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Pemilu 2003

No more 'buying cats in a sack' in 2004

Reforms to the Constitution make the voters more responsible for who leads the country as they
will now vote for the president as well as regional representatives. The electoral system has also
been changed.
For the first time in history Indonesians will actually vote for human beings, not merely party
The old days when the people had to select a pig in a poke or use the Indonesian expression ""to
buy a cat in a sack"" are gone. The candidate ""cats"" will now be out of the sack and listed on
the ballot papers for all voters to see.
The implications of this change is both less and more significant than meets the eye. Much
popular thinking believes that if the people can vote for a particular candidate from their party,
rather than getting stuck with whoever the party machinery puts up, ""bad"" candidates can be
thrown out of parliament. Unfortunately a few twists in the electoral laws pretty much guarantee
this won't happen. Without getting into statistical details, it is highly improbable that candidate
number 2 or 3 will be elected if candidate number 1 is not also elected.
However this is not to say that changes will not take place. What we will see is that when voters
look at the candidate list of the parties and see people they do not like, they will actually move
their vote to another party with less odious candidates. Alternatively a party with popular
candidates can be expected to see these people attract voters away from other parties. For parties,
therefore, these new laws will actually start to force changes in the way they operate. The days
when Central Party Boards sitting in smoke filled rooms in Jakarta could unilaterally decide who
would be a candidate and, in which district, are now numbered.

Parties that don't get this message and continue to stuff their candidates lists with members and
friends of the Central Party Board in Jakarta will suffer the consequences by receiving less votes
than they could. The answer for the parties will be for the Central Party Boards to accept
information on who will or will not be effective candidates. This information is only available
locally. This means Central Party Boards will have to rely on the advice from their branches.
This change in relationship between party HQ and its regions can support the emergence of
genuinely democratic and decentralized structures within parties. This will remove the
dangerously top-heavy power structures that have brought about so much party division, conflict
and collapse throughout Indonesian history.
This will also mean the election of more ""local lads"" and hopefully ""local lasses"". While the
intellectual elites in Jakarta will lament this development, which has also accompanied regional
autonomy, they are quick to forget that until now the House of Representatives (DPR) has been
dominated by ""Jakarta-based lads"". Indeed of the 11,000 candidates for the DPR in 1999,
almost 50% came from the Jakarta region while the number in ""winnable"" positions was
actually even higher.
One further crucial development will be smaller electoral districts. This means that to win a seat
parties actually need to demonstrate a reasonable base vote. Gone are the days when a party
could win a seat with less than 1% of the local vote. In the future if you want to win a seat in
some district, your party will need to pull in at least say 5%.
The new Regional Representatives (DPD), provides for genuine equality among the regions in a
way that the DPR never could. Many countries have discovered that the provision of equal
representation for all their provinces provides a strong basis for sustained and stable national
unity. Even so Indonesia's regions' house is constitutionally very weak in comparison to the
DPR, especially considering that it is also fully elected. Indeed it is the only example to be found
by the writer of a fully elected chamber of parliament that is considerably weaker than its other
House. Even so it is well to note that Indonesia's constitutional reform program is still very much
work in progress.

The way in which DPD members will be elected is quite intriguing. This will be a legislative
chamber in which there are to be no party candidates. In many ways a non-partisan house of
parliament is, of course, an oxymoron. We should expect that from the first day the new
members take their seats they will begin to seek out allies who will support their programs and
policy ideas and also to identify those who are likely to oppose them. This process of
aggregating political and other interests is precisely one of the core functions of political parties.
Indeed the wags around Indonesia now say that just as the DPR will no longer be elected on the
basis of ""buying cats in a sack"" the DPD will be elected through a process of ""buying sacks in
a cat""- that is we know you but not your political alliances.
One other issue that will affect election to the DPD will be the ""splitting"" of votes from similar
groups. Let us take the hypothetical example of East Java, the homeland of ""Traditionalist
Islam"". In these elections let us say a few dozen well known Ulama across the province seek
election. At the same time one secular nationalist, one ""Modernist Muslim"", one labor activist
and one NGO activist seek election. The election result here could well be that none of the
""Traditionalist"" candidates will be elected while the four elected members may come from
these other four groups. They were elected because they did not split their support among a
number of candidates appealing to voters from the same part of the electorate. The legitimacy of
such an election result may emerge regardless of the fact that the vote was free and fair.
The effective mobilization of electoral support for a particular vision or set of interests or leaders
is yet another core function of parties. -- Kevin Evans

{The Jakarta Post decided at it end of 2003 edition to ask a few people to put pen to paper or fingers to key pad and come up with some views on issues of importance for 2004. I was asked to produce 2 articles, published on 30 December 2003. This article looked at the new election system to be used in 2004 while the second article looked at the issue looked at the debate about the “costs of elections”.}


Elections: An inexpensive alternative

At a recent Idul Fitri gathering a friend declared that ""elections are really expensive. Is it worth
I suddenly recalled the days before we could use elections to change a government. In 1998 the
President of the day was dutifully re-elected by every single participating member of the
National Assembly (MPR). No questions, no dissent, not even an expressions of concern.
The uncompetitive and tediously stage crafted elections from 1971 to 1997 produced a political
leadership that could quarantine itself from the real world in which the rest of Indonesia lived.
Outside this quarantine zone inflation was shooting towards 100%, the economy was collapsing
15%, unemployment and poverty were skyrocketing as factory, shop and other business'
collapsed under 50% interest rates and no demand. Shops were running short of supplies as
hoarding took place (even before the looting).
The problem was that to change leaders, people had to shake the country to its foundations,
destroy the economy and threaten the social and political fabric of the nation. Even in crude
money terms, the cost of the competitive 1999 elections was actually less than the loss in value
of just one mid-sized company on the Jakarta stockmarket.
What an absurdly extravagant, expensive and painful way to change a government! The costs of
changing the government back in the mid-1960s was arguably even more expensive, certainly in
terms of the loss of life.
Frankly an election that used gold plated ballot papers would still be far cheaper than the costs of
having to destroy the economy and leave untold numbers of citizens dead and traumatised if all
that was desired was to change the government
As a result I think it fair to say that competitive, (free and fair), elections is a far cheaper way to
say to a leader or other politicians ""it's time to enjoy your retirement"" than to resort to other
options this country has been forced to use far too frequently throughout history.
One question often asked cynically, particularly from the urban intellectuals, is ""will these
elections produce change?"" Setting aside the issue of instant gratification, that is take elections
mix in free press, then presto instant just and prosperous democracy, this question can only be
answered by considering a few other questions.
The most basic question to be considered is whether 140 million voters want change or not? For
example will the voters be happy to take their Rp 50,000 (or whatever the going rate next year
will be) before polls open and vote for the party that provided such ""generosity""? How many
voters recognise that elections are not festivals of democracy and that the impact of who they
vote for can have a 5 year impact on their lives? Additionally will people who have been thrown
out of their make shift houses as part of the Governor's cleansing of Jakarta vote for the parties
that re-elected this Governor? Will the coffee shop radicals who enjoy deriding the existing and
potential leaders and political parties offer themselves for public office?
Unfortunately democracy is not such an easy option. It is also not the ""soft option"" that the
militarist mind-set would have you believe. Democracy is the hard option for citizens because it
makes you responsible. It is not only leaders who are responsible and accountable. As a voter
you are responsible directly for who is or is not elected. It is simply not good enough to prattle
on about ""primordialism"", poverty or low levels of education etc in order to evade
responsibility and justify results.
One way to evade from responsibility is to boycott the vote. The Golput (vote boycott)
phenomena made great sense in an era when politics was restricted and government controlled.
Indeed it was a powerful form of subversion. However in this era it is merely self-defeating. Yes
voters have the right not to vote. But the catch is you can't actually opt out. This is because not
voting is also a vote. In not voting, your ""vote"" will actually strengthen the party or candidate
you most dislike.
It is very simple. There are two candidates. You don't like either. Of course there is one you
dislike slightly more than the other. By not voting you actually provide support to the other, as
you would have voted for the first one had you voted.
Just ask the French Socialists. In the last elections they decided to stay at home for the first round
of the Presidential Election. The candidate to benefit from this was the extreme right winger,
who came in second and was able to participate in the final round. The ultimate beneficiary was
the moderate right winger as the Socialists were forced to vote for him to stop the extreme right
winger from being elected.
The bottom line of democracy is that you can't escape responsibility, unless of course you escape
democracy. Oh yes the good ol' days, when the Great Leader made all the decisions and we
simply kept our mouth's shut. The good ol' days of predictable tranquility when a thick blanket of
political censorship covered the ocean of Indonesia -- blissful and noble ignorance. The good ol'
days when we knew the system was corrupt and that the official government structures bore
scant resemblance to the real structures of power. In seeking refuge in nostalgia do recall that it
took at least 10 years to establish the good ol' days system and even then it was only 2 oil booms
that lubricated the way for the system to survive as long as it did.
In this regard the emergence of Indonesia's own version of SARS (Sindrom Aku Rindu Soeharto
-- the I Miss Soeharto Syndrome) is a call to go Back to the Future. Sadly this is only possible in
movies. Even were the great Soeharto back as President would the New Order be back
overseeing 7% growth a year, investment flooding in and freedom from freedom back in vogue?
Of course not. Immunity to SARS begins with accepting that the future of the country is in your
hands, not some messianic Great Leader.
The answer to the question of whether the elections will produce change is ""does the electorate
want change?"" If they don't then the elections will not, and should not, produce change. After
all free and fair elections reflect the will of the electorate. Alternatively if they do vote for
change, then yes the elections may well produce change.

{The Jakarta Post decided at it end of 2003 edition to ask a few people to put pen to paper or fingers to key pad and come up with some views on issues of importance for 2004. I was asked to produce 2 articles, published on 30 December 2003. This article looked at the seemingly permanent debate about eth “costs of elections” while the second article looked at the issue looked at the dynamics of the new election system to be applied in 2004.}


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