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.

Indonesian party lists

Indonesia is the largest jurisdiction using an all party-list proportional representation system for its first (‘lower’) house. ((The runner-up is Brazil.)) 2009 will be an election year. According to the Jakarta Post:

The General Elections Commission (KPU) has, after some delays, finally published the preliminary list of 11,868 legislative candidates for the total 560 seats in the 2009 elections.

Now that is a lot of candidates! I shall have to ask my RAs to begin entering all of the candidate’s names, birthplaces, and prior electoral experience!

The Jakarta Post interviews Ani W. Soetjipto of the University of Indonesia about the election preparations. Here are a few highlights:

Question: How do you see the composition of the interim list of legislative candidates in terms of competencies?

Answer: In general, some parties submitted names for the list only for the sake of filling it. Their competency was not the main consideration. For new parties, I think (the problem is) they’re not ready to enlist enough candidates to reach the maximum of 120 percent of the total (560) seats at stake, and place candidates in each of the 77 electoral districts. That is why some parties are not running candidates in some electoral districts.

Unfortunately, the seven or eight relatively well-established older parties have made it seem that they’re only after the short-term goal of winning as many votes as possible when enlisting their candidates. Most of their candidates are popular figures expected to win votes.

I’ve also noticed a nepotism phenomenon, in which wives, children or children-in-law of party elites can be found in many parties’ lists of candidates. They looked for figures simply based on their popularity and not on their competency.

As one might imagine from such statements, the lists permit the voter to cast a candidate-preference vote. It remains unclear to me whether the lists are fully open (i.e. preference votes alone determine the order of election) or flexible/semi-closed (i.e. the preference votes only change a party-ranked ballot order when individual candidates reach some, usually rather high, threshold of votes). I think the latter (and I hope someone can confirm/correct). However, another comment by Soetjipto suggests that there is a party option in how to count the preference votes. The remark (which I put in bold in the following quote) comes within an answer to a question about the employment of quotas for women on the lists:

Only four parties failed to fulfill the 30 percent quota. But, if we look at the details, female candidates are not running in every electoral district. Parties have 30 percent of women from their total candidates across all the districts, although what the law mandates is 30 percent in each district.

Secondly, the system of placing female candidates alternately in the list. Parties still put women at number 3, 6, 9 and so on, on the list. Some are placed at number 1, but that also doesn’t automatically give them a bigger chance of winning. For example, the Golkar Party has 13 female candidates at the top of (13) electoral district lists, but they can’t automatically win because Golkar selects candidates based on a majority vote, not on the party ranking. The Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) adopts the ranking system, but it has only three female candidates at the top of electoral district lists.

I think the chance that women’s representation will be improved in the 2009 elections is still small. Judging from the available data, there are only 27 female candidates who can surely win the elections.

Another question from the interview:

With such a list, what do you think will be the impact on the quality of the next House of Representatives?

I don’t expect that the 2009-2014 House will be much better than the current one. Not only because of the (quality) of the legislative candidates offered by parties, but also because of other conditions, including that the wider public is not well aware of the publication of the interim list of candidates. How many people know and care about scrutinizing the list?

A good question, and one that we could use some research on, and not only for Indonesia!