponsorship funds — from which all candidates can finance their campaigns. Every one of them — both the winners and losers in the elections — have to immediately repay these sponsorship funds after the elections are over.
Those elected to top regional posts actively pursue all available avenues, including through corrupt practices, to pay back all the expenses and the sponsorship funds they received, primarily through illegal levies in the licensing sector and collusion and nepotistic practices in project tenders within their respective regions. On the other hand, the losers have to borrow money from banks or other parties to settle their debts — many of them have ended up in mental health facilities for stress treatment.
The media has reported that 280 regents and mayors, over half of the country’s some 500 regents and mayors, have been prosecuted for or convicted of corruption. A recent Cabinet meeting has even noted that some 1,000 regional heads and/or high-ranking regional officials were currently under investigation, mostly for corruption.
All this is without mentioning the negative impacts, including civil unrest during and after the organization of regional elections in many parts of the country, which inflicts both human and material losses.
Still, direct regional elections do offer benefits to the country and the nation. At least they have produced a number of, although not many, popular regional heads not only because of their capabilities, but also — and most importantly — integrity. The best products of direct regional elections include Joko “Jokowi” Widodo and Tri Rismaharini, respectively the former Surakarta mayor and newly elected governor of Jakarta, and mayor of Surabaya, East Java.
Jokowi and Tri broke the rigid bureaucratic wall and the government-knows-all traditional approaches and introduced pro-people and down-to-earth campaigns instead, by patiently listening more to and caring for the people’s complaints and aspirations. Although having run on a political party’s ticket in the elections, both leaders have acted beyond their allegiance to their respective political parties and dared to challenge the policies of higher-level governments, which were against the interest of the people and true condition at their respective regions.
We need more Jokowis and Tris to ensure that we can still benefit from the organization of such direct regional elections, i.e. the emergence of capable regional leaders with integrity, and most importantly, a strong mandate from the public. Otherwise, we may have to review the system and look for a better one.