INDONESIA: Indonesian parliament scraps direct elections, undermining Joko Widodo

Sunday 28 September 2014

Date: 26 September 2014

Type: News

Source: The Guardian

Keywords: Democratic rights,

Indonesia’s outgoing parliament voted on Friday to scrap direct elections for local officials and return to the electoral system in place under the former dictator Suharto, in what was widely regarded as a setback to the country’s democracy.

The vote represents an early defeat for president-elect Joko Widodo, whose party had voted against the change, and suggests he will face a struggle to govern effectively. The bill was supported by a coalition of rightwing parties whose candidate, Prabowo Subianto, a Suharto-era general, was narrowly defeated in July’s presidential elections.

It is vowing to disrupt the Widodo administration, which takes office on 20 October.

Direct elections for mayors, regents and governors began in 2005 and were seen as an important part of Indonesia’s democratic transition after the 1998 fall of Suharto. The change came about because of complaints that the old system, in which regional legislatures chose local leaders, had returned generations of corrupt and inefficient administrations beholden to the country’s equally graft-ridden political parties.

After hours of debate and backroom dealings, a majority of MPs approved the bill early on Friday morning, returning the country to the pre-2005 system. The country’s president, who until 2005 was also chosen by parliament, will continue to be directly elected by the people.

“Taking away the people’s right to choose their leader is a blatant betrayal of public trust and sidelines them from the democratic process altogether, rendering all the progress and costs of the last 10 years futile,” the Jakarta Globe said in an editorial.

“Indonesia has returned to a system of elitist democracy controlled by a handful of corrupt politicians serving only their own interests.”

“[The bill] is a big step back. A step back for democracy,” Widodo told reporters on Thursday.

A network of pro-democracy activists has already said they will challenge the change in the country’s constitutional court, which has the power to overrule parliament.

The bill was pushed by Prabowo’s “red-and-white” coalition. Its members said change was needed because direct elections were expensive and more prone to producing corrupt leaders than the old system. Civil society activists and progressive voices disputed this, saying the parties themselves could implement campaign finance laws to reduce costs and that they played a major role in the corruption in direct elections.

Widodo and several other previously little-known politicians have risen to power via direct regional elections after appealing directly to voters and being voted on their record, loosening the grip of the major parties.

“It is hard not to view this bill as a blunt political manoeuvre to return electoral authority from the people to party leadership in the face of electoral defeat in the presidential election,” Andrew Thornley, an Indonesian election expert at the Asia Foundation, wrote in a blog post on Thursday.

Several independent opinion polls had shown a clear majority of Indonesians were in favour of keeping the direct elections.

See online : The Guardian

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