Should Indonesia Maintain Its Direct Voting System?

By Dioputra Ilham | 02 Feb 2017
Political | 0 Participant(s) | 0 Response(s) | 1284 Views

Written By New Content Director:

Amartya Gyani Andiraputri


The 2017 Jakarta gubernatorial election has proven to be one of the most awaited and controversial elections in Indonesia’s history. Jakarta’s current serving governor and gubernatorial candidate Basuki Tjahaja Purnama or Ahok’s identity as a Christian of Chinese descent makes him a double minority in Indonesia, a country where 87.2% of the population is Muslim and 83.7% is indigenous. These characteristics have called upon criticism towards Ahok’s fitness to lead from both those who believe that Jakarta’s majority Muslim population must be led by a Muslim leader and those who believe that the ethnic Chinese have no business in civil service alongside scepticism in what they believe to be negative Chinese stereotypes. Antagonism towards Ahok has arisen nation-wide conversation regarding race and religion in Indonesia, a sensitive topic that most choose to avoid.


With such widespread contempt towards a candidate who is experienced and has proven himself competent for reasons that are more identity-based than policy-based, one must ask the question: are direct elections suitable for a city as diverse as Jakarta, and by extension, a nation as diverse as Indonesia? But first, what exactly are elections and why do we need them?


According to the Oxford Living Dictionaries, an election is defined as a formal and organised choice by vote of a person for a political office or other position. It is the act of placing the trust and delegation of responsibility of a nation to an individual or group by giving them power over the elector's well-being. Elections have been the usual mechanism by which modern representative democracies choose their representatives since the 17th century and are seen as the defining characteristic of popular democracies. As a political mechanism, elections allow citizens to directly take part in the political process(es) of the body politic they reside in. Elections themselves can be divided into two different variations: direct elections and indirect elections. Direct elections allow citizens to directly vote for the person(s) or party of their choosing. Indirect elections allow citizens to vote for a representative who will then make that choice on their behalf.


            Elections are essentially a means to pursue a government under democracy by using a form of representation that is capable of uniting the interests of a nation. A country that adopts the system of democracy heavily relies on the ideas and concerns of its citizens. This implies that citizens are given an opportunity as well as a role to voice and lobby their interests in the political decision-making process. These interests tend to be more intricate and detailed as well as socially accurate thus are able to provide an internal perspective needed to effectively resolve issues of governance. When citizens vote for their representatives, may it be at the city-level or national-level, they hope that these interests are taken into consideration and ultimately realised in policy-making. The idea of electing representatives is a considerable solution in terms of keeping citizens in a state of order, which is a general concern for a country as diverse as Indonesia. When people feel like their voices are heard and they are being represented accurately and equally in higher offices of power, they tend to be more consenting to these governing offices of power. The notion of having people participate in the country’s decision-making process manufactures the people’s consent towards the ruling system. This is ultimately how the government achieves political legitimacy.


When Indonesian citizens were able to directly vote for their head of state for the very first time in 2004 after a major change in its constitution, it signalled a shift in how Indonesia functions under its democracy. Indonesia’s transition from indirect to direct elections signifies a change in its values and interests vis a vis democracy. This transition directly affected Indonesia’s political characteristics and decision-making patterns. What exactly motivated this change?


After the fall of Soeharto’s New Order in 1998, Indonesia underwent a period of reformation in which it transformed many of its laws as well as amended its constitution. Under an authoritative dictatorship, Soeharto’s regime left many Indonesians feeling weak and powerless in the country’s decision-making process. This oppression accumulated strong dissent from within the people that demanded a more representative and transparent government and a more democratic nation. Once the regime had fallen, these demands were pushed towards realisation in the form of the dismissal of dwifungsi ABRI, the restoration of freedom of speech and freedom of press, and the establishment of a direct-voting style democracy.


Since its conception, elections in Indonesia were designed to select members of representative bodies, namely the People’s Representative Council (Dewan Perwakilan Rakyat) at the national, provincial, and district/city levels. Members of these bodies were trusted to reflect the needs and interests of the people in selecting leaders at their respective levels. After the fourth amendment of the Indonesian Constitution (UUD 1945) in 2002, the presidential elections that were previously conducted by the People’s Consultative Assembly (Majelis Permusyawarahan Rakyat), which consists of members of the DPR and Regional Representative Council (Dewan Perwakilan Daerah), were then added into the series of elections the people could directly participate in. After the first presidential election in 2004, this electoral transformation was then carried down to lower levels of politics until Jakarta eventually conducted its first direct gubernatorial election in 2007. This change is regulated in the Indonesian Legislation under Law No. 22 Year 2007, which defines elections as “a medium to exercise the sovereignty of the people that is conducted directly, publicly, freely, secretively, honestly, and fairly in the Republic of Indonesia based on the Pancasila and Indonesian Constitution of 1945.” The sovereignty of the people is an important concept that was birthed by its suppression during the Soeharto regime that gave way to political domination by the elite, thus became a major force that pushed the advancement of democratic values in Indonesia.


It should also be noted that Indonesia requires national unity for its political decisions to work. As a country Indonesia is populated by a wide range of citizens, each with uniquely exclusive cultures and identities. Thus the heightened value of national unity is important to act as a huge encompassing system that overrides their differences. Such is shown in a particular feature of Indonesian governance that procures a nationalistic “people-protect-country” rhetoric utilised to shape common interests from a widely eclectic group of people that forms its population. During its transition towards a direct voting system, Indonesia possessed an empowering notion of having all individuals work together in a form of national effort towards shared peace and prosperity. This collective struggle pushed aside many divisive factors such as race, religion, and culture that vary throughout the vast archipelago.


Considering the fact that Indonesia, in the aftermath of its previous era, has been left with a large vacuum of power, its people had structurally attempted to break down the political structure of the few into a collective teamwork métier. Conclusively, the decline of influence from the political elite that followed was caused by the natural reaction of Indonesian structures attempting to refine its system of government by taking literal reference to applicative democracy: governance by the people. Under these values, it was direct elections that prevailed when it came to more fair, free, and representative governance.


However, Indonesia and specifically Jakarta are now facing a crisis of national unity. It can be observed now that direct elections might actually give way to national disunity as many are considering a more socially exclusive government under a specific religious doctrine. If direct elections fail to adhere to the interests of minorities, is it still representative? Should Jakarta (and by extension Indonesia) adopt an electoral system that is able to collectively give minority groups the same voting power and influence as the majority, akin to the electoral college system designed and adopted by the United States or is the majority a fair representation of the entirety?