Indonesian electoral system update

The following arrived from Nathan Allen via e-mail. He had tried to post it as a comment to an earlier thread on Indonesia’s party lists, but was unable to due to the software glitches. I am planting it here in order to offer an update on an important upcoming election.

The rest of what follows is in Nathan’s words, not mine.

Given the fluid situation, descriptions of the Indonesian electoral system tend to become dated after a couple weeks. So this post may have a short shelf-life.

As Wilf Day highlighted, the Court’s decision effectively created an open-list system. To answer Wilf’s question, before the ruling candidates candidates* were awarded seats after the election but based on their list number in the district (that is if all candidates failed to meet the electoral quota). The parties can’t tinker with this after the election. So low numbers were coveted and tended to fetch a high price.

The Court’s ruling has been controversial though. Some within the national electoral authorities (KPU) questioned the the Court’s decision and tried to regulate around it. A major point of controversy has revolved around the representation of women. The KPU has some authority to pass regulation seeking to increase the representation of women in the legislature. They enacted a ‘zipper’ system requiring that parties include 1 woman for every 3 positions it filled. This was an attempt to force parties to rank women in the choice list positions (1, 2, or 3), thereby decreasing the gender imbalance in the legislature.

When the list was made completely open it challenged the KPU’s attempt to engineer the construction of lists to increase women’s representation. There is some expectation that gender bias among voters will mean female candidates will suffer. The KPU has made statements suggesting they will ignore the ruling and they have actively pushed the legislature and executive to weigh in on their side. There are internal divisions within the KPU on whether they are charged with increasing women’s representation in the legislature or just the candidate lists however. My sense is that the momentum is with the Court. A former KPU head who maintains contacts within the organization recently came out in against KPU challenges to the Court’s ruling. And the Court has threatened to press criminal action against the KPU if they do not abide by the ruling.

On the ground things continues as if the system is completely open. Candidates tend to run their own organization and some will tell you that the competition with co-partisans is fierce. Changes to the system have already thrown people for a loop (all those people who paid for choice list positions find the value of their investment significantly decreased). If the KPU tried to mess with the system again there will be tens of thousands of very angry people in so-so list positions who have just spent a bundle of cash on their campaign.

* Ruling parties’ candidates, I assume–MSS.

7 thoughts on “Indonesian electoral system update

  1. > “So low numbers were coveted”

    May I move that, in the context of both list rankings and STV preferences, we speak of “earlier” vs “later” numbers. (Note the Irish electoral Act speaks of a “prior” or “later choice”). “Low number” is too easily confused with “low ratings”, “low rankings”, whereas a “high position” is the opposite of a “high number”. “Earlier/ later” is slightly stipulative (and out of common usage), but its meaning is immediately clear.

  2. I think what Nathan meant was:

    before the ruling, candidates were awarded seats after the election but based on their list number in the district

    Low/High is unnecessarily confusing, I agree. I cringe whenever someone throws around military jargon and say “DEFCON 5!” — when they mean Defcon 1 instead.

  3. Some complain ballots are too big. The orderly process masked the challenges and criticism Indonesia has faced in organizing these massive elections. The only signs of problems were the many voters who needed help to fold their beach-towel-sized ballots and push them through the skinny slots in metal voting boxes. Lwan Sukawana, 44, voiced his complaint about the election. He says it is a bit more difficult for him. He says, in the past, he only chose among a few candidates, but today there are so many options and he has to make too many marks on the ballot…’

    – Daniel Schearf, “Indonesians Vote in Parliamentary Elections,” Voice of America (VOA) News (9 April 2009).

  4. Thanks, Jack.

    Just to be clear, a “flexible list with list order completely determined by preference votes” is an OPEN list.

    On the other hand an “open” list with list order partly determined by pre-electoral rank would be a FLEXIBLE list!

  5. Voters have the option to cast party votes, as before. What changed is that a candidate no longer needs 30 percent of a quota in preference votes to change positions on the list.

    From previous discussions I took “open” to mean any list PR system where the only option for a voter is to cast a preference vote.

  6. Jack, you are confusing two separate dimensions: whether a preference vote is required or optional, and whether preference votes alone (or in some combination with a pre-electoral rank) determine the final rank.

    For example, the Netherlands requires a preference vote, but the party rank prevails except for candidates who clear some defined threshold. But Brazil allows a list-only votes, but such votes have no bearing on final intraparty order, which is determined only by those who have cast preference votes. So, the Netherlands has a flexible list, but Brazil has an open list.

    See my chapter in the Gallagher and Mitchell volume.

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