Jakarta. Critics are wary of official discussions that could see an end to direct elections for governors, who would instead be appointed by regional legislatures, the same system that was used during the three-decade rule of authoritarian President Suharto.
President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and Jakarta Governor Fauzi Bowo were among the officials discussing the possible return of that New Order system.
Since the implementation of the 2004 Regional Governance Law, heads of provincial government have been elected directly by voters.
“Most of the governors believe that democratic elections are possible via the legislative councils. It has become a matter of efficiency,” Fauzi said.
Hadar Gumay, chairman of the Center for Electoral Reform (Cetro), said on Sunday that returning to the old system would revive a number of problems.
“The results of such elections were often not in line with the wishes of the people,” he said.
Hadar said allowing provincial legislative councils (DPRDs) to elect governors would make governors beholden to the councils, resulting in policies that benefitted lawmakers more than the people.
“In the past, many of those elected by the DPRD were oriented toward the short-term interests of the lawmakers,” he said.
Direct elections, he added, were more effective in curtailing money politics, or the buying of support, which he said remained a major problem.
“With direct elections, the candidates would have to pay hundreds, thousands or even millions of voters,” he said. “While a DPRD election would allow them to hand over money to just dozens of DPRD members.”
In the long-term, limiting people’s participation in gubernatorial elections could hinder their wider interest in politics, which could result in low voter turnout in other elections, he added.
Taufiq Hidayat, a Golkar Party legislator, has warned that indirect elections could lead to regional political oligarchies.
Some provinces are strongholds for particular parties, he said, and a return to the old system would again give these parties unchallenged dominance.
The policies of such provinces could then be controlled by party leaders at the national level, he said, damaging the spirit of regional autonomy.
“If you want the people to care about politics, you have to make as much room as possible for public engagement,” he added.
Ganjar Pranowo, deputy chairman of House of Representatives Commission II, which oversees home affairs, said allowing provincial legislative councils to elect governors should only be considered under certain conditions.
“It should only be allowed if the government gives a limited amount of responsibility to governors, such as coordinating district heads or mayors,” the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) lawmaker said.
“And only when the concept of regional autonomy is district or city heavy, and not provincial heavy.”
The government is preparing an amendment to the 2004 Regional Governance Law, including regulations on the extent of a governor’s authority.
However, Ganjar acknowledged there were still flaws with the current system of direct elections .
“It was assumed back then that direct elections would mean less money politics,” he said. “But as we see, bribery still takes place in many forms.”
He proposed tighter regulations on direct elections. “First, there must be a limit to how much each candidate can spend for a campaign,” he said.
But more important, he said, is that the nature of campaigning must be changed so that there is less focus on street rallies and billboards and posters.
Instead, he said, campaigns should focus on debates among candidates, organized by election bodies such as the General Elections Commission (KPU), on regionally relevant issues. He also recommended tougher prerequisites for candidates.
In August, Home Affairs Minister Gamawan Fauzi mooted the idea of having governors elected by regional lawmakers.
He argued that more and more regional power had devolved to district heads and mayors, and that gubernatorial elections cost more than they were worth.