Indonesia’s big political parties are struggling to prevent the emergence of alternative presidential candidates for the 2014 election as political scientists said on Saturday that the current requirements needed to enter the race are unconstitutional.
As the House of Representatives prepares a draft revision to the law on presidential elections for deliberation next month, big parties insisted this week that only the contestants who could win 25 percent of the popular vote or control 20 percent of legislative seats may stand for the office.
But Margarito Kamis, an expert on state administration, said that the law that stipulates the threshold is in violation of the Constitution, which makes no mention of a limit to the number of candidates nor a minimum of support for proposing them.
Margarito explained that Article 6A of the Constitution simply states that presidential and vice presidential candidates shall be “proposed by a political party or coalition of parties that participate in the general election.” In the Constitution there is no mention of an electoral threshold, Margarito added.
This means that any political party that can gather a minimum of 3.5 percent of the vote, as required by the law on legislative election, has the right to propose its own presidential candidates.
For larger political parties, this is problematic, as it increases the chances of alternative candidates running and potentially siphoning off votes.
The big three parties — the ruling Democratic Party, Golkar Party and Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) — all insist on retaining the election threshold at current levels, despite none of them meeting the 25 percent popular vote mark back in the 2009 election.
In the last election, the Democrats, who currently control 148 seats in the House of Representatives, only got 21 percent of the popular vote, while Golkar’s 108 seats came from 14.5 percent of the vote. PDI-P received 14 percent of the vote to get 93 seats in Parliament.
So maintaining the threshold at current levels is itself an ambitious target for these big parties. But that is the only “legal” way to prevent other parties from proposing their own candidates.
Golkar is promoting its chairman, Aburizal Bakrie, for the presidency. Meanwhile, Megawati Sukarnoputri, who chairs the PDI-P, is still the most popular candidate, according to opinion polls. The Democrats do not have a candidate yet, at least for now.
Smaller parties represented in Parliament only gathered 3.8 percent to 7.9 percent of the vote in the 2009 election, effectively shutting them out from putting forward a presidential candidate if the proposed threshold stands.
Spokesman of the Hanura Party Saleh Husin said that in a democratic state there should be no limitations on proposing presidential candidates, as voters deserve to have options that may fall outside the political territory inhabited by the major parties.
Maintaining the current threshold would cripple Indonesia’s burgeoning democracy, Saleh said on Saturday.
Similar views were expressed by the Great Indonesia Movement Party (Gerindra). Party spokesman Martin Hutabarat said that the bigger parties were afraid of the “Jokowi effect” eclipsing the popularity of their candidates. He introduced the phrase to refer to some voters’ preference for younger and down-to-earth candidates, such as Jakarta governor-elect Joko Widodo, known as Jokowi, who defeated incumbent Fauzi Bowo.
Martin asserted that candidates put forward by bigger parties would be too old to fulfill voters’ preferences in 2014, therefore the presidential election threshold must be lowered to 3.5 percent to allow for more candidates, especially younger ones.
“Those big parties don’t want to lose face. But lowering the threshold means many alternative candidates will emerge to challenge theirs, therefore they insist it be retained [at its current high level],” Martin said.
“Big parties should not be afraid [of the possibility of their candidates not getting elected] because the primary aim of revising the presidential election law is to improve the state system,” he said, adding that “the Jokowi effect should come as a threat to them.”
Margarito Kamis agreed with Martin’s views, saying that in order to improve the state system, all political parties must elect their leaders through conventions or through the merit system instead of through money politics, so that alternative candidates can emerge at a time when Indonesia is in need of fresh leadership.
None of the political parties have elected their leaders through a convention mechanism. Leaders of the political parties tend to be the financiers, making it difficult to challenge them.
“But we need to force political parties to think about this nation in its entirety, not just think about their respective organizations. Political parties must be able to produce the right leaders,” Margarito said.
Gerindra Party will on Monday register a request for judicial review of the election law at the Constitutional Court and Margarito said that he hopes the court will satisfy the request.
Like Margarito, Gerindra politicians also believe that setting the presidential threshold at 20 percent or 25 percent is against the Constitution.
Gerindra spokesman Habiburokhman said on Saturday that the big parties’ insistence on a high presidential threshold shows that traces of the dictatorial regime of Suharto are still visible today.
He said the threshold requirement is being directed at Gerindra’s chairman, Prabowo Subianto, and other alternative candidates who aim to contest the 2014 election.