The Jakarta Post
Indonesia will hold its 12th general elections and first simultaneous legislative and presidential elections in April.
From 2004 to 2014, presidential elections were held three months after legislative elections. This year, voters will elect House of Representatives, Regional Representatives Council (DPD) and regional legislative council (DPRD) members concurrently along with a president and vice president.
The country held its first direct presidential election in 2004, after the Consultative People’s Assembly (MPR) ratified the fourth amendment to the Constitution.
The 2008 General Elections Law stipulated that legislative and presidential elections must be held at least three months apart.
In 2013, the Coalition of Civil Society for Simultaneous Elections challenged the law by filing a judicial review petition with the Constitutional Court. The coalition's members included political communication expert Effendi Ghazali, prominent antigraft figure Saldi Isra (now Constitutional Court justice) and activist Ray Rangkuti.
The coalition said by holding elections simultaneously, the General Elections Commission (KPU) could prevent horse-trading and transactional politics and strengthen the country’s presidential system. The group also argued that simultaneous elections would improve voter turnout and save money.
The court ruled in favor of the petitioners in January 2014, but said that the first simultaneous elections would be held in 2019 rather than 2014, to avoid “chaos and legal uncertainty”.
“We concluded that tactical and temporary political bargaining should be prevented during the presidential election, so that the coalitions formed [by political parties] be long term and integration among political parties occurred naturally,” then-justice Ahmad Fadlil Sumadi said at the time, reading out the ruling.
“[We] suspended the implementation of the ruling until after the 2014 election. In the future, [the mechanism] should follow the ruling and separate elections will no longer be possible.”
What it means for voters
In practical terms, holding elections simultaneously means that voters in most constituencies will mark five separate ballots: one for president and vice president, one for the House, one for the DPD, one for their provincial DPRD and one for their regional or municipal legislative council DPRD.
The KPU regulation (PKPU) on vote-casting and vote-counting stipulates that ballots placed in the wrong ballot box will be valid, in order to minimize the number of invalid votes.
“We want to avoid votes being rendered invalid just because they’re in the wrong box,” KPU commissioner Ilham Saputra said in August during a meeting on the PKPU at the House. “If two or three ballots are multiplied by the 800,000 polling stations, just imagine how many invalid votes there would be.”
The KPU has also lowered the maximum number of voters at each polling station to 300 from the previous 500, bringing the total number of polling stations to around 801,000, up from the 545,000 in the 2014 election.
“The goal is to make vote-casting and vote-counting more efficient,” KPU commissioner Pramono Ubaid said.
The change was also to ensure that polling station officers could comply with 2017 General Elections Law, which stipulates that vote-counting must be completed on the same day as an election.
Vote-counting simulations organized by the KPU in Bogor, West Java and Tangerang, Banten, found that with 500 voters, vote-counting could not be completed until 4 a.m. the following day, while with 300 voters, counting was completed by 11:45 p.m. the same day.
Simultaneous elections are apparently having an effect on the machinations of political parties and election candidates.
While parties are hoping to capitalize on the “coattail effect” of backing a presidential ticket, analysts and observers say that only the main parties backing each ticket will have a significant advantage, namely the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) for the President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo-Ma’ruf Amin ticket and the Gerindra Party for the Prabowo Subianto-Sandiaga Uno ticket.
This means that most of the other parties have chosen to concentrate more on the legislative election during the campaign period, leaving the presidential and vice presidential candidates mostly on their own.
"This is a dilemma that every small and medium political party faces, especially since the legislative threshold has been increased to 4 percent," Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) researcher Arya Fernandes told The Jakarta Post. "Every party besides the big ones like the PDI-P and Gerindra has to think about whether it will be able to get seats in the House of Representatives."
This is most apparent in the Prabowo camp, where coalition members the Democratic Party and the National Mandate Party (PAN) have both openly stated that some of their candidates will not be campaigning for the Prabowo-Sandiaga ticket.
PAN executives from West Sumatra and Riau have announced their endorsement of the incumbent, while several prominent Democrats, such as former West Java deputy governor Deddy Mizwar and Papua Governor Lukas Enembe, are on the Jokowi-Ma'ruf Amin campaign team.
Arya said it was likely that the parties supporting Jokowi had similar internal divisions.
"I'm sure some candidates from the Jokowi coalition are doing the same thing, even if they do not declare it as openly as PAN or the Democrats," he said. "To campaign for an unpopular candidate in Jokowi or Prabowo strongholds would be political suicide."
Association for Elections and Democracy (Perludem) executive director Titi Anggraini expressed doubt as to whether simultaneous elections will achieve the goals that the coalition initially had when it filed the judicial review.
“The idea was that most people vote for parties that backed their chosen executives,” she told the Post. “This would result in stronger legislative support for the winning executives, who would be able to enact their policies more effectively.”
She said a “five-ballot election” would not achieve this because regional executives were chosen separately from regional legislative councils.
“What [Perludem] proposed was that regional head elections should be held concurrently with DPRD elections, while presidential elections should be held simultaneously with House and DPD elections,” she said. “The current system will not help improve the effectiveness of regional administrations.”
She added that the brouhaha over the presidential election seemed to overshadow the legislative election, thus nullifying the point of having simultaneous elections in the first place.
“Voters need to pay attention to the legislative election too, because a president cannot govern effectively without a strong legislature,” she said. (swd)